Friday, January 2, 2009

A LITTLE WORDSMITHERY

Like a dentist notices rotten teeth or a podiatrist notices a bunion, I notice words especially when they are mispronounced, misused or flat out made up.

Just such a plunder caused me to have an afflatus (a strong creative impulse) this evening. While speaking with someone I consider close and dear, I found it somewhat difficult to stop them in midsentence to correct their choice of words although I felt I had no choice in the matter.

“Dear”, I began in the sweetest voice I could muster, “irregardless isn’t a word”. “Yes it is”, was the reply and so began a three minute debate, that is until I pulled out my handy dandy iPhone with both dictionary and Wikipedia applications installed. I began to quote them and only then did she even consider the possibility that she was mistaken.

This is what Wikipedia had to say about the non-word:
The origin of irregardless is not known for certain, but the consensus among references is that it is a blend of irrespective and regardless, both of which are commonly accepted standard English words. By blending these words, an illogical word is created. "Since the prefix ir- means 'not' (as it does with irrespective), and the suffix -less means 'without,' irregardless is a double negative." … the usage dispute over irregardless was such that, in 1923, Literary Digest published an article titled "Is There Such a Word as Irregardless in the English Language?"

To lessen the blow of the correction, once the correction was received, I began to share a story. Now this story dates back about 12 years, which should tell you something about me as I’ve never forgotten it. I’m sitting in a restaurant with my husband, we are in a booth, and behind me sat another couple. From the conversation, I gathered they hadn’t long known each other. Now, before you start thinking the wrong thing, I wasn’t snooping. The gentleman just spoke loudly. Anyway, as he conversed with his date he began sharing with her what a, and I quote, “rightly and upfrontly” person he was! Before I sat there immersed in their conversation, but now I’ve begun a snicker. I didn’t want to cause a scene! But let me just tell you, the more I replayed those words in my head after sharing them with my husband the more I began to flat out laugh! The laughter caused tears to flow and before long the waitress came over and asked if everything was okay. I ended up laughing for hours! I couldn’t get those words out of my head. Was he a “country bumpkin” from the back woods, just set free to roam or had he been out for a while and just never lost his "gift of gab"? Whatever the case may be…his words have stuck with me. LOL

The next thought that came to mind was an episode of Good Times. Florida Evans began night school to complete her high school diploma and also began correcting James when he used poor grammar. In this episode James, used ain’t in a sentence. Like me, she also had a hard time correcting him but chose to do so regardless of the outcome. “There is no such word as ain’t.”
James replied, “Naw, well, it’s in the dictionary.”
“No ain’t ain’t but isn’t is, go ahead look it up.”
“Cain’t.” James said with a smirk.
“And why not?” Florida asked.
“’Cause we AIN'T got no dictionary!” James concluded.

Now don’t get me wrong. I too have had my grammar corrected and although at the time I could not have cared less, I’m now obliged to continue the favor of enlightening others as I hear my mother’s words echoing in my head, “You haven’t seen anything, you saw it!”

Now sometimes people learn a word, or think they have and run with it. Take for example the time I got into my minivan and it smelled as if a cat had climbed under the hood and got burned by the engine. When I reluctantly lifted the hood, thank heaven nothing was there for me to scrape off. But after I arrived at the service department of the car dealer and waited patiently for them to tell me what was wrong I was approached by a gentleman who asked what I was there for. I shared the smelly cat story and he told me it was probably my “Cadillac converter”. My minivan was not a Caddy and I was not anywhere near a Cadillac dealership. I knew he had to be making a “word-blunder” and so I sought information from the manager. It was important for me to learn that the problem was not my catalytic converter.

There are actually quite a few words that have made their way into mainstream conversations that have caused me to cringe when I hear them.

· Individuals who are age-advanced are old-timers, this is not their affliction. Old-timers sometimes get Alzheimer’s.
· A large black and tan German dog with markings above the eyes, on the cheeks, muzzle, chest and legs is a Rottweiler not a Rock Wilder.
· When you are speaking to someone else you are having a conversation with them or conversing with them but you are never conversating with them.
· People that find the word "ask" hard to pronounce may find this helpful… when beginning this word think of an ass-kicking but stop at the “k” ass-k..and there you have it.
· A person with fair skin has a light complexion they are not light complected.
· When one causes difficulty, places a barrier or obstacle in the way of another they can become a hindrance not a hinderance.
· Incidently: a word that is misused quite often means “so as to be incident; so as to depend on and is often mistaken for incidentally which means “loosely, casually” or “by the way”.

-When texting:
· Hu?: Huh?, is used to express surprise, disbelief, or confusion and should be spelled with an “h” on both ends.

-Names:
· Jonathan is pronounced John-ah-than not Joe Nathan
· Eric is pronounced Ere-ick not E-Rick
· Cynthia is pronounced is Sin-thee-yah not Sin-ten-yah (There was actually a young lady who believed that that was how her name was pronounced until a teacher her junior year in high school took it upon herself to inform the student of the proper way to pronounce the name).

-Over used and abused words:
· Had: should be used in past tense to show ownership of something. An example of incorrect use would be: What had happened was... Correct use would be: I had a cold last week. There is no way you could have had a happened was but you could have had a cold last week.
· Of: a preposition that shows a relationship between the things mentioned. An example of misuse would be: used of instead of used to.
· e.g.: e.g. stands for “for example” when examples are just one or few of many and i.e. stands for “that is” and used to give the only example possible.
· Hoard: when one hoards they have an accumulation of things or never throws anything away. A horde is a large group of people.
· Lay: means to take something or place it and Lie: means to recline and to tell untruths. This can be tricky however here is an easy way to remember which to use: replace the words with sit and set. If sit makes sense (sit down) then lie should be used (lie down). If the sentence works with set (set the book down) then lay should be used (lay the book down).

I am well aware that certain dialects may cause words to sound “new” as well as the fact that “made up” languages are circulating amongst us. I see absolutely nothing wrong with groups and or cultures communicating to one another in a manner that is relative. But, when pre-existing words are butchered out of laziness or outright ignorance then let’s just say, it “irks” me to no end.
A bit of advice for those that need it, read more, purchase a dictionary, listen to Sesame Street or even the morning news. All these are sources where the English language is communicated properly. It takes but a moment to exercise your brain with a bit more knowledge than you had the day before.

If you have a story or word you'd like to share please comment below or send us an email we'd be more than happy to post it.



If language is not correct,
then what is said is not what is meant;
then what must be done remains undone;
if this remains undone, morals and the art will deteriorate;
if justice goes astray, the people will stand about in helpless confusion.
Hence, there must be no arbitrariness in what is said.
This matters above everything.
--Confucius

1 comment:

Teresa Huang said...

I love this blog post! I also find myself cringing at the incorrect usage of the English language around me. I've often been told that I'm elitist when I correct people and that if the general population continually makes the same mistake, I should just accept it as a "colloquial wording." It's not colloquial, it's just wrong! Argh!

Some of my favorites (or perhaps my least favorites) include:

* In Regards To - Ugh, the correct use is "in regard to!" You send warm regards in a greeting card, but your memo is in regard to the meeting.

* Could Care Less - Did you mean you couldn't care less?

* A Myriad - Myriad means "a very great or indefinitely great number of persons or things." You don't need the "a" in front of it - it's just "myriad possibilities," not "a myriad of possibilities."

Thanks for sharing my attention to detail and bad grammar indignance! :)

Teresa