As but a pup, I remember using words like gross or even “groady” (which isn’t a word) to describe something disgusting, foul, probably even slimy. These would seem to be the modern American abbreviated forms of something being grotesque which, in this sub-dialect of the English language, has come to mean not merely unnatural, bizarre, or freakish, but more often malformed, ugly, or just plain puke-worthy. Considering the origins of the word, and its use early in the last century in the sense of fantastic (something out of fantasy) or outrageous (something so unusual as to cause wondrous disbelief), it would seem to be a word worth revisiting. Continue reading “The Parade of the Grotesques”
Oh Boy, New “Words”
A news item in a CNN email series that I subscribe to announced on September 19, 2018, that Merriam-Webster has added 840 words to their dictionary. In a prepared statement, the publisher noted that, “The addition of new words to a dictionary is a step in the continuous process of recording our ever-expanding language. The dictionary’s job is to report that usage as it enters the general vocabulary.”
Translation: “Because Americans are too lazy to use real language, and too offended not to be included, we’ll make them feel better by putting their disgustingly stupid non-words in our book.” Continue reading “Oh Boy, New “Words””
Words Require Labels
When you look up a word in a dictionary, you may see a qualification for that word, such as “slang”, “vulgar”, “archaic”, “colloquial”, and so forth. These labels are meant as a guide to proper usage; if what you wish to express requires a certain crudity (or even downright obscenity), then perhaps you’ll use that word, choosing it precisely because it is considered to be crude, obscene, vulgar. Webster’s Third International Dictionary, Unabridged made an attempt to eliminate these labels, because they felt that the labels were considered judgmental rather than descriptive. In so doing, Webster’s attempted to make all words free from judgment, in which case “The F Word” would no longer have any purpose in the English-speaking world. In order to save the sacred F-bomb, let’s talk about it for a bit. Continue reading “Words Require Labels”
Something About Nothing
Somewhere in the world where English is spoken, a knock upon a couple’s front door announces a visitor.
“Who’s at the door, honey?” asked Mrs. Smith from the kitchen.
“It’s Nothing, dear,” said Mr. Smith.
“Nothing! It’s been so long—invite him in!” Continue reading “Something About Nothing”
Raising a Ruckus Over Resumés
Getting a job is a full-time job in itself, one that requires not merely dedication but also education — not in the sense of a university degree, but rather in the sense of learning an entirely new and largely deceitful vocabulary. It begins with words and phrases that eliminate anything personal. Companies don’t want people; people are inconvenient. If they could get the job done by a machine, they would. Sometimes, though, they have to have those pesky parasites known as “employees,” and they send out a call for resumés. (Oh wait… “resumes”, since that é is just too French for business to deal with.) Let’s have a look at what that actually means these days. Continue reading “Raising a Ruckus Over Resumés”
Cruciverbalist (krew-sih-VER-bull-ist, noun) — someone skilled in creating and/or solving crossword puzzles.
I’ve loved crossword puzzles for many years. They make wonderful vocabulary-building exercises, as well as being a great excuse to get away from whatever else you’re doing, thus performing the 7th Habit that Stephen Covey calls “Sharpening the Saw” (see — if you can stomach it — his book 7 Habits of Highly Effective People). It can be an entertaining and mind-stretching exercise to wrestle down a good clue and line up the letters in that challenging grid. Cruciverbalists, however, don’t always play fair. I’ve discovered over the years that, essentially, there are four types of crossword puzzle clue: Direct, Clever, Deceitful, and Irrelevant. Continue reading “Crucifying Cruciverbalists”
Flexing Your Writing Muscles
“Start writing, no matter what. The water does not flow until the faucet is turned on.” — Louis L’Amour
Few things in the world get me more angry than someone saying, “You mean you just write? What kind of job is that?” In one sense, they are correct. As Robert Wilensky observed, “We’ve all heard that a million monkeys banging on a million typewriters will eventually reproduce the entire works of Shakespeare. Now, thanks to the Internet, we know this is not true.” If all it took to be a writer is to throw words together, any idiot could do it, and as you can tell from various comments on various sites, an extraordinary number of idiots have done just that. Let’s talk a bit about how we, as writers, can do better than that. Continue reading “Flexing Your Writing Muscles”
“Quid Quo Pro, Clarice…”
Even as the redoubtable Sir Anthony Hopkins oozed forth those lines as Hannibal Lecter in Silence of the Lambs (which was released in 1991… on Valentine’s Day, no less), I was surprised by how many people didn’t know quite what that bit of Latin meant. Although primarily used in legal circles these days (mostly for the purpose of confusing the layman), Latin pops up in everyday speech from time to time. When it doesn’t, I do my best to make it pop, mostly so that I can watch other people’s brains pop as well. Yes, I can be wicked. Allow me to introduce you to some of my favorite bits of Latin lingo, for your own edification and the astonishment of those around you. Continue reading ““Quid Quo Pro, Clarice…””
Stupidity in Wiki Form
Let’s start by explaining that “wiki” (WEE-kee) is actually Hawaiian in origin — a word meaning “quick” and usually in the form of wiki-wiki, meaning to go or do something quickly (“He’s hurt; bring bandages, wiki-wiki!”). Coined by programmer Ward Cunningham to describe a collaborative website or compendium for “quick” or “quickly-obtained” information, we now refer to any such compendium as a “wiki” (WIH-kee), the most famous being Wikipedia. On the plus side, anyone with information about a topic may contribute to the knowledge base; on the minus side, anyone who thinks they have information about a topic may have a wee into the knowledge pool at will. While Wikipedia does what it can to verify sources and police its own compendium, other wikis are reduced to self-parodying stupidity. The best example of this is an online abomination known as the Urban Dictionary. Continue reading “Stupidity in Wiki Form”
Linguists and language experts — including two of my more favorite foils, Dr. John McWhorter and Dr. Anne Curzan — tell us that a living language changes, evolves, and creates new words (or new meanings for old words) through usage. The idea is that some words, even though they are illegitimate corruptions that should never have been created (or were created through ignorance of proper usage), simply won’t go away. I doubt that this rant will change anything, but I wish at least to re-register my protest. Continue reading “Flame Wars”