Monday, January 17, 2011

I won't correct you, but know I'm thinking it

If Steve didn't already hold the title, I'd take words as my lover.

I find both the curve of the "s" and the loops of the uppercase cursive "L" very seductive.

I love the way letters form words, and the same letters can make thirty words. I love how syllables tumble on top of each other or separate themselves by beats like a band marching. I love how there can be fifty words with the same meaning, but only one fits perfectly into your sentence, the way a jigsaw piece fits into the puzzle.

I like crossword puzzles. I even play those Find-a-Word puzzles that are usually only for kids on road trips. I have read entire pages of the dictionary before, and not because I was stuck in Scrabble with nothing but consonants. I listen to the phonated words on dictionary.com because I like the sound of them. In fact, I waste as much time on dictionary.com as most people spend on imdb or iTunes.

I'm a total word geek. And so is my friend, Patrick. Yet he's not nearly as outspoken about it as I am. He is a closeted word geek. Patrick is the one who pointed out to me that "belligerent" meant something other than extremely drunk. On New Years Day, we went out to lunch. I was hungover from wine, which we all know is the worst hangover of all, but I was still coherent enough to talk about how people destroy words. Certain words become popular and overused and misused to such an extent that soon they are merely shadows of their original meaning.

He told me how he hates when people say "decadent" to refer to a dessert, knowing the word is derived from the word "decay" and should mean deterioration. Driving to Kansas City last weekend, my sister and her fiance got into a debate on whether she used "dilemma" correctly. That's when I realized it's not just me and Patrick, but there are other people who love words, too. There are other people who don't like when people push and prod words into sentences where they don't fit - like jamming a puzzle piece where it doesn't belong. It's against everything I believe in, and also the reason I don't do puzzles with kids.

Here are some examples:

1. Literally
Should mean: exactly what you say is accurate, no metaphors or analogies.
Often misused: I'm literally dying of thirst (or anything else Rachel Zoe says)

2. Peruse
Should mean: to read or examine very carefully
Often misused: as the exact opposite - to skim or glance over quickly without paying much attentionre

3. Random
Should mean: has no specific pattern, purpose, or objective
Often misused: “This random man approached me and asked for the time.” The man isn’t random (especially since he had an objective to find out the time); he's just a stranger.

4. Ironic
Should mean: some incongruity between what is expected and what actually occurs
Often misused: coincidence, Alanis Morissette's whole song on the subject

5. Antisocial
Should mean: against everything society has to offer
Often misused: shy, introverted

6. Unique
Should mean: one of a kind
Often misused: different/weird. As in, "wow this talking cookie jar is such a unique gift!"

7. Fact
Should mean: information capable of direct verification, not of matters of judgment.
Often misused: "I am irresistible to women and that's a fact."

8. Sublime
Should mean: elevated or lofty in thought, impressing the mind with a sense of grandeur or power.
Often misused: by rich ladies at tea talking about the new wall color.

9. Media

Should mean: plural of "medium" and can refer to anything used to carry a message
Often misused: a black cloud of pinstripe suits behind television, magazines, and radio who influence your daughters to take diet pills and your sons to look at porn.

10. Sorry
Should mean: apology. It implies you have something to apologize for.
Often misused: accidents, like bumping into someone's cart at the grocery store. Don't apologize for the fact that there are sixty people in the fucking juice aisle! Not you're problem. Perhaps "excuse me" or "get your god damn apple juice and keep moving!" is what you meant.


Maintaining the integrity of words is next to impossible. Because words mean exactly what we use them to mean. Words develop as our meanings for them do. New meanings are added to existing words as new uses become popular. So if you look a word up now, it doesn't have one meaning - it has seven to twelve. Which brings me to the realization that this whole post was in vain. Oh fuck it: I've always got curse words when I want to make an impact. I can't depend on any word greater than four letters to evade misinterpretations these days.

Cited:
Yahoo
Copyblogger
other sites too, but I forgot which ones.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Agree with you on most, but with the exception of your opinion of the word "sorry". The exact scenario you use happened to me and I do apologize because I truly am sorry for being an obstacle to my fellow human. This word separates us from the beasts we have mastered and rudeness should not be tolerated in society of the civil. Be kind to your fellow humans and kindness will be repaid.

holly said...

Anon, I respect your opinion, as I respect anyone who forms their own opinions.

I think "sorry" has become a filler word and has lost its meaning. I hear people apologize for ridiculous things that were never their fault.

Perhaps my example struck you as being harsh since it just happened to you recently. There are hundreds of other examples I could have used, too.

You shouldn't feel like an obstacle to a fellow human being. You shouldn't apologize for your existence. And I believe the feeling of regret and remorse is what separates us from beasts, not the over and misused word, "sorry."

I'm all for being kind to your fellow humans, but I'm against apologizing for a situation that is out of your control. When people apologize for something needlessly, I remind them that it is not their fault.