Category Archives: sightings

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

Dictionary.com: Is mistress offensive?

https://www.dictionary.com/e/mistress-and-other-words-that-have-no-male-counterpart/

Mistress is a problematic word in so many ways. First is in its abbreviation, Mrs. No, I don’t have a problem with women using the title* (nor if they prefer Ms., as my own wife does). But whereas Mr. is pronounced “mister”, Mrs. carries the elided pronunciation “missus”. If you are writing dialog in a script, the general rule is to spell abbreviations, symbols, and numerals out (Elm Street instead of Elm St., sixty-seven dollars instead of $67). How do you do that with Mrs.? Because “missus” is not a word, the generally accepted solution is to simply write Mrs.

Dictionary.com also asks if the very word mistress is offensive or sexist. The site agrees with Huffington Post and the Associated Press that it is:

Referring to someone as a mistress may seem more acceptable if there were a similar term we could apply to men, but there isn’t quite one.

However, we could apply the same logic to why a writer should use the word mistress – because there really isn’t another good word for the person in question. Adulterer, while technically accurate, is too sanctimonious, homewrecker too judgmental, and lover too literary (as Dictionary.com admits). Mistress is a word we all understand to mean “the woman with whom a man has an affair.” I’m not sure the “kept” implication is still there in 2019. But I get the objection. If a woman takes a male lover who’s not her husband, what is he called? Mister or master obviously don’t work. Gigolo has other connotations. Courtier? Consort?

The AP just chucks out the words and suggests you re-write the sentence. But the beauty of English words is how they pack whole thoughts into a short construction of letters. Bezos’ mistress tells you everything you need to know without resorting to the passive “Sanchez and Bezos were romantically involved.” Likewise, actress reads more smoothly than female actor, or actor (female), as I expect the Oscar will one day be renamed. To be clear, I call all my women thespian friends actors. There is no difference between what they do on stage or in front of the camera and what their male castmates do. Actress belongs in the same dustbin as poetess, huntress, and baxter (a female bake-ster). I do have a special place in my heart for editrix, but have never worked up the nerve to call any of my women editors that, since they could fire me. When I was a teenager, waitress was still in common use. After a brief flirtation with waitron, waiter for both men and women seems to have won the day. Except there is that musical on Broadway.

To be continued.

– Otto E. Mezzo

*No, Mrs. need not be followed by the husband’s name. Emily Post says so:
https://emilypost.com/advice/the-mrs-question/

Demonyms: Citizens’ Arrest

Back in October, I asked what one called residents of Oklahoma City, Salt Lake City, Atlantic City, etc. This is because Reader Eddie suggested they should be Citizens, as in Oklahoma Citizens, and so on. As is typical of my readership, I got a lot of smart-alecky responses to my serious inquiry (“Okies, Mormons, vagrants”) but no sober, informed data.

That’s because I didn’t consult Wikipedia (the ever-reliable font of sober, informed data!). Turns out there is an entire article called List of adjectivals and demonyms for citiesHuzzah!

Rummaging through the list, you’ll find someone from Carson City is a Carsonite (since the city was founded on silver mines, I find the mineral-oriented “ite” suffix appropriate). A Kansas City resident is a Kansas Citian (blech). Oklahoma City is home to Oklahoma Cityans (double blech), and SLC supports its population of Salt Lakers. Atlantic City is not relevant enough to be on this list, apparently.

A couple of interesting demonyms show their colors here. I did not know people from Buenos Aires are Porteños. Ho Chi Minh City dwellers still call themselves Saigoners or Saigonese, and if you hail from Mexico City, you are thankfully not a Mexico Cityan, but a Capitalino.

And sorry, Eddie. The uniform demonym for ville (Nashville, Louisville, even Seville) is villian, not villain.

Retrograde

RETROGRADE: “Reverting to an earlier and inferior condition.” – Oxford English Dictionary

This dropped last week:

Mossberg Announces Retrograde Pump-Action Shotguns

Designed to commemorate Mossberg’s 100th anniversary in 2019, the Retrograde Series features the two most iconic police and military pump-action shotguns, built to today’s standards, but with the retro look and feel of a walnut stock and matching corncob fore-end.

So… Mossberg decided to market these shotguns as “Retrograde” as opposed to “vintage”, “historic”, or simply “retro”, a descriptor they use in this press release.

Why is this a problem? Because unlike the above terms, retrograde carries negative connotations – just like opinionated, simplistic, stagnant, and reactionary. Yet people (including firearms marketers) seem to be oblivious to this distinction and use these words in neutral or (in this case) positive contexts.

[At this point, the THUNDER of HORSES – dozens of them, a veritable horde! – interrupts Otto in mid-complaint. A COOPER in a MAGA hat pushes his way to the front.]

                  COOPER
Come down off your high horse, Otto! Retrograde just means what it sounds like – “something from the past!” Like hand-crafted oak hogsheads and Justin Timberlake! Ain’t nothing wrong with that!

[OTTO, unfazed, Googles retrograde and displays the results:]

Then there’s Trump’s new pick for attorney general, William P. Barr. Aside from Sessions and Otis, it would be hard to find a more retrograde, anti-reform candidate to head up the Justice Department.

(The Washington Post, “Let’s Stop Pretending That Trump Cares About Criminal Justice Reform,” 11 December, 2018)

Labour leader Councillor Lisa Eldret called the Conservative plans “retrograde” andadded that they would “set us back for decades to come”.

(DerbyshireLive, “Row over Assembly Rooms plandeepens ahead of cabinet meeting,” 11 December, 2018)

A lot of classic holiday specials have horrible retrograde messages. That just makes them quintessential Americana.

(Salon.com, “It’s not just “Rudolph”: Holiday TV specials are mostly creepy, weird or depressing as hell,” 13 December, 2018)
                    WHALER
Slander most foul! So “conservative” is the same as “backward” and “unenlightened”? I should expect as much from The Washington Post and Salon.

                    PHONE BOOK AD COPYWRITER
Excuse me, Otto, but you’re wrong. Retro is the cat’s pajamas, pops! So why not retrograde?

                    OTTO
Do I really have to answer that? Hey! Why am I talking in Academy screenwriting format? Why is it spaced with tab stops and set in Courier?

                   WILLIAM FAULKNER
Because now you, too, are the very embodiment, the very spirit, the essence of retrograde, whose putrid, mortifying calumny clung to the words – those nouns, those adjectives, those interjections – BANG! – you claim to cherish but instead bleed of all joy. Like me, as I lay dying.

Right or wrong, retrograde carries negative connotations,so instead use traditional, historic, antique, vintage, throwback, or retro.

– Otto E. Mezzo

From the New York Times: This Grammar Guru Will Solve the World’s Problems

If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times, Lexicide don’t do no grammar. However, we’re not above a feel-good story, especially when it covers a kindred spirit (and in the New York Times, no less):

This Grammar Guru Will Solve the World’s Problems

Ellen Jovin has a lot more courage than Lex and Otto. You’ll never see us battle the Jehovah’s Witnesses for sidewalk space!

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?

UPDATE: The answers are in this article.

 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