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Archive for the tag “words”

More misused English words that make people look silly

A couple of weeks ago I tweeted a link to an article 20 misused English words that make smart people look silly — Quartz that I thought was somewhat dated. It listed commonly confused word pairs of about fifty years ago. But there were a lot of words missing from the list that are commonly confused today.

I can’t remember when I last heard or saw anyone confuse accept and except. But I read and hear people confusing deny and refute every week.

When an election is in the offing, I hear newsreaders on radio and TV talking every day about people who are “illegible to vote”. That may be a pronunciation error, but it certainly creates confusion in the minds of listeners and viewers.

And even policemen are now apparently beginning to confuse perpetrators with suspects. Surely they should be trained to know the difference.

  • Deny — to deny something is to asset that it is not true.
  • Refute — to refute something is to produce evidence that it is not true.

It is sad to see the way the media connive at politicians’ lies when they report that they “refuted” something when they only denied it.

For more on the deny-refute difference see here: Rebut, Refute, Deny

  • Perpetrator — someone who has done something bad, like committing a crime
  • Suspect — someone who as been identified as the possible perpetrator of a crime

Bear in mind that speaking of “an unknown suspect” is a contradiction in terms. It means you think you know who did it, but you don’t know who it is. The perpetrator is someone who commits a crime, whether known or unknown. A suspect is someone you think was the perpetrator.

The difference between deny and refute also shows up another difference, but this time between US English and most other dialects of English, where the term moot point has almost opposite meanings.

If you deny something and I don’t accept your denial, it becomes, in my South African English, a moot point — that is something debatable, on which we may agree to differ, but differ nonetheless. If, however, you refute it, there can be no further debate, and it ceases to be a moot point, that is, it is no longer open to debate.

In US English, however, the meaning of moot point is almost the opposite: a moot point is not something open to debate, but rather something not worth debating. Something to beat in mind when you read something by authors using a different dialect of English from your own. Eish!




Nauseating words

I’ve occasionally read articles about words that people hate. Apparently one of the most disliked words in the English language is “moist”.

But this article reminded me of two of my least favourite words — 2 New ‘Harry Potter’ Books Are Coming This October:

Harry Potter fans have yet another reason to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the iconic wizarding franchise: They’re getting two new books this October.

For me two of the most nauseating words are “franchise” and “brands”, but “iconic” comes a pretty close third.

Harry Potter is a fictional character in a series of books. Why call him a “franchise”? Why are so many sports teams called “franchises” nowadays. These words do have proper uses. I have no objection to referring to a fast-food joint like KFC as a “franchise” where it means that they have been licensed to use the KFC brand and logos even though they are independently owned. But call it a franchise when referring to their business model;, not to the stuff they sell (ground up chicken beaks and gizzards called “nuggets”).

But how many authors have been licensed to write Harry Potter books? How many sports teams around the world (or even the UK) have been licensed to call themselves “Manchester United” or “Norwich City”? As far as I know, one and one only in each instance. That doesn’t make them a franchise, or anything remotely like it.

And all this talk about “brands” — are you interested in “brands”? Yes, I’ve seen online questionnaires that ask that. Should I say yes, I’m interested in brands. I really do prefer KFC to Ford, for example. Fried chicken gets me from A to B so much faster than a motor car, Dettol plays much better cricket than the Titans.

But perhaps I’m alone in this. “Brands”, “franchise” and “iconic” don’t seem to have made these lists, no matter how high they are on mine “Moist” And 28 Other Gross-Sounding English Words That Everyone Hates | Thought Catalog, and 11 Gross-Sounding Words Everyone Hates To Hear, According To Science.

The SAfm radio station has a Sunday morning programme on media, and “brands” feature pretty prominently in it.

Samuel Maverick

It all makes me rather sympathetic to Samuel Maverick, whose name entered the English language because he never branded his cattle. Unbranded cattle that did not belong in the herd were called “mavericks”. Later it came to be applied to people who didn’t follow the herd, like politicians who didn’t toe (or nowadays “tow”) the party line. Like Makhosi Khoza. I suppose that’s why I like to read the Daily Maverick. And why I would like to see Makhosi Khoza as our next president.

So the more talk I hear of “brands”, the more I think of Samuel Maverick. No matter what else he did, he made an important and much-needed contribution to the English language.

Where’s the outrage?

Where’s the outrage?

This is a strange rhetorical question that I’ve been seeing with increasing frequency on the Internet. A Google search showed about 259,000 results.

And it seems strange because if you read what people write about it, a lot of them seem to think that outrages are a good thing, and that they are deploring their absence.

Or people will describe an outrage, giving the details of its exact location, and then ask where it is.

“Police shoot unarmed teenager in Gotham City. Where’s the outrage?”

And the answer, of course is right there, in Gotham City. They just said so.

So it seems that people don’t really know what “outrage” means, and seem to think it means the same as “rage”, but is enhanced by adding a prefix — inrage, outrage, uprage, downrage. Just as people think one can enhance “centre” by putting “epi” in front of it, or “record” by putting “track” in front of it, and some even seem to think that “ultimate” can be enhanced by putting “pen” in front of it.

“Outrage” actually means “the forcible denial of others’ rights, sentiments, etc” or “an act of violence”. When police shoot an unarmed person who is not breaking any law, it is the shooting itself that is the outrage, not the emotional reactions of people hearing or reading about it. An outrage is never a good thing.

But even if it is a malapropism, and if people actually mean “rage” when they say “outrage”, is it a good thing? It is something I’ve seen asked on Christian websites and blogs and social media, and there’s quite a good answer here Where’s the Outrage? | ifaqtheology.

Rage is often the cause of outrages; we often read of incidents of “road rage” where an enraged motorist assaults or sometimes murders another. Is that a good thing?

Time magazine cover, May 29, 2017

Recently Time magazine had a cover showing an Orthodox Church descending on the US White House and assimilating it. Some Orthodox Christians were asking “Where’s the outrage?” about that. Well, quite clearly the outrage was on the cover of Time, but I think what they meant was “Why aren’t more people enraged by this outrage?” And the implication was that they thought more people ought to be enraged by it.

But one of the things we are taught as Orthodox Christians is that we should subdue the passions and control them, and anger, rage, is one of the passions. The way to godliness (theosis) is through bringing the passions under control, and the aim is dispassion (apatheia). So why try to provoke passions in others by asking “Where’s the outrage?”

There are many things in the world that tempt us to let our passions rage unrestrained — Facebook, for example, has recently added an “anger” button which you can click if something enrages you. I try to avoid using it, because it is a temptation to indulge in the passion of unrestrained anger.

If you find the Time cover outrageous, by all means say so, but try not to get enraged by it. One can point out that it displays ignorance and is irresponsible journalism, and hope the errors might be corrected. But indulging in emotional outbursts of anger doesn’t achieve anything. I think that Donald Trump is far more influenced by Pseudo-Evangelical Moneytheism than he is by Orthodox Christianity, so the Time cover is misleading, to say the least. But don’t get all worked up about it, and demand that other people get worked up about it too — to do that is simply to indulge the passions.

And do try to use words like “outrage” accurately (yes, I’m an Orthodox language pedant).



Syndromes, diseases, disorders and initials

One of the things the Internet makes one aware of is the different ways people in different countries communicate, even when they are using the same language.

OCDpeepsPerhaps it’s just that I don’t get out enough, because when someone posted this graphic on Facebook, I had to ask what OCD people were. As far as I have been able to determine, I am an INTP person, and three-letter initialisms beginning with OC make me think of OCR (Optical Character Recognition), but then comes the D, and I’m wondering what it can stand for, Optical Character Determinant? and how it relates to people.

Of course I am familiar with some diseases commonly known by acronyms or initialisms, like Aids and TB, but when someone posted in a newsgroup that he was COPD, I was flummoxed. I’d heard of the LAPD and the NYPD, but COPD? Colorado?

Someone pointed out that people who suffer from the disease or disorder concerned will refer to it by initials, and that I can understand. What puzzles me is when they expect other people who don’t suffer from that particular ailment to know what the letters mean.

That’s what makes me wonder if it is a cultural thing.

Or perhaps a hypochondria thing.

When we first got interested in family history, about 30 years ago, we went to ask my wife’s grandmother about the family. She had difficulty in remembering their names. She said one of her sisters-in-law had married a Walsh or a Marsh. It turned out that it was actually a Clark. But she could remember what illnesses they suffered from and what colour pills they took.

At various times I’ve suffered from various ailments — pneumonia at the age of four, amoebic dysentery at the age of 5, chicken pox and blood poisoning at the age of 6, measles at the age of 11, mumps at the age of 22, myopia and uveitis at the age of 45, and type 2 diabetes at the age of 65, along with a few bouts of colds, influenza and bronchitis. But none of them was known by initials (at least not by me), so I couldn’t have been really ill. The one that caused me the most suffering was measles. And in pneumonia the cure was more painful than the disease (penicillin injections at 3 am — penicillin was then a relatively new invention).

When I remarked on this on Facebook someone commented that surely I must know what ME and MB are. I didn’t. Or at least I thought that they signified doctors, not diseases. ME is surely Medical Examiner, and MB is the degree my “doctor” actually has — MB ChB, to be precise — Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery — for which he (or she) gets to be called “doctor”. Nobody called me a doctor when I had two bachelors degrees.

None of the doctors I’ve ever been to has referred to diseases by initials, at least not in my presence. I’m sure they do so when discussing such things among their colleagues, who can be expected to understand specialised medical jargon. But what gets me is that some people, like the designer of the graphic about eggs, seem to expect the average peasant yobbo on Facebook (like me) to understand them too.

But the internet is like that. It was on BBS conferences that I first learnt about INTP and EFSJ and things like that. At first it sounded like Scorpio and Virgo and Aquarius, but then I applied for a job, and was sent for a test that showed that I was INTP, and apparently they weren’t looking for INTPs to fill that position, so I didn’t get the job.

From the same BBS conference I learned, from other people in different countries, about ADD and ADHD. I didn’t know what those were, until someone mentioned that Ritalin was commonly prescribed for them. I did know about Ritalin. The headmaster of our son’s school urged that we send him to a child psychologist, who referred him to a child psychiatrist, who prescribed Ritalin. Our son tended to get bored in class, and didn’t pay much attention to the teacher. Ritalin was supposed to cure that. Another boy in his class was disruptive, and he took Ritalin, which was supposed to cure that too. The Ritalin cost a lot of money, but did not make the lessons more interesting, though the teachers swore by it. But it seems that ADD was the new name for what I had been prone to in my youth: DDC (Daydreaming in Class). But not once did the psychiatrist refer to ADD or ADHD in our hearing. All she said was that Ritalin had two opposite effects — it gingered up children who were too passive, and calmed down those who were hyperactive. It seemed that it was a panacea. She did not mention its most important property — the placebo effect it had on the teachers.

I think the biggest problem is HCS — a hypochondriac society.

But since the discussion on Facebook, someone has prescribed a sure cure for my problem: List of abbreviations for diseases and disorders – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

And next time someone tells me they are living with NYPD I’ll sympathise accordingly.



There are some words that are quite meaningless, because they can mean just about anything. Words like “unit”, “module”, “aspect” and “facet”, for example. The latest word to join this rapidly expanding group is “franchise”, and that is why I wondered about this tweet that I saw on Twitter this morning:

Has any of the print media written a story about an ‘inexperienced’ CEO being appointed to lead a franchise this morning? Yes No Maybe?

Perhaps there is something that preceded it that would explain what it means, but I’m left puzzled. In the last five years or so, “franchise” has been increasingly used of sports teams. Why, I don’t know.

NandosLogoI tend to think of “franchise” as referring to a retail chain of shops under a common name that sell something. So one has Nandos and KFC that sell take-away cooked chicken, Wimpy and McDonalds that sell hamburgers, and so on. The “restaurants”, if they can be called that, are individually owned, but they have the same decor, use the same recipes, and sell stuff for the same price, at least in any one country where they operate. The have a licence to operate, a “franchise”, from the owner of the brand name.

nandos1But I find difficulty in seeing how this applies to a sports team, like the Dolphins, the Sharks, the Titans, Orlando Pirates, Kaizer Chiefs or Mamelodi Sundowns. I know that these teems sometimes have sponsorships from commercial firms — at one time Mamelodi Sundowns were being called “Ellerines Sundowns”. But the term “franchise” implies that there is a Mamelodi Sundowns team in every city, all wearing the same outfit in their games, and that somewhere there is a big Sundowns CEO who manages all these franchisees, and admits new ones once they have learnt the culture of the franchise.

If you refer to the Titans as a cricket team, you know they play cricket. But if you refer to them as a “franchise”, they could be selling fried chicken or hamburgers or pizza for all anyone knows.

So just as “unit” can refer to anything from an electric locomotive to a kitchen cupboard to a group of soldiers, “franchise” can now mean anything, or, more likely, nothing at all.

Detestable neologisms: “curate” as a verb

About a month ago, in the course of a discussion on the alt.usage.english newsgroup I became aware of “curate” being used as a verb, and since then I’ve been seeing it in lots of places.

To me a “curator” was someone in charge of a museum or art gallery, and seeing it in other contexts just looked very weird.

I read this page on a blog that referred to “curating” a dictionary: Crowd-sourced dictionaries and rare portmanteaus | Sentence first: “For more of my thoughts on Urban Dictionary, and why professionally curated dictionaries are in no danger of displacement, you can read the rest here.”

I queried it, and the author said it had been expanded in meaning, as he explained here: Is linguistic inflation insanely awesome? | Macmillan:

Lately the word curation has been used to refer to the collecting and posting of links on the internet, a curator being someone who does this. Some find it a bit of a stretch, and they have a point. But this often happens to job titles: they get stretched, puffed up, inflated – Subway workers are sandwich artists, cleaning staff are surface technicians, and hairdressers are design directors.

I had hitherto thought that the correct neologism for such a person who collects and posts links on the Internet was “blogger”.But, hey, if it will impress people, I hope you enjoy reading my curation and the links that I have curated above. It is obviously a new trend in the curatosphere.

The dictionary reference made me think of Samuel Johnson, as he must have been the first-ever curator of an English dictionary, and he says:

CURATOR one that has the care and superintendence of any thing.

The curators of Bedlam assure us, that some lunaticks are persons of honour.

That fits in pretty well with the current meaning of “manager”.

But I still feel that referring to Samuel Johnson as the “curator” of the first English dictionary doesn’t fit, and that “compiler” would be a more accurate description.

There are some neologisms, like “curate”, and extensions of the meanings existing words, like “curator”, that I feel compelled to resist. Not that it will stop other people using them, but I will continue to blog, rather than curate, and invite people to read my blog rather than read my curation.

On second thoughts, I think I may use “curator” to take the mickey, and refer to the CEOs of companies as “curating directors”. Perhaps they’ll be flattered.

Words and how we use them

As a former editor and proof-reader, one of the things that interests me is words and how people use them, and so I foujd this list of links to language-related articles very interesting, and the easiest way of keeping it for future reference was to copy the whole thing. Hat-tip to Link love: language (47) | Sentence first.

Is malarkey Irish?

The world’s oldest message in a bottle.

Grammar gotcha” and political speech.

Vices of modern prose (from a century ago).

Briticisms in American English.

When foreign words and native accents meet.

Linguistic advice for pseudo-Elizabethan romancers.

A short history of Wow! from 1513 to now.

Literature vs. traffic (art installation).

Why handwriting matters.


Is funner grammatical?

Dialectal differences in sign languages.

An immodest proposal to reform the English writing system.

Noah Webster’s designs for American orthography.

France ≠ twirling a moustache: how British sign language is changing.

Good debate on language rules, usage, and authority.

Mononymy: when people use just one name.

How the Beatles used and influenced the English language.

Non-singular only is not debatable.

Are some languages faster than others?

A dictionary of Demotic Egyptian has been published.

Translating Finnegans Wake into Chinese.

Booklet on the recently expired Cromarty fisher dialect of Scots (PDF).

Give a dog a bad name

“Sticks and stones can break my bones, but words can never hurt me.”

Such was the reply often given to playground taunts and insults in my youth.

But a recent discussion on the alt.usage.english newsgroup puts a new slant on it.

People were discussing the remake of the film The Dam Busters, a true story of how the British attacked German dams in WW2 by using an ingenious technique to drop bombs where they would be most effective.

Apparently the remake hit a snag.

Squadron Leader Guy Gibson, who led the raid, had a pet dog, a black Labrador called “Nigger”, and it was decided to use the dog’s name as a code name to indicate that the first raid had been successful.

The WikiPedia page on the film, and the proposed remake, describes the problem as follows The Dam Busters (film) – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia:

The British Channel 4 screened the censored American version in July 2007, in which the dialogue was dubbed so as to call the dog Trigger, this screening taking place just after the planned remake was announced. For the remake, Peter Jackson has said no decision has been made on the dog’s name, but is in a “no-win, damned-if-you-do-and-damned-if-you-don’t scenario”, as changing the name could be seen as too much political correctness, while not changing the name could offend people. Further, executive producer Sir David Frost was quoted in The Independent as stating: “Guy sometimes used to call his dog Nigsy, so I think that’s what we will call it. Stephen has been coming up with other names, but this is the one I want.” In June 2011, Stephen Fry mentioned in an interview that the dog would be called Digger in the remake to avoid offending modern audiences. In September 2007, as part of the BBC Summer of British Film series, The Dam Busters was shown at selected cinemas across the UK in its uncut format.

The discussion on alt.usage.english was mainly concerned with the issue of the dog’s name. The original name is now regarded as offensive in America, so using it might harm the film at the box office. But changing the name of the dog would be historically inaccurate.

Discussion went back and forth for a while, and eventually someone said:

I don’t see what harm it does to change the dog’s name consistently in the dialogue, just so people don’t repeatedly cringe until it gets run over. (I haven’t seen the original film; I’m trusting what someone else said in this thread.) They could put a note up at the beginning or end of the film briefly explaining the deviation from historical accuracy.

And Peter Brooks of Cape Town made a comment that put the whole discussion in perspective:

Cringe? There’s a film showing people getting ready to kill tens of thousands of innocent civilians by drowning and people watching it cringe because of the name given to a dog? What kind of perverted system of values could lead to that?

Another Wikipedia article describes the results of the first raid Möhne Reservoir – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia:

The resulting huge floodwave killed at least 1579 people, 1026 of them foreign forced labourers held in camps downriver. The small city of Neheim-Hüsten was particularly hard-hit with over 800 victims, among them at least 526 victims in a camp for Russian women held for forced labour.

Naming computer programs

Why do people have to name computer programs or web services with ordinary words?

I’m referring to things like Ubuntu and Android, and one I heard of just today, a social networking thing called Diaspora.

If you are looking for web sites related to ubuntu, or androids, the search engines spew out many totally irrelevant posts.

Computer programs or web sites with unique made-up names have less danger of ambiguity and confusion, like Linux, Facebook, Orkut and the like. Ok, “twitter” is a word, but it’s not one that people would really want to look up other than the web site.

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