Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Wordy crappinghood

At last, I can pretend that I am actually working. All I have to do is surf grammar granny sites.

I'm in the mood for a pontificate, so I'm going to give my opinion on each item in this guy's list.

another: it's the height of pedantry to insist that "another" must refer to the same quantity, since it is so often used to mean "more of the same". If I win five beans, then win six, why might I not say I won another six? It's a very common usage and insisting on this guy's usage would lead you to absurdity. "I had three girls and was hoping not to have another." Hello? You wouldn't rewrite that as "hoping not to have one more". Yes, I know that "logically" that "another" "must mean "another three". If you want logic, write computer programs.

bemused: this must be an American thing. In the UK and here in Australia, stunned mullets are bemused. Slightly amused people have wry amusement.

comprise: it actually isn't a very useful distinction, is it? If this is your sole illiteracy, you need not worry. Everyone knows what you mean. Communicating what you mean is, after all, what writing is for.

dilemma: this is a pet nit of mine, I have to confess, because it is useful to have a word for the concept it describes. However, the day is almost done for dilemma and it will soon enough be a synonym for problem.

enormity: yes, it is something to do with size. In Fowler's day it was a particularly heinous thing, but today it is an enormous thing. That's language. The illiterate fuckers stole our word and made it mean something else. Oh well.

expatriate: anyone who writes it "expatriot" is a complete tool. I don't mean they're a spanner, by the way.

face: to face is all the things the guy says but also a really useful verb for exactly what the writer used it for. "Face" can mean "can expect" in this way, and it's a good thing it can, because as the guy demonstrates, there's no other verb for it. His rewrite is baloney. You'll note that he suggests that observing a distinction between facing and possibly facing will involve changing habits. Changing habits is not usually a good thing in language, because habit (what we call usage) is the arbiter of what a word means, not pedantry.

following: you know, I think the time has come to say, unless these cunts give one good reason we shouldn't use "following" as a preposition, use it so. Yes, "after" is a good word to use, and I do rewrite "following" when I see it, but this is one of those "rules" that is utterly unsubstantiated. Next time someone tells you "following" should not be used as a preposition, ask them to explain why, and enjoy watching the steam pour out of their ears.

however: if "however" doesn't actually mean "nevertheless", I'm buggered if I know what it does mean. So why would it matter if you use it where you use "nevertheless"? Use it where the hell you like. It's a crap substitute for "but" anyway, which you would use more often if you knew how to write.

including: grrrr. Yes. All right. It usually suggests part of a whole group, and it can be irritating when someone "includes" everything, but it actually isn't mandatory not to list all the parts of something. They are all, after all, included.

infamous: I think all Red Sox fans will agree with me that infamy can very much be used in a sports context, especially when attached to the NY Yankees, who will kick their arse in the upcoming.

ironically: the problem with banning the use of "irony" for disconnects of all kinds is that there is no other word for disconnects of all kinds. Irony swelled to fill the gap. Words do that. Swim with the tide, dude, is my advice. Ironically, I too have fought against the misuse of irony.

like: using like in place of as if or as though is nothing like as egregious as using as if when you mean as though or as though when you mean as if (briefly, as though describes a simile, as if an impossibility: I walk as though I'm drunk, but I dance as if no one was watching).

literally: is an interesting example of how words can literally come to mean their opposite. You'd sooner see it used to describe things that are not literal than those that are.

mull: he's quite right, of course, but this must be rarely misused. This is the nitter's dilemma: should you nit the one-off and be slammed for taking an easy target or picking on a single writer where no others make the mistake (so that it can hardly be a peeve but just a personal observation about one writer), or should you ignore the solecism and be taken not to have noted it?

Hint: if you have a thousand nits, this dilemma's force is weakened.

most: using most for almost is quaint. I likes it. This guy would squeeze the moisture out of writing if he was allowed.

schizophrenic: actually, it does mean you're in two minds, because that's what everyone except psychiatrists and pedants take it to mean. Thinking that technical jargon defeats everyday usage is a delusion, you know.

superlatives: well, okay, but if something is the first...

Never write "first ever" though. The first of anything is always the first ever.

that: "he said yesterday he would file suit". Hmm. I don't think you need "that" in there. Wars have been fought over "that". Or they would be if pedants had tanks.


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