Monthly Archives: December 2012

2012’s “Worst Words”

To finish off 2012, Atlantic Wire published its list of “2012’s Worst Words,” and there are some doozies here. From the unctuously faddy to the plain old wrong, I think just about every one of these caused me to cringe — except for the ones that made me laugh. My favorites:

Artisanal Yes, but are you good?

Gaffe This is a future Lexicide entry.

Historic Good point here. Every election is historic. And if an election is not historic, will you not vote? Why not?

Really? It’s tolerable in Judd Apatow movies, but not in client meetings. I mean, really?

Sustainable Overused. I’m guilty of this myself, since I like sustainable (meaning earth-friendly) things and practices. But we’ll have to come up with a new word now that everything’s sustainable.

Least favorite: Brogrammer, Glocal, Meggings (and the not-mentioned Murse) and every poorly constructed portmanteau out there. Leggings are leggings, no matter who wears them.

So Happy Holidays from the Lexicide crew, and enjoy. Unless you don’t want to know what butt-chugging is. I know I didn’t.

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Misnomer

kateMISNOMER: “1. the misnaming of a person in a legal instrument; 2. a. a use of a wrong or inappropriate name; b. a wrong name or inappropriate designation.” – Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, Eleventh Edition

Misnomer means, quite literally, “wrong name” (mis + nominare, the same Latin root for nominate, nomenclature and, oh, name). When something is a misnomer, it is misnamed. The ladybug is a misnomer because it is not a true bug. Same with the jellyfish and starfish, as neither are fishes. Pencil lead contains no lead (misnomer), and so it goes. What a misnomer is not is a misleading or false statement, regardless of the origin:

Pending bills aimed at decriminalizing libel are “incomplete” and also a “misnomer,” said Justice Secretary Leila De Lima. (Philippine Daily Inquirer) No, these bills may be a “joke,” but unless they are not actually bills, chances are they are not misnomers.

Terrorism is a tactic used by individuals with specific ideologies. Killing an ideology is nearly impossible. The war on terror is a complete misnomer. (Frontpagemag.com) This writer wants to convey the War on Terror is ineffective, a poorly conceived idea – not that it’s misnamed. Again, “joke” may be more what the author intended – or perhaps “lie.”

Aztecs coach Rocky Long says rush defense rankings are a misnomer, especially in the Mountain West. (North County Times) Blaaagh! They are not a misnomer. They don’t tell the whole story, or they mislead or create misconceptions, but “rush defense rankings” rate teams according to yards rushed. Sounds about right.

So why use misnomer to mean deception or misconception? Because it sounds learned. And because it’s a noun, and using nouns shields a writer from using verbs which assign accountability to an action. Observe what happens with a little editing:

Pending bills aimed at decriminalizing libel are “incomplete” and “so poorly written as to be impotent.”

The architects of the war on terror are willfully deceiving the nation.

A little too much punch for us, huh? Well, I won’t belabor the point. If your “global company” only does business in two countries, that’s a misnomer. If your global company doesn’t know its Australian office from its Austrian office, that’s no misnomer. Your company just sucks.

Okay, since I’ve been accused of always being a negative Nancy, here is the first correct example of misnomer that came up under a Google News search:

Almost any woman who has been pregnant can tell you the moniker “morning sickness,” is a bit of a misnomer since the nausea can strike at any time. (Washington Times)

Perfect example. Keep calm and carry on.

Otto E. Mezzo

References: “Bills ‘decriminalizing’ libel a misnomer, says DOJ chief,” Philippine Daily Inquirer, November 7, 2012

Why terrorist attacks have quadrupled since 2001,” Frontpagemag.com, December 5, 2012

Aztecs hope to avoid potential trap game against Wyoming,” North County Times, November 23, 2012

Severe morning sickness: A problem for more than just Kate Middleton,” The Washington Times, December 3, 2012

Splitting the baby

The Judgment of Solomon by Gustav Dore16 Then two prostitutes came to the king and stood before him. 17 The one woman said, “Oh, my lord, this woman and I live in the same house, and I gave birth to a child while she was in the house. 18 Then on the third day after I gave birth, this woman also gave birth. And we were alone. There was no one else with us in the house; only we two were in the house. 19 And this woman’s son died in the night, because she lay on him. 20 And she arose at midnight and took my son from beside me, while your servant slept, and laid him at her breast, and laid her dead son at my breast. 21 When I rose in the morning to nurse my child, behold, he was dead. But when I looked at him closely in the morning, behold, he was not the child that I had borne.” 22 But the other woman said, “No, the living child is mine, and the dead child is yours.” The first said, “No, the dead child is yours, and the living child is mine.” Thus they spoke before the king.
23 Then the king said, “The one says, ‘This is my son that is alive, and your son is dead’; and the other says, ‘No; but your son is dead, and my son is the living one.’” 24 And the king said, “Bring me a sword.” So a sword was brought before the king. 25 And the king said, “Divide the living child in two, and give half to the one and half to the other.” 26 Then the woman whose son was alive said to the king, because her heart yearned for her son, “Oh, my lord, give her the living child, and by no means put him to death.” But the other said, “He shall be neither mine nor yours; divide him.” 27 Then the king answered and said, “Give the living child to the first woman, and by no means put him to death; she is his mother.” 28 And all Israel heard of the judgment that the king had rendered, and they stood in awe of the king, because they perceived that the wisdom of God was in him to do justice.

I Kings 3:16-28 (English Standard Version)

“Great Solomon’s ghost! Did you have to include the whole dadblained passage? Couldn’t you have just split the baby and post half of it?”

No. And you just demonstrated why.

Splitting the baby, an attention-getting turn of phrase for sure, has its origins in this Biblical narrative. Directly preceding this passage is one in which God asks the young King Solomon, who has just taken the throne amidst a power struggle, to ask him for anything he wants. Instead of riches of fame, Solomon asks for wisdom to rule wisely. God is very happy at this choice. He grants Solomon this wisdom – just in time for this difficult she said-she said case. In the days before genetic testing, Solomon demonstrated both a clever mind and a keen understanding of human nature by “splitting the baby.”

Today, most people display neither cleverness nor understanding, especially when they use this term. Observe this gem from the New York Times:

Mr. Jobs rarely split the baby. And while there is no doubt that we’re moving toward a world devoid of spinning hard disks and optical drives, Apple clearly wants to give its customers the option to buy the older tech.

It is splitting the baby.

Or this one from Forbes, an article titled “Good Negotiators Don’t Split Babies”:

Splitting the baby is a common but ineffective strategy for resolving a dispute or negotiating a good business deal.

Successful negotiators don’t settle for splitting the difference between two unacceptable proposals.

Yes, those are the two opening paragraphs, and you will notice they reveal what this author (and so many other) thinks splitting the baby means: splitting the difference.

NO. If you mean “splitting the difference,” use the phrase splitting the difference, not splitting the baby. You “split the baby” if you propose an ingenious and drastic solution to an intractable problem, especially one that results in neither party getting what they want. Of course, it is instructive that Solomon knew he wouldn’t have to split the baby. The threat itself was enough to solve the problem.

Since ingenuity and creative thinking are discouraged in the business world, you will probably never find occasion to use splitting the baby in its correct form. Which is for the better. I’d hate to see what most managers do when handed a newborn and a sharp object.

Otto E. Mezzo

References:
http://bits.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/06/11/is-apple-splitting-the-baby/

http://www.forbes.com/sites/shenegotiates/2012/11/05/good-negotiators-dont-split-babies/