Literally?
December 19, 2012 7:25 AM   Subscribe

"10 Words You Literally Didn’t Know You Were Getting Wrong"

The Millions:Prescriptivists vs. Descriptivists: The Fifth Edition of The American Heritage Dictionary
The Atlantic: A Call for Spelling Standardization (or Is That Standardisation?)
Language Log: The New Yorker vs. the descriptivist specter
posted by the man of twists and turns (154 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite

 
I like literishly as a substitute for literally in situations where you know you are misusing literally but LITERALLY cannot help yourself.
posted by elizardbits at 7:27 AM on December 19, 2012 [15 favorites]


Nope. Try again, listicle!
posted by padraigin at 7:27 AM on December 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


Content mills are killing the internet.
posted by boo_radley at 7:30 AM on December 19, 2012 [16 favorites]


"10 Insulting And Incorrect Presumptions About The Ignorance Of Your Reader That Will Make It Unlikely That They Will Ever Click On Your Linkbait Again"
posted by unSane at 7:30 AM on December 19, 2012 [70 favorites]


Not to be all my dad about it, but how about you kids quit being dumb as shit.
posted by fullerine at 7:31 AM on December 19, 2012 [18 favorites]


These are kind of high school, no?
posted by Burhanistan at 7:31 AM on December 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


I just don't, care.
posted by Wolfdog at 7:32 AM on December 19, 2012


Strictly, a contagious disease is one transmitted by physical contact, whereas an infectious one is transmitted via microorganisms in the air or water. In practice, there is little or no difference in meaning between contagious and infectious when applied to disease or its spread. In figurative senses, contagious may describe the spread of good things such as laughter and enthusiasm or bad ones such as violence or panic, whereas infectious usually refers to the spread of positive things, such as good humor or optimism.

-New Oxford American Dictionary. Bolding mine.

They used disease in the example to differentiate them.
posted by vacapinta at 7:32 AM on December 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


Now do you have one for, commas?
posted by shakespeherian at 7:36 AM on December 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


THANK YOU FOR POINTING OUT THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN I.E. AND E.G.

I was one of those obnoxious students who'd correct a test question that mixed up i.e. and e.g.

But the universe laughs at me, because as careful I am about grammar, I manage to butcher spoken English on a daily basis.
posted by lineofsight at 7:36 AM on December 19, 2012 [3 favorites]


The only one of those I didn't know quite so well was breech - breach would be my go-to word for 'group of men breaking through a wall with explosives in order to surprise those inside because we didn't just use the bloody door'. I also knew breech-births were legs first - but I didn't know breech specifically referred to 'ass' as such.

But do people really breech [sic] the subject? Seriously?
posted by ArkhanJG at 7:37 AM on December 19, 2012


I'm not sure there really is a clear split in meaning between consent and assent. I would be surprised if actual usage shows such a split. Even so, the etymologies of the words suggest that it should be opposite to what the article says.
posted by Jehan at 7:37 AM on December 19, 2012


They used disease in the example to differentiate them.

Nice try, but I would trust you more if you knew that 'differentiate' means 'to take the derivative of'. Perhaps you meant 'distinguish'?
posted by Philosopher Dirtbike at 7:38 AM on December 19, 2012 [3 favorites]


I can usually keep it to myself, but whenever I hear "nauseous" used to mean "nauseated", as in "I feel nauseous", I get the very strong impulse to say "No, don't worry, I have a strong stomach".
posted by bgribble at 7:38 AM on December 19, 2012 [6 favorites]


E.g., i.e., fuck you! The point is this: is that, When I say "jump", you say OK. Okay?
posted by Auden at 7:40 AM on December 19, 2012 [3 favorites]


10 New Things To Get Pedantic About Because You Don't Already Alienate Enough People With Your Strict Adherence To "Nauseated" When People Say "Nauseous" And "Comprising" When People Say "Comprised Of" And You Know That Makes You A Bit Of A Douchebag But That's What Journalism School Does To A Person
posted by etc. at 7:41 AM on December 19, 2012 [26 favorites]


I already knew i.e. and e.g.! WOOOOOOOOO
posted by colinshark at 7:43 AM on December 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


That article in The Millions is so braindead as to not warrant any particular refutation, but I wish prickly little shits like Bill Morris could get it into their heads that treating the prescriptivism/descriptivism dichotomy as an aesthetic distinction is close kin with the sort of idiocy that demands that creationism be taught alongside evolution in public schools.
posted by invitapriore at 7:44 AM on December 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


I don't mean to breech MeFi etiquette, but I find myself completely disinterested in this FPP. I don't know how you found this content so incredulous that you felt impelled to post it, but grammar debates are infectious and can get positively grizzly. This literally adds fuel to the fire. Personally, I feel that grammar snobs will get their just desserts and I think everyone many people here will consent with that opinion.
posted by griphus at 7:44 AM on December 19, 2012 [42 favorites]


I kid because I love
posted by griphus at 7:44 AM on December 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


griphus i am going to shovel you into a wood chipper
posted by boo_radley at 7:45 AM on December 19, 2012 [13 favorites]


Er, no, I knew all ten of those. That was kind of insulting.
posted by Karmakaze at 7:45 AM on December 19, 2012


But do people really breech [sic] the subject? Seriously?

Read on:
Try not confuse breach with broach either. To broach means to make a hole in something from which to draw liquid or to raise for discussion.

This is also a breach: video.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 7:45 AM on December 19, 2012


Poisonous v.s. venomous.
posted by GallonOfAlan at 7:45 AM on December 19, 2012


TIL: Deserts vs. Deserts vs. Desserts
posted by Splunge at 7:45 AM on December 19, 2012


What a looser.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 7:46 AM on December 19, 2012 [4 favorites]


Poisonous v.s. venomous.

v.s. v. vs.
posted by griphus at 7:47 AM on December 19, 2012 [8 favorites]


10 New Things To Get Pedantic About

10 New Things About Which To Get Pedantic...?
posted by urbanwhaleshark at 7:47 AM on December 19, 2012 [34 favorites]


One man's pedantry is another man's accuracy. I think that the distinction between disinterested and uninterested is an important one, as is compelled and impelled.

Or to put it another way: I'd rather not be the guy who found these out having given my statement to police and faced with a lawyer who did know the difference.

Especially if I was in court for breech of the peace.
posted by MuffinMan at 7:47 AM on December 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


I knew those as well. But apparently if you don't know them, you'll never know them because you had a horrible childhood and your brain is misfiring.
posted by PuppyCat at 7:48 AM on December 19, 2012


I have to admit that I stopped using i. e. and e. g. and just write "that is" or "such as". So much easier to follow what I'm trying to say.
posted by Jehan at 7:48 AM on December 19, 2012


10 words that may literally be changing their meanings?
posted by delicious-luncheon at 7:48 AM on December 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


There's porn in the next post. Porn, I tell you.
posted by pracowity at 7:50 AM on December 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


It’s likely that you only hear the word deserts (emphasis on the second syllable) in the commonly used phrase “to get your just deserts".

What if someone deserts the army? And what's with the "10 words" thing? There are all kinds of websites with lots of these errors.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 7:52 AM on December 19, 2012


Once more into the breeches, dear lovers!
posted by Ice Cream Socialist at 7:52 AM on December 19, 2012 [4 favorites]


A good reason to hate linguistic prescriptivists is that - apart from the fact that they're invariably bloody-minded pedants whose only joy is grasping at some small measure of superiority over others - very often they're wrong.

The Oxford English dictionary lists, among others, the following definition for the word 'literally':
colloq. Used to indicate that some (freq. conventional) metaphorical or hyperbolical expression is to be taken in the strongest admissible sense: ‘virtually, as good as’; (also) ‘completely, utterly, absolutely’.

Now one of the most common uses, although often considered irregular in standard English since it reverses the original sense of literally (‘not figuratively or metaphorically’).
Among the quotations used to support this are
1769 F. Brooke Hist. Emily Montague IV. ccxvii. 83
He is a fortunate man to be introduced to such a party of fine women at his arrival; it is literally to feed among the lilies.

1876 ‘M. Twain’ Adventures Tom Sawyer ii. 20
And when the middle of the afternoon came, from being a poor poverty-stricken boy in the morning, Tom was literally rolling in wealth.
and my favourite:
2008 Herald-Times (Bloomington, Indiana) 22 Oct. a8/1
‘OMG, I literally died when I found out!’ No, you figuratively died. Otherwise, you would not be around to relay your pointless anecdote.

So, in other words - 'literally' can literally be used as an intensifier, and in some cases literally means 'figuratively'.
posted by No! Not the MIND WORMS! Anything but that! Eeeagh! at 7:54 AM on December 19, 2012 [15 favorites]


There's porn in the next post. Porn, I tell you.

Not NOW, we're arguing about grammar and clickbait.
posted by Slap*Happy at 7:55 AM on December 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


Zilu said, “The ruler of Wei has been waiting for you, in order with you to administer the government. What will you consider the first thing to be done?”

The Master replied, “What is necessary is to rectify names.”

“So, indeed!” said Zilu. “You are wide of the mark! Why must there be such rectification?”

The Master said, “How uncultivated are you, You! A superior man, in regard to what he does not know, shows a cautious reserve. If names be not correct, language is not in accordance with the truth of things. If language be not in accordance with the truth of things, affairs cannot be carried on to success. When affairs cannot be carried on to success, proprieties and music will not flourish. When proprieties and music do not flourish, punishments will not be properly awarded. When punishments are not properly awarded, the people do not know now to move hand or foot. Therefore a superior man considers it necessary that the names he uses may be spoken appropriately, and also that what he speaks may be carried out appropriately. What the superior man requires, is just that in his words there may be nothing incorrect.”

Confucius, Analects 13.3
posted by temporicide at 7:55 AM on December 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


Ten things about which to literally pedantic get, irregardless of how disinterested you are.

Actually, "literally" is the only one of these I find interesting. It's not just that the "right" word is "figuratively", bit it's interesting in some regard that "literally" has become a way to add emphasis. Like there's some sort of "I can't stress this enough" arms race going on and random words are getting pressed into rhetorical service.
posted by mrgoat at 7:57 AM on December 19, 2012 [11 favorites]


I earnestly and honestly thought that "his just deserts" had something to do with how sweet and delicious justice was.
posted by Joviwan at 7:57 AM on December 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


Like there's some sort of "I can't stress this enough" arms race going on and random words are getting pressed into rhetorical service.

This is majestically the situation at hand, yes.
posted by griphus at 8:00 AM on December 19, 2012 [4 favorites]


but I didn't know breech specifically referred to 'ass' as such.

cause they cover your butt
posted by elizardbits at 8:01 AM on December 19, 2012


I know it's in TFA

I just wanted to say butt

posted by elizardbits at 8:04 AM on December 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


This is my last word on the topic of how much Bill Morris sucks, I promise, but it's also funny to me that he can't help but plainly admit the basic motivation underlying his prescriptivism:
[My father] was a big fan of Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style, and he shared their belief that a person’s style of speaking and writing is an accurate barometer of that person’s intelligence and worth.
It's not an informed love of language that leads one to be a grammar Nazi, because people that really love language surely only become more fascinated with its nature when they get a glimpse of how it mutates over time. No, for people like him it's a handy little rubric to write people off as inferior at the first opportunity. I guess it's good that he's honest about it, at least. That puts him in a rare family among his order of assholes.
posted by invitapriore at 8:04 AM on December 19, 2012 [4 favorites]


The "b-b-b-but literally doesn't mean that!" people need to get out more. So many words are used to mean things other than their original definition. Bless their hearts.
posted by 23skidoo at 8:05 AM on December 19, 2012


No, for people like him it's a handy little rubric to write people off as inferior at the first opportunity.

It's not always classist/racist/xenophobic behavior, though. Some people are just really super invested in being correct.
posted by elizardbits at 8:06 AM on December 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


The problem with using "literally" in the 'colloquial' sense is that there is no word to replace it. There's no word other than literally to mean "exactly as stated, without hyperbole or exaggeration". There are, however, plenty of generic intensifiers already on the books. The English language is weakened for this dilution of the word.
posted by Clandestine Outlawry at 8:07 AM on December 19, 2012 [5 favorites]


In figurative senses, contagious may describe the spread of good things such as laughter and enthusiasm or bad ones such as violence or panic, whereas infectious usually refers to the spread of positive things, such as good humor or optimism.

Apropos of this: There was a graffito under a railway bridge in the inner northern Melbourne suburb of Northcote a number of years ago which read “Lesbianism is cuntagious”. Alas, it's not there any more.
posted by acb at 8:09 AM on December 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


There's no word other than literally to mean "exactly as stated, without hyperbole or exaggeration".

1. Most of the time, context is good enough to determine whether "literally" is being used to mean "figuratively" or not.

2. "Actually" is a great replacement for "literally".
posted by 23skidoo at 8:11 AM on December 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


I guess the fact that I clicked on this means I could care less.

They forgot to mention that desserts is stressed spelled backwards.
posted by straight at 8:11 AM on December 19, 2012


I'm down with both. The language changes with the way people use it. But if you cleave too closely to descriptivism, then you give up ground like "unbelievable" to sportscasters and their ilk, who use it to mean "noteworthy." A few weeks ago during a college basketball game Dick Vitale was, as is his wont, babbling through a checklist of random sports stories, during which he mentioned "that unbelievable Sports Illustrated article about the violations at Ohio State" and I thought, "unbelievable?" Does he mean to cast doubt on the matter? Does he truly not believe what he read?

Then I realized it was I who had made the mistake, and quickly put an end to my folly by hitting the mute button and returning to a blissful, Vitale-free evening.
posted by Ice Cream Socialist at 8:12 AM on December 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


Not to blow my own trumpet, but I speak several languages and, in each one of them, I try my best to be absolutely correct. Why? Because a correct use of language prevents misunderstandings and broadens your knowledge. For instance, somebody who doesn't know the difference between "breech" and "breach" will find it hard to understand the meaning of "breech loader".
In so far, complaining about "prescriptivism" basically amounts to a convoluted defence of your own ignorance.
posted by Skeptic at 8:13 AM on December 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


Breech, on the other hand, literally means the lower part or back of something, typically a human, that comes after the back but before the legs. Yes, breech means ass. So, breeches are ass-covers. I’m not sure I’ve heard the word breeches used in anything but writing that is decades old, so you can’t be blamed if you didn’t put that together before now. I sure didn’t.
It's actually the other way round. Breeches, as a word meaning "trousers", is much older than breech meaning "hind, bottom". So breech is actually "that part of the body covered by breeches".
posted by Jehan at 8:14 AM on December 19, 2012


It's not always classist/racist/xenophobic behavior, though. Some people are just really super invested in being correct.

Yeah, I didn't mean to suggest that that's true of everyone who's a stickler about grammar, more that it's a common but frequently unacknowledged underlying cause. I know a few people who are grammar snobs and they're fine people who don't mean malice by it. I still think that it's ludicrous when they tell me that their fussiness is motivated by a love of language, though, because it's like saying that you love astronomy but think that heliocentrism is bullshit.
posted by invitapriore at 8:16 AM on December 19, 2012


This is my last word on the topic of how much Bill Morris sucks, I promise, but it's also funny to me that he can't help but plainly admit the basic motivation underlying his prescriptivism

I agree wholeheartedly with your assessment of Bill Morris, but his Millions piece is wonderful because further down in the comment section we get this (the William Morris he mentions is the American Heritage editor, not Bill Morris who wrote the piece):
I happen to be the son of William Morris, which gives me no special expertise save to say that my father would not have been “spinning in his grave” over Prof. Pinker’s essay, with which he probably would have agreed in large part. The manichean “prescriptivist/descriptivist” construct is bogus and always has been. While the AHD was conceived as an antidote to MW3, what my father saw MW3 lacking was guidance, not dictatorial pronouncements, something more than a terse “non-standard” note on disputed usages but less than a flat condemnation. My father, by the way, loved and celebrated slang, jargon and other “non-standard” language in his newspaper column for more than 40 years.

If “prescriptivists” don’t like the map of language the “descriptivists” draw, they are free to rail against it. But a fanatical adherence to imaginary “rules of usage” puts one in danger of losing touch with a living language.
(Not to mention Pinker himself responding a few comments before.)
posted by gladly at 8:17 AM on December 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


E.g. is easier to remember—think “egg sample”...

My mnemonic for e.g. is "example given".
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 8:19 AM on December 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


speaking of porn in the next post...

About 10 years ago my friend and I happened upon an estate sale where they were selling a large collection of men's magazines (mostly Playboys). My friend at the time was selling ads from magazines on ebay (because someone who collects toasters will also collect toaster ads. An there is a guy who buys sock ads, but only for crew socks, not knee highs.) There was so much porn that we had to go home and get my truck. We literally bought a truck load of porn! And when I tell this story, I always have to say, "and I really do mean literally as in yes, we didn't just buy a lot of porn, we bought a truck full." (and that was after filling my car's trunk and back seat!)
posted by vespabelle at 8:21 AM on December 19, 2012 [3 favorites]


Not to blow my own trumpet, but I speak several languages and, in each one of them, I try my best to be absolutely correct. Why? Because a correct use of language prevents misunderstandings and broadens your knowledge. For instance, somebody who doesn't know the difference between "breech" and "breach" will find it hard to understand the meaning of "breech loader".

I defy you to supply a coherent definition of "absolutely correct," because from my perspective it looks like a pretty thorny challenge on both ontological and epistemological fronts.

gladfly that is excellent. Thank you for pointing those comments out.
posted by invitapriore at 8:22 AM on December 19, 2012


You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.
posted by tippiedog at 8:22 AM on December 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


Furthermore, many such mistakes aren't due to "descriptivism", but to people using "fancy words" they don't really understand in order to pretend an education they don't really have.
posted by Skeptic at 8:24 AM on December 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


I could care less.
posted by MartinWisse at 8:25 AM on December 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


“Lesbianism is cuntagious”. Alas, it's not there any more.

I'd like to think it got licked off.
posted by urbanwhaleshark at 8:25 AM on December 19, 2012


Because a correct use of language prevents misunderstandings and broadens your knowledge. For instance, somebody who doesn't know the difference between "breech" and "breach" will find it hard to understand the meaning of "breech loader".
In so far, complaining about "prescriptivism" basically amounts to a convoluted defence of your own ignorance.


Painfully untrue. A "correct" use of language CREATES misunderstanding, for instances where there are more than one way to use a word or phrase. Go ahead and use "beg the question" "correctly" and see how much misunderstanding gets prevented. It's not ignorant to be aware that lots of words and phrases in the English language are used in multiple ways: it's ignorant to pretend that the original definition of a word is the only one that will ever exist.
posted by 23skidoo at 8:25 AM on December 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


I defy you to supply a coherent definition of "absolutely correct," because from my perspective it looks like a pretty thorny challenge on both ontological and epistemological fronts.

On the contrary, the challenge is to define wrong: Usually there's only one way of being correct. There are infinite ways of being wrong.
posted by Skeptic at 8:26 AM on December 19, 2012


2. "Actually" is a great replacement for "literally".

Does this mean I can start saying "What the literal fuck?" Or is that still only for sex scenes in novels...
posted by mrgoat at 8:28 AM on December 19, 2012


Its "I couldn't care less." As in, I literally could not care at all. "I could care less" means you care but could care less, given the chance. Shurely?

RIGHT, EVERYONE IS LEARNING ESPERANTO, STAT.
posted by marienbad at 8:29 AM on December 19, 2012


Shurely?

pretty sure MW was hamburgering.
posted by elizardbits at 8:30 AM on December 19, 2012


On the contrary, the challenge is to define wrong: Usually there's only one way of being correct. There are infinite ways of being wrong.

This has to be a MetaFilter first. "Begging the question" is relevant to this discussion in every possible sense!
posted by invitapriore at 8:31 AM on December 19, 2012


In so far, complaining about "prescriptivism" basically amounts to a convoluted defence of your own ignorance.

As a recovering prescriptivist, I find that the best solution is to continue to strive to write and speak "correctly" myself but let go of the need to judge other people's "intelligence and worth" based on language errors.
posted by naoko at 8:34 AM on December 19, 2012 [3 favorites]


RIGHT, EVERYONE IS LEARNING ESPERANTO, STAT.
Mia katto esta una malverbo kaj manĝina uno vortaro.
posted by Jehan at 8:34 AM on December 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


manĝina

Please don't make me google to find out what this means.
posted by elizardbits at 8:41 AM on December 19, 2012 [5 favorites]


Why? Because a correct use of language prevents misunderstandings and broadens your knowledge.

I would think that someone who knows multiple languages would understand more than most people that "a correct use of language" means knowing your audience well enough to know what language they consider to be correct, and that this is the best way to prevent misunderstandings and broaden your knowledge.

And that's called descriptivism.
posted by straight at 8:42 AM on December 19, 2012 [5 favorites]


For the e.g. vs i.e. thing I learned to use them with the mnemonics "example given" and "in essence".

Also she forgot the one where everyone uses "bemused" wrong. It does not mean "sort of amused or intrigued," which is pretty much how I see everyone in the world use it. I am bemused by everyone's incorrect bemusement.

Yes, I'm a pedantic grammar and word nazi.
posted by olinerd at 8:43 AM on December 19, 2012


"The English language is weakened for this dilution of the word."

The English language is adiabatic. "Weakness" is meaningless in this context.

Also: contranyms
posted by Phyllis Harmonic at 8:45 AM on December 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


Grisly vs. Grizzly vs. Grizzled

Forgot gristled.
posted by me3dia at 9:07 AM on December 19, 2012


E.g. is easier to remember—think “egg sample” in order to connect your brain to “for example.” It’s silly, but it works.

Ha, this doesn't work for me, my brain grinds to a halt and gets more confused. So much for language being objective.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 9:11 AM on December 19, 2012


I was aware of 9 out of 10 and I will continue to imagine just deserts as a pie in the face, prescriptivists be damned.

re: the 9 out of 10, I try to be correct, but also try not to be a dick about it.
posted by lrobertjones at 9:12 AM on December 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


What part of 'id est' is so hard for you motherfuckers to remember?
posted by Mister_A at 9:13 AM on December 19, 2012 [11 favorites]


The English language is weakened for this dilution of the word.

Well, then it will be the prescriptivists' responsibility to take it out back and shoot it.
posted by griphus at 9:13 AM on December 19, 2012


I like to think of e.g. as exempli gratis rather than exempli gratia. Then whenever you use it, it's like readers of your prose just won a FREE EXAMPLE! Cue the balloon drop! Yaaay!
posted by 0xFCAF at 9:14 AM on December 19, 2012 [10 favorites]


So is it correct to refer to an unintended phone call as "breech dialed?"
posted by Obscure Reference at 9:25 AM on December 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


You know, it is a matter of convention which side of the road you drive on, but that does not mean there is no such thing as getting it wrong. If everyone switched to the other side, you'd be fine. The trouble starts when half of them switch.
posted by thelonius at 9:25 AM on December 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


You know, it is a matter of convention which side of the road you drive on, but that does not mean there is no such thing as getting it wrong. If everyone switched to the other side, you'd be fine.

Using a word probably won't kill anyhun.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 9:26 AM on December 19, 2012


Its "I couldn't care less."

I could care less if I wanted to, but I can't be assed. That's how much I don't care.
posted by ultraviolet catastrophe at 9:28 AM on December 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


We should be more worried about punctuation.

e.g.

"Let's eat, grandma!"
vs
"Let's eat grandma!"

The removal of a single comma spells grandma's doom! You feel me?
posted by Mister_A at 9:31 AM on December 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


Do you mean you can't be breeched?
posted by CheeseLouise at 9:32 AM on December 19, 2012


Yeah, I'm a recovering prescriptivist. What grates most, for me, is using "electrocuted" when "shocked" is what is meant. I'm sure I've mentioned that before, though.

Still, I strive to not point out these kinds of usage errors unless I truly cannot figure out what someone is trying to say, because it's usually fruitless. Also, my wife loves to misuse words just to bait me, and if I respond it just encourages her to do it more.
posted by owtytrof at 9:35 AM on December 19, 2012


They left out prodigal. That one always pisses me off. To no end, even.

Maybe they don't know.
posted by mule98J at 9:36 AM on December 19, 2012


This list is the penultimate.
posted by ODiV at 9:38 AM on December 19, 2012


I, feel you.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 9:39 AM on December 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


I also learned i.e. and e.g. as "in essence" and "example given".

Also, I did not see my personal bugbear of "begs the question" used to mean "raises the question" but I will continue to harp on it like any good pedant would.
posted by triggerfinger at 9:52 AM on December 19, 2012


That site is a paean to stupidity.
posted by invitapriore at 9:53 AM on December 19, 2012


We should be more worried about punctuation.

What's that up in the road, ahead?
posted by shakespeherian at 9:54 AM on December 19, 2012


We should be more worried about punctuation.

"It’s not like 25 years ago. I was killing everybody."
posted by straight at 9:56 AM on December 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


breech-cloth. Hung at the waist, something to sit on. Your leggings sort of give the appearance of trousers. Except in all movies made up until about 1970, in which the purpose of this garment was unclear to the wardrobests.

breach-cloth. Archaic; for when your finger pokes through the asswipe.

Also, I am still sorting out the conundra of the pudenda.
posted by mule98J at 10:00 AM on December 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


MY SKIN IS CRAWLING BECAUSE OF SOME OF YOU PEOPLE
posted by grubi at 10:02 AM on December 19, 2012


I feel, you!
posted by Mister_A at 10:09 AM on December 19, 2012


gah!
posted by grubi at 10:11 AM on December 19, 2012


Even the misuse examples given in the lead article are suspect. Take this one:

I have a resting heart rate of 28 beats per minute. The doctors who studied me said that my heart could, literally, pump jet fuel up into a jet.

Maybe his heart could not actually accomplish this feat, but that is not what the quote is about. The character believes that his heart could actually accomplish this feat, based on what his doctor told him – or more likely based on a misinterpretation of something his doctor told him. This is part and parcel of Lowe's character. He really believes this–his message is that, to his knowledge, his heart could pump jet fuel. Whether his heart could actually do that is not at issue.
posted by Mister_A at 10:20 AM on December 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


Indeed, spelling and word usage mean nothing. Anything can mean anything. It's a miracle we can communicate at all. Maybe we aren't. Maybe every post in this thread means something entirely different from what you think it means because it's spelled wrong and the writer is using the words in a way that is different from what you think they mean.
posted by cccorlew at 10:25 AM on December 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


Yeah, after reading this thread, I don't know why I teach grammar, punctuation, capitalization, and word use at all, and I'm an English teacher.
posted by Lord Chancellor at 10:29 AM on December 19, 2012


Maybe every post in this thread means something entirely different from what you think it means because it's spelled wrong and the writer is using the words in a way that is different from what you think they mean.

Yakka foob mog. Grug pubbawup zink watoom gazork. Chumble spuzz.
posted by mrgoat at 10:30 AM on December 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


Well, clown robot Arabic motorcycle clementine perpetrate cymbals forever velcro thermometer toastily. BECAUSE THE LANGUAGE IS EVOLVING, Y'SEE
posted by grubi at 10:30 AM on December 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


You know, in light of the norms of this particular speech community, I think I've been speaking in an inappropriate dialect. But I get it now! An utterance is invalid here so long as it has anything to do with logic, sense, empirical reality, or epistemological modesty.
posted by invitapriore at 10:38 AM on December 19, 2012


Yakka foob mog. Grug pubbawup zink watoom gazork. Chumble spuzz.

Please tell me you typed that from memory.
posted by griphus at 10:40 AM on December 19, 2012 [4 favorites]


I love the changing of language, and often even the misuse of it. But using "literally" to mean "figuratively" is like going out in public in Crocs and pajamas. You can argue about it all day, but you still look tacky and foolish.
posted by bongo_x at 10:42 AM on December 19, 2012 [3 favorites]


Yeah, after reading this thread, I don't know why I teach grammar, punctuation, capitalization, and word use at all, and I'm an English teacher.

C'mon buddy.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 10:42 AM on December 19, 2012


Throbbing dust generation!
posted by Mister_A at 10:45 AM on December 19, 2012


Please tell me you typed that from memory.

Sadly, I double checked the spelling. I fear the shame that would come with a typo.
posted by mrgoat at 10:51 AM on December 19, 2012


Like there's some sort of "I can't stress this enough" arms race going on and random words are getting pressed into rhetorical service.

Linguist Guy Deutscher explicitly treats that as an important force in the evolution of languages in his pretty great book "The Unfolding of Language".
posted by benito.strauss at 11:10 AM on December 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


cccorlew: Maybe every post in this thread means something entirely different from what you think it means because it's spelled wrong and the writer is using the words in a way that is different from what you think they mean.

Sokath, his eyes uncovered!
posted by hanov3r at 11:17 AM on December 19, 2012 [3 favorites]


The character believes that his heart could actually accomplish this feat

Yeah, this is the whole point of Chris. And is it really so strange that someone lit-rally lists "biking for charity" on Facebook?


I'd like a new content farm, please.
posted by Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drug at 11:27 AM on December 19, 2012


invitapriore: That article in The Millions is so braindead as to not warrant any particular refutation, but I wish prickly little shits like Bill Morris could get it into their heads that treating the prescriptivism/descriptivism dichotomy as an aesthetic distinction is close kin with the sort of idiocy that demands that creationism be taught alongside evolution in public schools.
The beauty of your rant is that extremist diehards on both sides of the issue can believe you agree with them.
posted by IAmBroom at 11:40 AM on December 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


This is all a mute point anyway.
posted by Burhanistan at 11:51 AM on December 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


I except you for who you are.
posted by shakespeherian at 11:54 AM on December 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


5 Sets of Words That Have More in Common Then You No

Know vs. No
These mean the same exact thing.

Then vs. Than
Only use "than" if you have the time to figure out the difference, everyone will still get what you mean.

Sense vs. Cents
Nobody has either of these, so I don't know why you're using them in the first place.

Bear vs. Bare vs. Bair
None of these are actually words!

Flammable vs. Inflammable
Who gives a shit, there are things ON FIRE!!!
posted by dogwalker at 11:56 AM on December 19, 2012 [4 favorites]


People saying "weary" when they mean "wary" is my pet peeve. I'm convinced it comes from them mixing "wary" and "leery," which are synonyms, into "weary."

But it makes me laugh occasionally, people saying that they are so tired of [potential danger]. As if it's so commonplace they're just annoyed by it now, not worried.
posted by InsanePenguin at 11:58 AM on December 19, 2012 [3 favorites]


My pet peeve is people referring to something as "addicting" although I've recently been told that it's not incorrect.

It still sounds pretty dumb.
posted by ODiV at 12:18 PM on December 19, 2012


bit of a prescriptivist here..not because superiority, because I can't parse that sentence because I don't think those words mean what you think they mean and I'm frustrated and I don't want to have to be a douche and ask, 'Hey what did you mean because those words defs do not go together?'
posted by j_curiouser at 12:19 PM on December 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


Oh! Oh! Bi-monthly meaning the same thing as semi-monthly also hacks me right off.
posted by owtytrof at 1:01 PM on December 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


Quite.
posted by wobh at 1:09 PM on December 19, 2012


Yeah, after reading this thread, I don't know why I teach grammar, punctuation, capitalization, and word use at all, and I'm an English teacher.

If that's genuinely what you think after reading this thread, I hope you're not trying to teach reading comprehension.
posted by straight at 1:17 PM on December 19, 2012


Indeed, spelling and word usage mean nothing. Anything can mean anything. It's a miracle we can communicate at all. Maybe we aren't. Maybe every post in this thread means something entirely different from what you think it means because it's spelled wrong and the writer is using the words in a way that is different from what you think they mean.

Descriptivist: [explains simply and clearly what linguists actually do, and how it helps people discover the correct grammatical rules they should follow in a given situation rather than relying on idiosyncratic prejudices about what the rules are.]

Prescriptivist: "LALALA I CAN'T HEAR YOU SAYING ALL WORDS MEAN ANYTHING YOU WANT AND GRAMMAR IS MEANINGLESS LALALA I KNOW THAT'S WHAT DESCRIPTIVISM MEANS LALALA!"
posted by straight at 1:22 PM on December 19, 2012 [3 favorites]


The beauty of your rant is that extremist diehards on both sides of the issue can believe you agree with them.

I guess I don't know what an "extremist diehard" descriptivist looks like. I don't know anyone who isn't made of straw who doesn't believe that there are invalid utterances in every context. They just don't believe that standard written English is the prototype against which all utterances recognized as English ought to be judged.
posted by invitapriore at 1:29 PM on December 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


If there are no rules, there is no communication.
posted by grubi at 1:32 PM on December 19, 2012


Are you even capable of a half-way cogent thought on this topic, or does the buck pretty much stop at lazy mischaracterizations and empty one-liners?
posted by invitapriore at 1:35 PM on December 19, 2012


If there are no rules, there is no communication.

I too am angry that the King of English made that hard-line decision after the death of Queen Elizabeth to make everyone stop talking like a Shakespeare play and start talking like Omar from The Wire.
posted by shakespeherian at 1:37 PM on December 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


I can still have pet peeves about language without being a prescriptivist, right?
posted by ODiV at 1:47 PM on December 19, 2012


Blah blah cromulent yadda yadda.
posted by erniepan at 1:53 PM on December 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


Are you even capable of a half-way cogent thought on this topic, or does the buck pretty much stop at lazy mischaracterizations and empty one-liners?

Lazy mischaracterizations like your veiled insult? Give me a break.

The fact is, that without some rule in place, some sense of what the word actually means, you're not communicating anymore. If two people use a particular word and the use it to mean OPPOSITE THINGS, then you have confusion.

Oh, I know: "language evolves"! Or "popular usage"! Or "you're a pedantic asshole if you insist people speak more clearly to make themselves understood"! And in each case, you're missing the goddamn point: even as language evolves, even as meanings shift and change, the underlying rules need to be maintained. The point of being understood is a common understanding of the language, and that requires agreed-upon meanings. Which was the whole point of dictionaries in the first place: to avoid confusion of meaning and spelling. (And yes, I understand the foibles of the history of the dictionary, but the point still stands.)

Dismissing anyone who thinks it's incorrect to say "could care less" as a linguofascist? That's lazy. That's empty.
posted by grubi at 2:11 PM on December 19, 2012


Can we all stop using 'gift' as a verb please?

I know that it's technically ok, but come on.
posted by vortex genie 2 at 2:18 PM on December 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


And "grow the economy"? Ugh.
posted by grubi at 2:30 PM on December 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


This is not a big deal, it's usually only one bad apple.
posted by fullerine at 2:36 PM on December 19, 2012


It wasn't really veiled, and it was a totally appropriate response to how much of an ass you were being in your previous comments, but that's neither here nor there. Anyway, I dispute that miscommunication happens as often as you say it does or that it's as much of a problem as you say it is. I question not whether there is a rubric for determining whether a given utterance is correct or incorrect in a given speech community but instead whether there is any basis for basing that rubric on anything other than the established patterns of usage in that speech community, and I question what makes those established patterns of usage any different from a set of "agreed-upon meanings." I question on what logic you base the prioritization of a particular dialect over others as correct. Finally, I question whether you've given much thought to the implications of phrases like "language evolves" and "popular usage" besides the minimal amount necessary to mockingly parrot them back.

At no point have I said that all prescriptive behavior is pernicious. Dictionaries are useful and no publication that wants to present a consistent image should be without a style guide. The fact that prescriptive behavior in general is itself a factor in how languages develop is part of the reason why the prescriptivism/descriptivism dichotomy is misleading. Where it gets problematic is in the desire to level unwarranted judgment on a wide variety of speech communities, often in a way that reinforces existing dynamics of oppression.
posted by invitapriore at 2:52 PM on December 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


Can we all stop using 'gift' as a verb please?

I hate that with a firey hot rage of madness, but somehow I am totally okay with the similar term "regifting".
posted by elizardbits at 3:26 PM on December 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm growing the economy right now!
posted by Burhanistan at 3:29 PM on December 19, 2012


I miss the original use of the word "comprise."
posted by Sticherbeast at 4:07 PM on December 19, 2012


While both are verbs and both mostly mean to agree, assent implies that the person who agrees is enthusiastic about it. Consent, on the other hand, is more neutral or even negative.

This gives a new, depressing meaning to "consensual sex."
posted by Sticherbeast at 4:08 PM on December 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


The fact is, that without some rule in place, some sense of what the word actually means, you're not communicating anymore. If two people use a particular word and the use it to mean OPPOSITE THINGS, then you have confusion.

No descriptivist would argue with this. The only point of disagreement is how we decide what those rules are.
posted by straight at 4:17 PM on December 19, 2012


This gives a new, depressing meaning to "consensual sex."

Gentlemen prefer assentual sex.
posted by straight at 4:18 PM on December 19, 2012 [3 favorites]


...and I think everyone many people here will consent with that opinion.

Hey youse guys, tow the line. Tell The Kids Who Can't Read Good:

D.F. Wallace.

H.W. Fowler.
posted by ovvl at 6:05 PM on December 19, 2012


I dig mixed/dead metaphors. "I come to bury Caesar, 'cause when I dig that crazy Caeser"...
posted by ovvl at 6:06 PM on December 19, 2012


No! Not the MIND WORMS! Anything but that! Eeeagh!

That is literally the best user name ever.
posted by double block and bleed at 7:09 PM on December 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


For instance, somebody who doesn't know the difference between "breech" and "breach" will find it hard to understand the meaning of "breech loader".

Any parent is familiar with breech loaders.
They're liable to go off at any given time.
posted by BlueHorse at 7:15 PM on December 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


Once more into the breech, dear friends, once more.
posted by flippant at 8:47 PM on December 19, 2012


A breech birth has the baby emerging ass first, all folded up. A footling breech is feet first.
And I love me some heated grammar nerd fights!
posted by bystander at 12:01 AM on December 20, 2012


Straight and Brandon Blatcher, I'm throwing down a little hamburger with that.

I think language evolves, and this isn't a bad thing. It can grow because of it, be more able to illuminate specific concepts, and also be what people speak versus what we would like to speak (e.g. Dante writing The Divine Comedy in the Itallian language rather than Latin). However, I still teach usage and proper usage, because if you're going to break a rule, you should know it first. If you want to use unorthodox meaning, punctuation, spelling, and capitalization, you should do it knowingly. If you want to use "literally" to mean figuratively, go to town, but be aware of what you're doing, the confusion it might cause, and other words that might work too. Still want to? Have at it. I don't want any of my students to use English and sending a cross-meant message unknowingly. Thus, I suppose I do believe that we should grapple with the rules of grammar and word meaning, even if we decide to sometimes obey and sometimes transgress. Heaven knows I do. If you want to label me a prescriptivist, so be it, and all the evils of the word shall likewise be claimed.

By the way, I actually found out several things in the first article that I did not previously know. I'm not going to lie, I really didn't understand the difference between assent and consent, nor breech and breach. Good to know.

posted by Lord Chancellor at 8:44 AM on December 20, 2012


Lord Chancellor, the part you seem to be missing is that no descriptivist would say you shouldn't teach rules of grammar and usage. Most would probably even say it's silly for you to constantly preface your teaching with some sort of "these are the rules of formal English for use in formal situations" disclaimer.

At worst, the descriptivists are going to poke you once in a while and say, "Are you sure that particular rule is one you should be teaching? How do you know? Are you sure Strunk & White is the last word on what is and isn't correct English usage? Is anyone actually for real going to be confused by this use of literally in a figurative sense?"
posted by straight at 9:32 AM on December 20, 2012


Re: Chumble spuzz.

Please. We have standards, even here.
posted by mule98J at 10:32 AM on December 20, 2012


Well, yes, you're a self-described descriptivist explaining how the descriptivist position is very reasonable and not fanatic at all. I would say most prescriptivists are in the same boat, and are not fanatical at all either. Most acknowledge that language changes and that part of grammar instruction is determining what works and what doesn't. Many just see the framework determined to be exceedingly useful for what language does and therefore will maintain the framework (and insist on it's conventions) unless there is pressing reason not to. E.B. White made judgment calls about grammar too, and many prescriptivists praise him. If descriptivists aren't debasing the language then perhaps prescriptivists aren't sending anyone to jail for violating the rules of it either.
posted by Lord Chancellor at 12:06 PM on December 20, 2012


Lord Chancellor, you're the one who threw up his hands and said, "Why bother teaching grammar at all?" just because some people said they didn't agree with all the items on the list of "10 Words You Literally Didn’t Know You Were Getting Wrong."
posted by straight at 12:46 PM on December 20, 2012


Well, yes, you're a self-described descriptivist explaining how the descriptivist position is very reasonable and not fanatic at all.

Fanatical.
posted by shakespeherian at 12:51 PM on December 20, 2012


Anybody who confesses to having confused some of these in the past, but claiming to have seen the light, shouldn't be allowed anywhere near an advice column on a website. Second-grade stuff, all of them.
posted by aqsakal at 10:33 AM on December 21, 2012


Lord Chancellor: By the way, I actually found out several things in the first article that I did not previously know. I'm not going to lie, I really didn't understand the difference between assent and consent, nor breech and breach. Good to know.

Always happy to help a fellow '08 graduate out.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 4:02 PM on December 21, 2012


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