Monday, July 28, 2008

Definitive Delight

I hope we all operate linguistically with the knowledge of the difference between definite and definitive.

These words have distinct meanings. That which is definite has fixed or marked limits in signification, is bounded with precision; hence determinate; certain; precise. Definitive describes positive, conclusive final. A definitive decision admits no change; a definite meaning is one so precisely defined that it could not be misunderstood.

And while I am at it, I believe the continued success of English speaking Western Civilization hinges on our ability to to use the word momentarily correctly. Pilots and telephone message recording ladies everywhere, heed:

Momentarily -- what it's not:

It is not a fancy way to say "in a moment." Momentarily means "for a moment."

With hope, you are not "landing the plane momentarily," for if you are, no one will be able to get off of it, and let's pray, major corporations everywhere, that someone will not be with your callers "momentarily" for your customer service will be so poor that the entire United States, even the Republicans, will be on the phone to India or China for goods and services. Oh, wait we already are.

Rather, say, "This shot will only hurt momentarily," and "I thought, momentarily, of bringing him home to meet my parents, but then I realized he was a cad."

Friday, July 25, 2008

How to Totally Destroy Your Date

I am convinced that if any one of us were dropped via time machine into decent society in, say, 1901, we would be unable to sit through a dinner without insulting someone, or obtain a job that requires proper speech, such as anything other than work as a shepherd.

Language usage has changed so much in a hundred short years that we now, as a matter of course, use words that were considered terribly vulgar not that long ago. Of course, this vulgarization of language is also easily seen by anyone who remembers television before the onset of cable, and we do not need to actually travel back a hundred years, we can just go back to 1975, where I would have gotten spanked for saying the word "buttocks" at my grandmother's house.

Did you know that the word date when used for appointment or engagement was vulgar? Well-spoken people were to avoid saying," I've got a date for tomorrrow," as it was seen as coarse. Now everyone has a date. Play dates, lunch dates, hot dates.

The word destroyed as used back in the day, deserves a closer look. As we know, destroyed means that which has ceased to exist, been knocked to pieces or put to an end. The well-spoken were urged to avoid the phrases totally destroyed as tautological.

Forgetting for a moment that about 5% of modern English users know what "tautological" means, try to imagine anyone who who doesn't have to worry about microwaves messing with their pacemaker, saying the word "destroyed" without using "totally" in front of it. It just doesn't happen. The city can't be destroyed in the earthquake, it has to be totally destroyed.

The kitten didn't destroy the my new blouse, he totally destroyed my new blouse, as if "totally" conveys the emotional difficulty of dealing with the destruction. As if "destroy" by itself isn't bad enough, or complete.

Like, totally.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Are You a Daisy or a Dandy?

There are a few good old slang words that I wish we still used.
"Daisy" is one. Around the turn of the 20th century, it indicated some person or something that excited admiration.

My favorite movie line of all time, besides "I am Ironman,"
is that one the Val Kilmer, as Doc Holliday, uttered in Tombstone:

McClaury: I've got you now!
Holliday: You're a daisy if you do.

I was excited to learn that witnesses said that the real Doc Holliday, who had knack for using slang, really did say the phrase during the fatal standoff with Frank McLaury.

Another old slang word is "dandy." Nowadays when we hear the word dandy, it is usually sarcastic, such as:
"You need a tetanus shot." "Oh, dandy."

Dandy used to be a slang word for pleasant; pretty. Incorrect uses of dandy included having a "dandy time" or wearing a "dandy hat." Dandy is actually from Old French, dandin, which means "ninny."

Doc Holliday was no dandy, even though he used words like "daisy."

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Where Did the Word "Cute" Come From?

Cute is a contraction of acute and means shrewd, sharp, or clever in securing one's own aims in petty ways, but has been expanded to mean bright and taking; attractive. Condemned in the latter sense by purists, the meaning is now fully established as an Americanism.

I like the old way of using it better, but we probably wouldn't be able to call 99.9% of the things we call "cute" by this term, unless you talk about public figures.

Who would be "cute" if we used the real derivation?

Webkinz and The Wiggles? Not cute.

How about Hillary Clinton? She'd be pretty cute.

Ashley and Mary Kate? Cute no matter which definition you use, if you you like multi-billionaires who look like refugees.

Can you think of anyone?

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Slips of Speech -- Did You Know How To Use Condone?

Here are a few more good words that modern American regularly butcher. Let's put our best speech forward, shall we?

condone should not be used for make amends or atone. To condone means "to overlook and offense, or forgive one for it." Atone signifies "to make expiation of amends for ." One may condone an insult; another atones for a crime.

considerable should not be used when considerably is meant. The former means " more than a little" or "of noteworthy size or amount," the latter, "in a marked degree"; "to a great extent."

contemptible, contemptuous are distinct in their meaning. Contemptible characterizes that which is despicable and deserving of contempt. Contemptuous indicates the the manifestation of disdain or scornful superiority; haughtiness. To refuse the hospitality of one's home it a relative is a contemptible act, and to receive her contemptuously is not to behave as a gentlewoman.

convene is frequently misused for convoke. Congress convenes in special session only when it is convoked by the President.

couple should not be used to designate more than two. Couple means "two of a kind; a pair," so avoid "He has a couple of dollars in the bank."

S.O.S -- Choosy

These are a few words which we would all do well to make sure we use correctly:

is primarily "to make a selection"; "take by preference," and should not be used for wish.
Not I don't choose to do it," which is a vulgarism, but "I don't wish to do it."

clear, clearly, when used adverbially have distinct meanings. Clear indicates entire separation; entirely; clean; quite; but clearly means in a clear manner; luminously; plainly. Avoid "The distinction of ever it has been made has not been made clear" ; say rather, "...made clearly."

climb down, altho it was used six hundred years ago, is a vulgarism today, and should not be used when withdraw from a position of attitude that one has maintained is intended. In idiomatic English one climbs up a mountainside (in which sentence "up" is redundant), but climbs a mountain. And not infrequently one creeps down in making the descent.

close, near. There is a fine distinction in the meaning of these words. Those who are close to on are firmly attached as confidential friends, wheras those who are near are familiar or intimate, or connected by blood, as near relations. Near and close when used miserly are vulgarisms.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

S.O.S. -- Caliber

I always try to expand my word use to include some words that are no longer popular. I also like to learn the social history of their usage. Here are a few more:

primarily denotes the sizer of the bore of a gin or the diameter of a bullet, but has been used figuratively and erroneously to characterize the quality of work, which should not be measured by such means. Caliber, in its figurative sense, is used of intellectual endowments or capacity of mind. We may speak of an intellectual man as one of "high caliber" but in work should be characterized as "good," "bad," or "indifferent," such as the case in mind may be.

Calling down is a vulgarism for censuring or taking to task. As there are many more expressive words to convey the thought, blame, rebuke, reprimand, censure, might be found adequate substitutes.

Cal-li' o-pe, not cal' li-ope. Nuff said there.

calumniate is to cast aspersions on; to charge falsely and knowingly of something disreputable, as in loss of chastity, and differs from malign only in the degree of malevolence that the latter implies.

certain That which his certain is sure, and therefore does not admit of comparison. Do not say the only possibility is more certain to happen than another.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

S.O.S. -- Bade, Bonehead

Although we don't often make use of some of these older words, some are currently used in modern speech and we should be careful.

: "He was bade to do it." No, "...he was bidden to do it."

Between you and I
is a common slip of speech. Between being a preposition requires that a pronoun in the objective case be used -- "between you and me"

bolt from a clear sky
. Bolt as here used stands for thunderbolt, but the phrase means " a sudden or unexpected catastrophe," and a bolt is the electric discharge of lightening when it strikes.

is a vulgarism for numskull or blockhead. Don't use it it proper circles.

breathlese silence is the silence of death, for only the death are breathless. A momentary silence is to be preferred.

bulldoze is a vulgarism for intimidate, that is to compel to compliance by threat.

bum is a vulgarism and stamps those who use it as preferring vulgarity or decency in language. Avoid, "He is a bum," "You are a bum guesser," and Quit your bumming around," as wanting in refinement and offensive to good taste.

Friday, July 11, 2008

S.O.S. Believe this.....

On to the proper ways to use a few key "B" words:

is often thoughtlessly used in combination with can't hardly but in the phrase "I can't hardly believe it" there are two negatives, the first of which muct be dropped to make sense: "I can hardly believe it"; that is. "I can not easily believe it."

between you and I is a common slip of speech. Between being a preposition requires that a pronoun in the objective case be used-- "between you and me"

bitch used for a "jade" or applied to any other than the female of the genus Canis, is ruled out of all polite society as coarse to the lowest degree, notwithstanding that the word is permitted as a euphemism by the late editor of a popular dictionary.

breakneck speed. An absurd phrase, for if one traveled at breakneck speed one's neck would be broken. This phrase, however, is used my many thoughtless persons.

brute, beast are not synonymous. Brute implies the absence of intelligence; beast refers to savage nature. One speaks of a savage beast in referring to a wild animal, but to a violent brute in speaking of a man who is under the sway of his animal propensities, to show our complete understanding of his condition.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

S.O.S -- Anxious and a few Other "A's"

How many times have we said, "I'm anxious to see that movie," and thought we were speaking correctly? Check out how we should use that word and a few other goodies.

is to be in a state of painful suspense or uneasiness, and should not be used for eager, which describes a state of ardent longing or earnest desire for something. One may be eager to receive attention but not anxious for it; another is anxious about an illness of a friend and may be eager for his recovery

audience should be used with care, for it may be gollowed by a verb in the singular or the plural according to the though expressed: "The audience was enthusiastic"; "The rest of the audience were asleep."

avenge should not be used for revenge. To avenge is to punish in behalf of another: to revenge is to punish for oneself.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

S.O.S. Anger, Frenzy, Fury, Madness, Rage

I'll be a lot of people use these words incorrectly today. Check it out:

anger, frenzy, fury, madness, rage
, related in meaning, but not easily distinguishable, are all forms of dementia. Anger is a sudden outburst of passion and is usually selfish. It is an infirmity that should be suppressed. Rage is a violent type of anger characterized by extravagant expressions and violent distortions of facts, and is present frequently in temperamental persons, especially those persons "Rage before a glass and see their pretty countenances go wild." -- STERNE. Fury is an outburst of rage and temporarily deprives one of understanding. Frenzy and madness are used of moral and physical conditions. In a frenzy of despair, men commit suicide.