Monday, May 28, 2007


"Words in papers, words in books
Words on tv, words for crooks
Words of comfort, words of peace
Words to make the fighting cease
Words to tell you what to do
Words are working hard for you
Eat your words but don't go hungry
Words have always nearly hung me

What are words worth?
What are words worth? - words

Words of nuance, words of skill
And words of romance are a thrill
Words are stupid, words are fun
Words can put you on the run"

"Wordy Rappinghood",
Tom Tom Club, 1981.

Words can also make you want to cover your ears and sing la, la, la, I can't hear you! until the evil goes away.

One of the women I work with is a literalist. A user (and abuser) of that problematic little bastard child, the word literally. She uses it in almost every sentence. Or as she might say, she uses it in literally every sentence. She uses it to mean figuratively, almost, very, or any number of meanings except the true meaning - "in a literal manner, word for word".

Actually, I'm doing her a disservice. Her scatter shot use of the word means that every now and then she chances upon the correct usage. On those occasions I feel like telling her to go and buy a lottery ticket, because it's her lucky day.

I love language. Yes I believe in the rules, and yes I also think that language is a living and changing thing, and a tool that is sometimes most effective when wielded incorrectly. Sometimes. I make my own mistakes and I try not to be too big a pedant. Occasional slips are one thing, but beating a poor defenseless word to death is another thing entirely.

You know how everyone has their bugbear? Their line in the sand? (For some it's even blogworthy.)



thombeau said...

Oooh, don't get me started. You can only imagine what Americans do to the language...

Words should be treated with the respect they deserve. They are symbols of concepts, very powerful in their own right (when properly used, even more so) and their history is that of society and the human race.

The stories they tell!

The Other Andrew said...

Thombeau, is it wrong that an extensive and rich vocabulary gets me all hot and bothered? I mean, by all means whisper sweet nothings in my ear, but recite the darker recesses of the dictionary and I'm putty.

I'm fascinated by the link between thinking and language. Can you only think a concept when you have the words for it? Does language mould thinking or vice versa? I love the history of words too, how they change and adapt. Interesting stuff!

Cecilia said...

My bugbear is "utilize." "Utility" is OK, but for reasons I have yet to figure out, I cannot deal with "utilize." Just typing it makes me shudder!

The Other Andrew said...

Funny how we all have our language weak spots, don't you think?

Stilgherrian said...

Oh, Andrew, you’d therefore be either annoyed or amused (or both!) by my rant about a lame real estate sign. “Chardonnay cool,” indeed!

Michael said...

My mom is currently afflicted with this conversational tic where she'll pepper any lulls, pauses, or breaths with "Sure, sure". Arrggghhhh! Doesn't matter if it's a warranted spot for indiciting her assent. Half the time it doesn't even make a lick of fucking sense to say it.

What's that? Of course I've been so rude as to point it out to her. The woman is powerless to stop.

word verification: vporno


Mikey (TLE) said...

Aiyah! I so agree with this post (questionable split infinitive intended).

I have so many linguistic irritants I don't know where to start. Perhaps "I will email you" is the one most often encounterd. I may be fighting a king tide here, but "email" is a noun, not a verb... The sentence should read; "I will send you an email".

As a lawyer, language is my lifeblood. The firm I work for actually employs someone on a full time basis to make sure the firm's linguistic style is accurate and to train lawyers in the complexities of grammar and vocabulary. This is what is known as "a good thing".

Michael said...

Professional correspondence is different, of course, but in my own private Idaho, I ADORE verbifying everything. Sorry.

Lara said...

For me, it's the word unique, prefaced by a qualifier.

"Totally Unique", "somewhat unique", etc. COME ON. It's either unique, or it isn't. Don't mess with my tiny mind.

Sorry for shouting, but it really gets to me.

Michael said...

As long as we're picking on specific words, I'll toss out "eclectic". No, seriously. Let's toss it out.

The Other Andrew said...

I like to verbify, make up words and deliberately misuse, but it's done with a certain pazzazz and linguistic flick o' the wrist. At least I hope so! Beating a word into submission is never attractive though.

Lara, I feel your pain. "Very excellent" and others of their ilk drive me to distraction too.

The Other Andrew said...

It's tossed, Mr Mike. Your wish is my command. Seriously.