Category Archives: commentary

Ambiguous headline makes debut

Lexicide reader Helen sent me this newspaper headline, which dates back to June, 2015. I can think of several words one might confuse with ambidextrous: ambivalent, ambiguous, even ambivert, The headline word the East Oregonian editor chose is not one of them.

Here’s some barely suppressed schadenfreude from the Daily News.

And here is the East Oregonian mea culpa.

– Otto E. Mezzo

P.S.: In case you wonder, amphi (Greek) and ambi (Latin) are indeed cognates. Both mean “double,” “both,” or “two” (amphi+biosdouble life, ambi+dexter = “both hands right”)

Spotted on the web: [Platform] Atheist

We have criticized agnostic as a synonym for disinterested, and if you disagree, you should read our article. True agnostics can be thoughtful and dedicated to their philosophy, so it’s a tad insulting to imply they just don’t care. My atheist friends might be even more offended that their belief is not only equated with agnosticism, but also with the same carelessness.

Platform AtheistNow, I know many people think agnosticism and atheism are the same, and to be sure, there is a term that covers both under one areligious umbrella: freethinker. But in case you didn’t know, an atheist (Greek a+theos = without god/gods) definitively rejects divinity, whereas an agnostic declares divinity is beyond our knowing. So an atheist is committed to a worldview — theoretically as committed as a good Christian, Jew, Muslim, Jain, Buddhist, or Zoroastrian.

In that light, being platform atheistic is not the same as being platform agnostic. While an atheist may not evangelize for a specific platform or method, she has a hard opinion, even if that opinion is no platform exists. You see the problem here. Not believing in God doesn’t halt your software development. Good luck if you eschew all operating systems.

So our opinion is this malapropism arises out of the (ignorant) confusion betwixt atheism and agnosticism. Or perhaps from the religious fervor with which some developers hew to their chosen platform. This comment on the thread seems to comport with the atheist’s view of the faithful:

Platform Atheist2

Just don’t blindly use words unless you know what they mean!

— Otto E. Mezzo

Screencraft: 50 Words and Phrases that Screenwriters Get Wrong

One of the Lexicide staff writers used to work in Hollywood as a script reader. No, don’t applaud. It’s a terribly unglamorous job, he says. (Okay, fine, it was me.) Assistants at large agencies and production companies look for any way to eliminate scripts in their tall stacks of submissions. One easy trick is to trash any screenplay that bears a misspelled word or incorrect punctuation mark — or maybe one of these malapropisms. Lexicide is proud to have covered mute pointshoe inand case and point. I would add change tact, which seems to carry the same crunky justification as free reign (“You’re letting the person have control, like a monarch, and you have to be tactful to change direction!”).

Inspired, I am now throwing out all memos or communications that misuse one or more of these phrases. Or if it doesn’t grab my interest in the first five pages. Come to think of it, what works for Hollywood would be a boom for corporations! Er, I mean boon.

Read the article:

The Portmanteau Word: It’s like a Turducken*!

You see it’s like a portmanteau—there are two meanings packed up into one word.
Through the Looking Glass, Lewis Carroll

English is the world’s language, and it’s easy to see why. Maybe it’s British colonialism or American exceptionalism, but the way I see it, English is supreme because it’s so accommodating.** We have no Academy Anglaise shutting down innovation and forbidding loanwords. As a result, English is alive and vibrant, but it also festers with unorthodox orthography (courtesy of these foreign loanwords) and bad ideas gone horribly wrong.

No bad ideas

Among these “ideas” are portmanteau words. Such creations are especially rife in the world of marketing, because creativity is our job, I guess. For example, we’ve given birth to infomercial and infotainment, to which Lex has added irritainment (his own personal handiwork). Likewise, we have advertorial (I’ve written many of these), which is an advertisement masquerading as a feature article. Imagine my surprise to encounter badvertising —bad advertising. I think. Users of the word can’t quite agree what it means. If you’re going to encourage the free market, you’ll have to put up with periodic chaos:

Smarketing — but shouldn’t all marketing be smart marketing?

Threepeat — is still a repeat, thank you.

Permalancer — a permanent freelancer is still a freelancer. (By the way, a created word that doesn’t attempt to be a pun is a neolexic portmanteau.)

Decruiting — because we enjoyed rightsizing so much.

Cremains — cremated remains are also called “ashes,” a word that doesn’t invoke the callousness and fallen stomach this word does. Matt from Virginia (a journalist, not an undertaker), offered this word and comments, “It strikes me as one of those jargon terms that ought to remain in the shop and not be used with clients, and yet it is.”

Any formation with man (mansplain, mancriminate, manspreading) we’ve covered the idiocy of murse, meggings, and mandals. I concede the man words have an edge of misandry which makes them both telling and funny.

Any formation with mom — Stephanie also-from-Virginia writes: “Last night I heard one that made me cringe. Momager. It was in reference to Kris Jenner, which I think made it even more painful.” Agreed. More positive is momtrepreneur, but again, it’s redundant. Isn’t entrepreneur sufficient?

Sometimes, though, the coal vein produces diamonds. Three we like:

Procrasturbation — suggested by Erik in California. Since this is a family-friendly site, I’m going to assume it involves putting off productive work by navel-gazing.

Blamestorming — No explanation needed.

Portmanteau — Lewis Carroll created the lexical meaning, but he didn’t create the word. It already existed in English to describe a suitcase for clothing, made by combining the French porter (to carry) and manteau (cloak) in other words, portmanteau is itself a portmanteau. Now that’s meta. Cue Xzibit!

— Otto E. Mezzo

*Because I used the word, here is a turducken.

**English is by no means the king of compound words. That distinction likely goes to German (and also Dutch), which has no beef about stringing together endless trains of words to create new ones. For example: Rindfleischetikettierungsueberwachungsaufgabenuebertragungsgesetz — literally “bovine-flesh-labeling-over-watching-on-give-over-carrying-out-law” describes a “law delegating beef label monitoring.”

Pleonasm, or How to Fake It

PLEONASM (/ˈplənæzəm/, from Greek πλεονασμός pleonasmos from πλέον pleon “more, too much”) is the use of more words or parts of words than is necessary for clear expression: examples are black darkness, or burning fire, or A malignant cancer is a pleonasm for a neoplasm. Such redundancy is, by traditional rhetorical criteria, a manifestation of tautology. – Wikipedia entry for pleonasm

I learned a new word today. If you know me, that’s no small thing. The word is pleonasm, proffered by Facebook friend Crys. She writes:

Why has it become so trendy for people to use double negatives? Ooh, it grinds my gears when people say/write things like “reply back”!!!!!
feeling annoyed. 

Then continues: Also on my naughty list are pleonasmsincluding, but not limited to: reduce down, raise up, safe haven, & burning fire.#WORDNERD

Crys, I know you read this blog regularly (and if you don’t, I’m pretending you do), as I see you name-checking some previous entries. In addition to your examples, we’ve called out frozen tundrasalsa sauce, please R.S.V.P., and La Brea Tar Pits. But I never knew these tautologies had a designation. So a big Lexicide thank you!

Now, let’s return to faking erudition by using redundant phrases – and annoying Crys!

See also: Redundant, Repetitious and Redundant

Of crashes and Oxford Dictionary entries

I returned from vacation (not vacay) to find my hard drive dead. As in bereft of life, run down the curtain and joined the choir invisible. As a result, I lost August’s Lexicide article, a smashing collection of portmanteau words in the business world, with suggestions from you readers.

Never fear. Today on the Oxford Dictionary blog are two appropriately relevant articles. “Business Jargon in the Mainstream” leads with a word I had not included in my piece: solopreneur. Since most entrepreneurs are one-person shows, I fail to see why this word is necessary. But that’s okay! I fail to see why most portmanteau creations are necessary. A threepeat is still just a repeated action and all marketing should be smart, whether it’s smarketing or not!

Also featured on Oxford’s blog is an update on new wordsHangry is cute and conveys a unique sensibility, but manspreading reminds me too much of meggingsmurse, and mandals, words I have lamented before. Of course, manspreading defines an action not defined elsewhere and, unlike the other words, doesn’t try to differentiate something that is genderless as masculine.

So stay tuned. I will reconstruct my article and return in force.

– Otto E. Mezzo

Grammar Girl: Why Do People Say ‘Ain’t’?

GrammarGirlI’m catching up on my Grammar Girl, and she has an insightful history of ain’t. is all about words that die because they lose their unique definitions for incorrect, redundant ones. Ain’t is a word that fell out of favor due to racism, classism, and general snootiness.  Mr. Whitman and Ms. Fogarty lament:

The stigmatization of ain’t is a pity, because without ain’t, there’s a gap in our system of contractions. When you negate the present tense of be and your subject is a pronoun, you usually have a choice between contracting the pronoun and the verb or the verb and the negative word. For example, you can write we’re not or we aren’t, they’re not or they aren’t, and you’re not or you aren’t. The lone exception is I, where your only choice in standard English is I’m not.

Just like split infinitives and ending a sentence with a preposition, there ain’t no good reason for shooing ain’t off to the side.



RHETORIC: “The art of effective or persuasive speaking or writing, especially the use of figures of speech and other compositional techniques.” – Oxford English Dictionary

Certainly Justice Kennedy’s sense of marital “dignity” is over the top. But it’s not just sentimental rhetoric: It’s a kind of legal “term of heart” that can keep you up at night. – New York Times, “The Supreme Court’s Lonely Hearts Club”

“Lawmakers take rhetoric to Twitter as PA House passes budget bill” – headline at

“Trump’s Rhetoric Threatens Full GOP Field” – headline at

I have some problems with the use of rhetoric in the three recent news examples above. In the first one, I question how sentimental true rhetoric should be. Certainly the classic orators derided emotional appeal as a cheap trick, subject to all kinds of logical fallacies. The classical model of Western education teaches the trivium: grammar (the foundation for reasoning), logic (the mechanics of reasoning), and rhetoric (the application of reasoning). The purpose of rhetoric was to enable constructive debate. Alas, today the notion of constructive debate is less popular even than a classical education. So perhaps it’s a sign of the times that most people today use rhetoric to mean worthless verbiage – something to be suspicious of. It also doesn’t surprise me that Michael Cobb, writing for the Times, can type out “sentimental rhetoric” without incurring the wrath of his editor.

Cobb’s example is positively Cicerone when compared to the next example. How much artful persuasion can one cram into 140 characters, anyhow? According to the story, this rhetoric amounts to the hashtags #GimmicksOverGoverning and #PAGOPfail. #Gag.

Of course, we reach our nadir with the final example. The idea that Donald Trump would effectively persuade anyone or threaten his competition is laughable. Offended at my anti-Trump political stand? No worries. I have some high-minded rhetoric for you: #TrumpSucksBooyah!

Seneca would be proud.

Otto E. Mezzo


It’s not grammar!

Grammar is not spelling. It is not punctuation. It is not syntax or mechanics. And grammar is most certainly not word use. So why do so many people — knowledgeable people — call us “grammar nazis” or point out “grammar errors” that are actually vocabulary errors, as in the video above and the examples below:

The 11 Most Common Grammatical Mistakes And How To Avoid Them

8 Common Grammar Mistakes You Should Never Make Again

10 Common Grammar Mistakes Even Smart People Make

Not as smart as you think, huh, Ms. Desmarais?

If you use the wrong they’re/their/there or it’s when you should have chosen its, that is not a grammar error — you either picked the wrong word or you can’t spell. Likewise if you loose your principals with deleterious affects. A friend recently asked someone online if she “liked piña colada’s” and was accused of “bad grammar.” No, that’s piss-poor punctuation (and a gag-worthy pick-up line, too. Just so you know, Tom).

Using an adverb when you should use an adjective (“I feel badly!“) is a grammar error. Subject-verb disagreement (“We has cheeseburger!”) is a grammar error. You want a common grammar mistake smart people make? Subject-verb disagreement: “Every one of the employees in VeryBig Corporation’s Marketing, Quality, and Technology groups are entitled to free drinks in the canteen on Thursdays.” (In case you don’t follow, the subject is every one, which is singular, so the sentence should read “Every one of the employees in VeryBig Corporation’s Marketing, Quality, and Technology groups is entitled to free drinks in the canteen on Thursdays.”)

We are not “grammar nazis.” That’s not what is about. We’re here to fuss at your awful word usage, your malapropisms, and your ignorance in matters of vocabulary and definition. If you use literally to mean “not literally,” we’ll shake our heads. But we won’t write an article about it. Because it’s not a lexicide. And it’s also not grammar. It’s just stupidity.