Category Archives: sightings

Egregious examples of vocabulary under assault in the mainstream media and elsewhere.

Setting a new record

I received an email solicitation recently. This is how the sender described her company (name redacted to protect the clichéd):

********* is a disruptor on the professional services arena. We leverage the latest technologies and methodologies in the digital and cognitive space to help organizations transform in every aspect.

Four lexicides! That has to be a new record. Now if I could just figure out what this company does.

— Otto E. Mezzo

On Demonyms, Part C (for Correspondence)

In response to Part 1, I received this message from loyal reader Eddie, who writes:

The post includes my favorite, Liverpudlian. I frequently add a fake -pudlian suffix to identify people from other cities.

I have lived in Greensboro for a couple of years and still have no idea what the proper demonym for city residents is. So I call them Greensburgers. I also like to use -villain (not -villian) for residents of -villes.

As we discussed last month, many demonyms derive from ancient place names. The pool in Liverpool is from the Old English for pool or (cognate coming!) puddle. Another example gets folks scratching their heads is Haligonian. Not so dense when you realize Halifax is derived from halig faex, Latin for “holy hair.” Only, it turns out that’s a folk etymology. But the demonym stuck.

As I responded to Eddie, “-burgers” is etymologically appropriate for -boro, -borough, -burg, and -burgh demonyms, since they all mean “city” and a burger is a “resident of a city.” Villain, interestingly, is also derived from a word for “city” (French ville), but its actual meaning is “someone from the sticks,” or more accurately, a villanus (farmhand) who worked on a villa.* I don’t know who decided to equate hearty country yokels with villainy, but hey – I don’t make the rules.

Eddie continues:

For places with City in the name (Elizabeth City, NC; Ocean City, MD, etc.), Citizen has a much nicer ring than Citian, in my opinion.

That brings up a good question: what do you call someone from Oklahoma City? If Eddie had his way, they would be Oklahoma Citizens. But seriously, what are they called?

 Otto E. Mezzo

* Villas could be stately plantations, around which villages grew, hence ville (city).

From StraightNorth.com: 150 Business Jargon Fixes

When business writers resort to business jargon, it’s because they lack the time, creative energy or subject mastery to find a more exact word or phrase. 

No truer words have ever been spoken. While Lexicide has explored the far reaches of English language word usage, we started off decrying lazy, jargony, incorrect business writing. This article sums up 150 of the most common clichés in the workplace. We’ve covered awesome, bleeding edge, epic, evangelist, (most) unique, incentivize, leverage, utilize, and out of pocket. But what made me laugh in this piece was how many of these hoary expressions we use at my workplace. Not a meeting goes by without a deep dive and a granular drill down to mission critical action items at the end of the day.

Enjoy. https://www.straightnorth.com/company/marketing-resources/150-business-jargon-fixes/

Hey Girl

Fact: 90% of those who use “cognitive” guilty of 0% cognition

Big news broke today: Ryan Gosling’s Neil Armstrong film deliberately omits the planting of the US flag on the Sea of Tranquility. But that fact itself is not the news. It’s Gosling’s quotation:

“So I don’t think that Neil viewed himself as an American hero… I’m Canadian, so might have cognitive bias.” 

Unlike Gosling, I am not a psychologist. No, I don’t know if the former Mouseketeer is one either, but he must be, because not many outside the psychology field have occasion to speak of cognitive biases, which, according to the ever-reliable Wikipedia, are defined as:

Systematic pattern[s] of deviation from norm or rationality in judgment.

Whatever that means. Here’s a better definition from Chegg.com (an online textbook site):

Mistake[s] in reasoning, evaluating, remembering, or other cognitive process, often occurring as a result of holding onto one’s preferences and beliefs regardless of contrary information.

What a cognitive bias is not is a preference, affinity, or plain old bias based on your nationality. But why admit bias when cognitive bias sounds so much more high-minded?

Lex, who works in bioinformatics (and who studied artifical intelligence and neuroscience) also complained to me about the way his colleagues use cognitive dissonance. No, his colleagues are not brain scientists or behavioral therapists. They’re programmers. And no, they don’t mean the mental discomfort (psychological stress) experienced by a person who simultaneously holds two or more contradictory beliefs, ideas, or values. (That’s a little better, Wikipedia.) Here’s what they mean:

Want to experience cognitive dissonance? Try reading George Orwell’s “Homage to Catalonia” while visiting Catalonia. (Macomb Daily)

However, when a heuristic fails and the player’s character dies, they experience cognitive dissonance between what they thought was going to happen and what actually happened. For a Fortnite player, this may be because they were hit by a sniper in what they thought was a secret hiding spot. (The Guardian)

Hey, that one’s relevant and all. Look, kids!

Or this one, from Jezebel, titled My Pussy Is on a Journey of Self-Discovery (yes, it’s SFW):

The cognitive dissonance created by her freshly shorn bod supporting an Elizabethan neck ruff made of soft fur is gone. 

So just as cognitive bias is just a fancy word for biascognitive dissonance is a high-falutin’ way of saying dissonance, or to put it in even more prosaic terms, Whoa! Didn’t expect that!

But you should. Studies show 90% of people you meet think their vocabulary is more learned than it really is. And that’s a fact.

See also: Impedance mismatch

 Otto E. Mezzo, suggested by Lex

P.S.: Yes, I know I promised to elaborate on demonyms this month. Enjoy the cognitive dissonance.

References (lots of ’em!):

https://www.telegraph.co.uk/films/2018/08/29/first-man-neil-armstrong-film-fails-fly-flag-us-patriotism/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cognitive_bias

https://www.chegg.com/homework-help/definitions/cognitive-bias-13

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cognitive_dissonance

https://www.macombdaily.com/opinion/sleepwalking-into-nationalism/article_cecfa7e8-292a-5989-8089-000b32226519.html

https://www.theguardian.com/games/2018/aug/29/why-cant-people-stop-playing-fortnite

https://jezebel.com/my-pussy-is-on-a-journey-of-self-discovery-1828703930

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dunning%E2%80%93Kruger_effect

Aught

AUGHT: “1. Anything; 2 : all, everything – for aught I care” – Merriam-Webster.com

Last week, we linked to Merriam-Webster.com’s useful limericks on correct word use. But Otto spotted a usage mistake amidst the lessons on correct usage. The horror!

High school English teacher Anne was the first one to spot it (after Otto), buried within the limerick on enormity:

Of the subject of semantic upheaval
Some critics would make it illegal
They think that enormity
Is a verbal deformity
When its meaning is aught but “great evil”

Of course, we applaud Merriam-Webster.com’s valiant attempt to educate folks that enormity does not mean “great size,” but “great evil” (only 11 ½ years after Lexicide.com’s valiant attempt)! However, aught does not mean “nothing” or “zero.” In fact, it means the opposite – see Merriam-Webster.com’s own entry above.

So read correctly, the limerick says enormity means anything but “great evil,” which of course is not what the author intended. It is true that many writers use aught as a synonym for “zero,” most commonly in numerical measurements (for example, “double aught” buckshot), years (“the flood of aught four”), or sometimes both – the cartridge G.I.s fired during both World Wars is designated .30-’06, read “thirty-aught six,” a .30 caliber round adopted in 1906.

But if aught doesn’t mean “zero,” why do we use it that way when the term we really want is naught. Brits often use naught as a synonym for the null digit, and even Yanks pulls it out as a stand-in for “nothing” (“It was all for naught!”). According to most sources, aught may have stemmed from someone mishearing “a naught” as “an aught.” This sort of thing happens frequently and even has its own name – metanalysis.

But that doesn’t erase the existence of aught, a word understood to mean “anything” or “something” in Samuel Johnson’s time. So once again, Lexicide must embrace Safire’s maxim: never use a word to sow confusion, however unintentional. Aught has two accepted meanings, antonyms of each other. Naught has but one. Use naught.

 Otto E. Mezzo

References: Aught at Merriam-Webster.com

Your head will spin: Uses of ‘naught,’ ‘aught,’ and ‘ought’, Columbia Journalism Review

Examples of metanalysis

Oh look. Usage Limericks (at Merriam-Webster.com)

You attract more ants with honey than vinegar, so the saying goes. And as my kids will tell you, you can get more likes with humor than finger-wagging (a lesson we at Lexicide have yet to learn). Reader Eddie shared this amusing (not bemusing) set of mnemonic limericks from Merriam-Webster. In addition to bemuse, they cover unique, enormity, and incentivizeall Lexicide veterans.

We Made You a Bunch of Usage Limericks. You’re Welcome.

But not all is right here in PedantiaYes, the article contains a usage error itself. Did you spot it?

 Otto E. Mezzo

Begging the question (h/t to Jonah Goldberg)

Yesterday, Otto sent me this excerpt from Jonah Goldberg’s G-file:

As long-time readers know, from time to time I vent my spleen on the misuse of the phrase “begs the question.” Every day, someone on TV or radio gets it wrong…. So for the umpteenth time, “begging the question” involves assuming a premise — usually the premise in dispute — is true. It does not mean to raise a question.

Ever since our first article, I promised to address begging the questionwhose persistent misuse always irritated me. Nine(!) years later, the article remained unwritten, so I gather this was Otto’s not-very-subtle hint it was time for me to put up or shut up. Fair enough.

Except Mr. Goldberg pretty much did my work for me. In fact, he provides some examples of begging the question. My favorite (because it’s current and trendy):

Everyone’s eating Tide pods, because eating Tide pods is the hot new craze.

Another one I like, this one from Grammarist:

Freedom of speech is important because people should be able to speak freely.

And my favorite, from the New York Times:

YOU: I can’t understand why the news media give so much coverage to Lindsay Lohan. It’s ridiculous. She’s not that important or newsworthy.

ME: What? Of course she’s important and newsworthy! Lindsay Lohan is a big deal. Why, just look at the newsstand. People magazine, The Post, you name it. She’s everywhere.

In other words, Lindsay Lohan is newsworthy because she’s all over the news. Some other excellent examples can be found here.

So that begs the question (ha!) whence this misunderstanding comes? As Otto alluded to in a previous article, it’s a bad translation in this case, of petitio principii, Latin for “assuming the starting point.” but petitio can also be translated as “begging” or “petitioning.” I can’t find evidence that this mistranslation is responsible for the misuse of the phrase, but it makes sense. “Asking for the question” is literally what the illiterate do when they beg the question. Here’s an example from three hours ago, on BBC.com:

Permanent toilets will be built along 40 routes where there is limited access to facilities… AA president Edmund King said the investment was “welcome relief” but it “begs the question about facilities for their passengers”.

As you can see, many have covered this incorrect usage. There’s even a whole website devoted to it! So I’ll leave you the links, along with my plea to beg the question correctly forthwith. After all, the world needs fewer lexicides and more logical fallacies.

— Lex

P.S.: The Los Angeles Times has a likely culprit for the proliferation of begging the question‘s lexicide. From a January 25, 2018 column:

Years ago I wrote in this space that I don’t recall ever hearing someone use “beg the question” to mean “raise the question.”…

… Lately I hear “beg the question” every week or two, and it’s always used to mean “raise the question.” All of a sudden, it seems this usage is everywhere.

What changed? Easy. I started watching television news.

References:

Jonah Goldberg’s G File at National Review: http://www.nationalreview.com/g-file/456069/conservatives-political-center-gravity-space-between-us

http://begthequestion.info/

Grammarist: http://grammarist.com/rhetoric/begging-the-question-fallacy/

New York Timeshttps://afterdeadline.blogs.nytimes.com/2008/09/25/begging-the-question-again/

Examples from Texas State’s Philosophy Department:   http://www.txstate.edu/philosophy/resources/fallacy-definitions/Begging-the-Question.html

“Mayor of London to spend £6m on toilets for bus drivers”, BBC News, 13 February 2018:   http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-england-london-43048596

Grammar Girl: https://www.quickanddirtytips.com/education/grammar/begs-the-question-update?page=1

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Begging_the_question

http://www.latimes.com/socal/burbank-leader/opinion/tn-blr-me-aword-20180125-story.html

Here were false etymologies (only a year late)

Facebook. It’s for old people, so my teenaged son tells me. It’s so senior-oriented, in fact, it offers a feature called Memories. See what you posted one year ago, two years ago, ten years ago – because of course you don’t remember. I SAID, “YOU DON’T REMEMBER!”

But sometimes Memory Lane is a great place to be. Last January, I solicited suggestions for your favorite false etymologies – backronyms, folk etymologies, etc. Well, I never got any, so I let the issue drop (and nursed no hurt feelings, I swear). But I shouldn’t have, because while no one commented on the website or on Lexicide’s Facebook page, quite a few of you added comments on my personal MyFace page. Thanks to Memories, they came back to me last week!

Let’s start with D.C. Dave, who offered up two false etymologies linked to people: nasty and crap. Nasty supposedly originated with political cartoonist Thomas Nast (who invented the Republican elephant and Democrat donkey, in addition to the caricature of Uncle Sam we know so well). Not true – the word long pre-dated the 1800s, when Nast employed his cutting, nasty wit. Likewise, crap comes to us from the Dutch krappe, not the toilets promoted by Thomas Crapper.

Dave also pointed out that butterfly is in no way a confusion of flutter-by. Thanks to L.A. Scott for reminding us this transposition of initial consonants is called a Spoonerism in honor of the Revered William Spooner, its most famous practitioner.

L.A. Scott then noted that Azusa does not derive from “Everything from A to Z in the USA.” While that was a promotional phrase used by the town’s Chamber of Commerce, the name comes from an ancient Amerindian place name. (Scott also claimed “his heart broke when [he] found out it was a retcon.” Here’s a tissue, Scott.)

Philly-based writer and frequent contributor Andrew had a slew for us: tip from “To Insure Promptness” (heard that one), posh from “Port Out Starboard Home” (also heard that one), and E. J. Korvette from Eight Jewish KORean war VETs. I had never heard of E. J. Korvette or the folk etymology, but Wikipedia and Snopes pointed me in the right direction.

Riffing off Azusa, Andrew also chimed in that Yreka, California, did not originate with the word BAKERY read in reverse, Mark Twain’s claim notwithstanding. Also that 2001: A Space Odyssey’s* HAL 9000 was not so named because the letters HAL directly precede IBM by one alphabet space. I had heard that one and it never made sense. If HAL is the descendant of IBM, shouldn’t it be the JCN 9000? Anyway, HAL is a contraction of Heuristically programmed ALgorithmic computer. That comes straight from Arthur C. Clarke. Take it up with him.

To finish, Airworthy Andy the Floridian pilot reminded Christians and non-Christians alike that IHS never stood for “In His Steps” or “In His Service,” as some claim (the Him being Jesus of Nazareth). The Christogram IHS long pre-dates modern English anyhow – the early Christians used IHS as a shortened form of Jesus’ Greek name, ΙΗΣΟΥΣ (S being the Latin form of the Greek letter sigma). And yes, this is likely where the blasphemous utterance “Jesus H. Christ” originates.

So our thanks for all your contributions, only a year late. Ah, Memories!

– Otto E. Mezzo

*Does it seem weird to write about the events in 2001: A Space Odyssey in the past tense, since 2001 is, like, seventeen years ago? Yes. Yes, it is.

It's a nonplus

Nonplussed

NONPLUS: “to cause to be at a loss as to what to say, think, or do; perplex” – Merriam-Webster.com

Ergo: NONPLUSSED: perplexed, at a loss for words

What is it about the word nonplussed that so confuses English speakers? Is it the etymology (from the French non plus, meaning “no more,” as in “Sacre bleu! I am so vexed I have non plus to say!”)? Not likely. I would say most people who use nonplussed in writing or speaking couldn’t give two sous where it came from. Exhibits A through C:


Lhota was nonplussed about getting caught cussing on the mic, said MTA officials.

“I asked Joe Lhota if he said that, and he shrugged his shoulder and said ‘that sounds like me’,” said agency spokesman Jon Weinstein.

MTA chief drops F-bomb on hot mic, New York Post, November 15, 2017


Swift, for her part, acted appropriately nonplussed by Corden’s behavior, giving him a mix of side-eye glances and resigned blinks worthy of Pam from The Office.

Watch James Corden become Taylor Swift’s worst-ever backup dancer, Entertainment Weekly, December 8, 2017


Australia captain Steve Smith nonplussed about Ben Stokes’ potential Ashes appearance, GiveMeSport.com, December 1, 2017


And that last headline makes Steve Smith sound like the idiot, when in fact he never uses the word. From the article:

Australia captain Steve Smith said, “it does not bother us either way” regarding Ben Stokes’ potential appearance in this year’s Ashes down under.

So why do people use nonplussed to mean “uncaring,” “unbothered,” or even “uninterested”? The common explanation is when Anglophones see non, they think “not.” Although that’s a non-convincing argument, as nonplussed would translate to “not better” (or “not plusgood,” for you Newspeak fans). That’s not the same as “not bothered.” Not at all.

Once again, the likely explanation is someone somewhere heard the word and became nonplussed (i.e., confused). He then repeats the word with the wrong definition, and the lexicide continues. Who was this someone? Likely an American (possibly a Canadian), as Oxford Dictionaries pointedly describes the incorrect definition as North American. Doesn’t bother me. Not at all.

 Otto E. Mezzo

See also: bemused

 

Commutation (spotted in the Orange County Register)

“And it’s not just changing work habits to lower commutation stress. Good says certain employers are becoming leery of potential workers who’ll require a long trip to work, fearing burnout from the commutation.”

So this is an article about the justice system, right, and the commutation of sentences. It sounds as if attorneys, corrections officers, and prisoners find the lessening of prison time stressful. Because that’s what commutation means, right?


COMMUTATION: “1. The action or process of commuting a judicial sentence; 1.1 The conversion of a legal obligation or entitlement into another form, e.g. the replacement of an annuity or series of payments by a single payment; 2. The process of commutating an electric current.”  OxfordDictionaries.com


Oh, but as usual, we would be wrong. This article deals with the stress of commuting, as the headline so correctly states:

Southern California commuting ranked as nation’s most stressful

And yet the article uses commutation five times instead of the more widely accepted commute. What gives?

We’ve noted this habit of tacking on additional letters to sound erudite. So now convicted felons, instead of finding their sentences reduced, will be consigned to driving ninety minutes in hellishly slow traffic. Talk about cruel and unusual punishment.

 Otto E. Mezzo

Reference: http://www.ocregister.com/2017/11/06/southern-california-commuting-ranked-as-nations-most-stressful/