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Dish logic

7 Oct

While washing dishes this morning, I was thinking about Tim Minchin’s graduation address, in which he compares ideological political debaters to two tennis players trying to win a match by lobbing balls over a net at opposite ends of separate tennis courts.

“How apt,” I thought. “It’s the perfect metaphor for the very thing I’ve often….” My line of thought was suddenly interrupted. “But he said, ‘It’s like two tennis players’, so in fact, he was using a simile.”

A smug, self-satisfied internal smile ensued from some smart-ass part of my brain.

“But that doesn’t make any sense,” I argued with myself. “Because, it’s very clear that comparing tennis players to debaters is actually a metaphor. And in fact, if you think about it, a simile must be just one type of metaphor.”

A quick run over to Google confirms.

The Oxford Companion to the English Language (1992) pp.653–55:

METAPHOR … (1) All figures of speech that achieve their effect through association, comparison, and resemblance. Figures like antithesis, hyperbole, metonymy, simile are all species of metaphor.

I remember very clearly being taught that similes and metaphors were two different things. I wonder if that’s been refined now in our school system, or if there’s some standardized test somewhere that insists one is not the subset of the other.

This is the kind of ridiculous thing I think about while washing dishes. Kinda nice to let your mind wander down shady, overgrown paths on occasion.

Oooooh, a metaphor!

Covering me in butter

25 Jul

It’s 9:40 a.m. and I just got to the office. Jade had a major seizure this morning as we were getting ready for the day, necessitating another call to 911. Michael went to Emergency with her while I finished getting ready and assembled some breakfast for him. He and Jade are still at the hospital, but he expects they’ll be discharged sometime this morning. Jade is in a sleepy and dazed post-ictal state and apparently her blood sugar was low (they pricked toe her in the ambulance) but otherwise seems okay.

I’ve got to get some work done, so I will leave you with a post I wrote a few days ago, which is a follow-up to yesterday’s entry. A little humour is definitely needed here to brighten up the day.


So, you may recall that I posted yesterday that Michael was trying to “cover me with butter”, a mangling of the idiom “butter me up”. This goes back to a story that Michael’s mother told us a few years ago, which has evolved into an inside joke in our household.

(Marian, forgive me if I’ve fudged some of the details; I don’t remember them exactly, but I figure they don’t matter too much.)

Marian works for a dentist, and we all know dentists make pretty decent money, especially when they’re competent and have established a reputation for doing good work. The boss had hired a pleasant East Indian woman to do some cooking and cleaning, and it seems he and his wife were very happy with her. He gave her some lavish compliments on a meal she had cooked one evening; she was pleased but rather flustered, and replied (and if you can do an East Indian accent, you must use it here): “Oh, sir! You are just trying to cover me with butter!”

I love this story! It reminds me of when I was trying to learn German in Germany. I remember one of the girls in my class reading a note I’d written, in which I’d made some kind of spelling mistake, and she thought it was so cute she said, “Oh, wie suess!” (“Oh, how sweet!”) Sometimes the challenge of speaking another language creates new expressions that are somehow are better than their originals.

Isn’t “covering me in butter” just so much more fun?!

Word pedantry as punching bag

19 Mar

Okay, I know that was a couple of kinda heavy posts. Michael accused me yesterday of over-analyzing a nice moment in my life. I don’t deny it, but this is what happens when a girl doesn’t get enough girl talk time and her husband’s been working 24 hours on some project for the last three days and she’s had to do all the child-rearing and cooking and what-not herself. Not that I’m complaining, I’m just sayin’ is all.

Some people let their hair down by going to the gym and punching a heavy bag for a while. Me, I’m not that kind of physical (and I’m not letting my hair down, either, ’cause it took forever to do it this morning, and it’s still not cooperating) so I’m thinking of punching around some words. Whaddya say, wanna play?

On my old blog, I used to have an occasional rant about misused words, punctuation, and expressions. Strangely, I was usually motivated to write these posts when I had noticed a particular mistake multiple times in a short period of time. Why would there suddenly be a rash of people misusing “decimate” or “poring“? Do these things spread like viruses or something?

Lately, I’ve noticed a spate of “peaked” people. As in “you have peaked my curiosity”. Which I suppose could have some meaning to it. But the word you really want, my dears, is “piqued”. That’s from the French “piquer”, which means “to prick”. Yes, you have pricked my curiosity. Doesn’t that sound so much more elegant? It has a certain je ne sais quoi, non?

Also? Why have I seen several instances of “I’ll make due” in the last few weeks? That’s just bizarre. Do you work at a library and are you setting due dates for books? If so, you should be clearer. Otherwise, you should do like the rest of us and make do.

Ah, I feel better already.

While I’m at it, may I just add that I shudder when I hear someone say “nuke-ular”. I mean, that’s just ugly, and spreading that kind of ugly should be illegal. Say it with me, George W., it’s two syllables, not three, and it goes “NEW-clear”.

There’s another word I hate, although technically there’s nothing wrong with it. The word is “utilize”. Ugh. And double-ugh.

I’m afraid this one is Strunk and White’s fault because I read The Elements of Style many years ago, and the authors rant — yes, rant! — about “-izing” words. They didn’t like the word “moisturize”, for example. Why moisturize your skin, they argue, when you can simply moisten it? Well, I’m afraid I don’t agree with them, but they might be forgiven, since the original version of the book was written in 1918. However, ever since I read that bit in their book, I shudder when I see or hear the word “utilize”. Why not replace it with the much more elegant “use”?

I remember getting into an argument about this with a classmate in university when we were working on a group project. I wanted eliminate “utilize” from our paper but she insisted on putting it in. Her argument was that her mother was an English major, and she uses the word. Ha! I just can’t imagine arguing with someone over this these days. (Instead, I’d just reach for a paper bag. And lose my lunch into it.)

Well, that was refreshing! Care to add some fisticuffs of your own?

One phenomenon, two phenomena

2 Apr
It’s amazing what you can find out about the things that drive you batty when you look a little closer.  For example, today on the radio, I heard an interviewee say that something was a "fascinating phenomena", which made me want to shout "phenomenon, you stupid git!"  So I looked it up.  To my surprise, one can actually legitimately use phenomena as a singular, at least if its occasional use as such for the past 400 years is reason enough to make it legitimate.  Here’s the Merriam-Webster entry.
Main Entry: phe·nom·e·na
Pronunciation: fi-'nä-m&-n&, -"nä
Function: noun
Inflected Form(s): plural -nas
nonstandard : PHENOMENON
usage Phenomena has been in occasional use as a singular for more than 400 years and its plural phenomenas for more than 350. Our evidence shows that it is primarily a speech form used by poets, critics, and professors, among others, but one that sometimes turns up in edited prose <the Borgia were, in modern terms, a media phenomenaEconomist>. It is etymologically no more irregular than stamina, agenda, and candelabra, but it has nowhere near the frequency of use that they have, and while they are standard, phenomena is still rather borderline.
So I guess I’ll have to stop worrying about this one.
However, another word that drives me batty when the plural is incorrectly used is alumnus.  I often see someone refer to him or herself as "an alumni of Institution X", which tells me that that person must suffer from dissociative identity disorder
Thank God I still have something to be pedantic about.

Pouring over books

21 Mar
Why is it that people have so much trouble with the word "pore"?  For the record, people, here is the definition of the word:
Main Entry: 1pore
Pronunciation: 'por
Function: intransitive verb
Inflected Form(s): pored; por·ing
Etymology: Middle English pouren
1 : to gaze intently
2 : to read or study attentively — usually used with over
3 : to reflect or meditate steadily
Lately I have come across a startling number of people who have written "pour" instead.  As in, "If you are always pouring over recipes" (then they’ll get damp!), or "it’s time-consuming to pour over these records" (it’s probably not good for them, anyway . . . and what the heck are you pouring on them?!).
Here is a definition of the word "pour":
Main Entry: 1pour
Pronunciation: 'por
Function: verb
Etymology: Middle English
transitive verb
1 a : to cause to flow in a stream b : to dispense from a container <poured drinks for everyone>
2 : to supply or produce freely or copiously <poured money into the project>
3 : to give full expression to : VENT <poured out his feelings>
intransitive verb
1 : to move with a continuous flow
2 : to rain hard
3 : to move or come continuously : STREAM <complaints poured in>
4 : to score easily or freely (as in basketball) — used with in <poured in 30 points>
Strangely, the Merriam-Webster dictionary shows that both word have the same pronunciation (which, I suppose, is why so many people get the spelling wrong) but I don’t think they sound the same at all.  "Pour" to me sounds like "poor", with an "ooh" sound in it, whereas "pore" sounds more like the short vowel sound you get in "spore" or "lore"… more of an "aww", really, although not quite. 
But pronunciation is such a tricky thing.  According to dooce, for example, the proper way to pronounce the word "crayon" is "crown".  (But I believe she grew up in Tennessee.)

Yesterday’s posting (not published until today due to technical difficulties)

15 Feb
Michael often tells me that he’s going to "jump in the shower", which I usually tell him is a foolhardy thing to do.  This morning, he appeased me, after I objected, by revising his statment to, "I’ll go jump into the shower".  While this is still not a recommended activity, it is certainly less hazardous.

Invest in word pedantry

9 Sep
Sometimes life is just such a surprise.  I came home from my course the other evening and collected the mail on my way in the door.  Flyers, bills, and one small envelope of a much more interesting nature.  Hand-written address.  Greeting-card sized.  Upon opening it, I discovered a cheque.  The message said:
Although your blog post Aug 29 2006 states "It doesn’t pay to be a word pedant," I would like to assure you that it definitely does, and I can prove it.
Please find enclosed a cheque for word pedantry, and continue the good work.
I won’t say how much the cheque was for, other than to say that it ended with two zeroes and it would probably cost the sender more in fees to have it cashed than it is actually made out for.  Anyway, I think I might have to have it framed in memory of the good laugh it gave me and the continue chuckles it invokes.
Thank you, Peaeater!