The Correct Word
October 16, 2014 5:38 PM   Subscribe

 
If people have been using a word for a hundred years to mean something, then it means that thing.
posted by tavella at 5:41 PM on October 16, 2014 [54 favorites]


The full book is available here, no need for the Google Books snippets.
posted by Pyrogenesis at 5:44 PM on October 16, 2014 [14 favorites]


100 year-old prescriptivists may not be right for you. Consult with your doctor.
posted by GuyZero at 5:46 PM on October 16, 2014 [25 favorites]


See also, via McSweeney's, Dennis DiClaudio's Words and Expressions Commonly Misused by Insipid Brothers-in-Law.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 5:49 PM on October 16, 2014 [9 favorites]


It's the COBRECT Book. It says so.
posted by clvrmnky at 5:51 PM on October 16, 2014 [1 favorite]


"'Company at dinner' not 'Company for' is the required form. Many persons err in saying, 'We are going to have company for dinner' instead of 'We are going to have company at dinner.'"

The omnivore's dilemma, even after all these years.
posted by MonkeyToes at 5:54 PM on October 16, 2014 [27 favorites]


Oh great here come the Fun Police again. "Clear communication is important." "Words mean things." Man, whatever. Go rethread your looms or something.
posted by turbid dahlia at 5:55 PM on October 16, 2014 [33 favorites]


This is an amusing document. For example, the entry for date:

Date is incorrectly used in the sense of an engagement; as, "I have a date this evening," instead of "I have an engagement this evening.

The author clearly lost the fight on many of these. Other "errors" are still being railed against today (ex: "distinterested"). It's futile, friends -- give up!

(I put "error" in quote because things that speakers do systematically are can't really be "errors" except with regard to arbitrary social etiquette, blah blah.)
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 5:55 PM on October 16, 2014 [2 favorites]


I like the one on 'bad grammar'.
posted by Zalzidrax at 5:57 PM on October 16, 2014 [2 favorites]


I like the style. It's clear and concise.
posted by putzface_dickman at 5:58 PM on October 16, 2014 [1 favorite]


I'm nonplussed.

; )
posted by easement1 at 6:03 PM on October 16, 2014


I think about "want" whenever I say it, and substitute "lack" in my head; it's an irritating compulsion. At breakfast: "Do you lack cereal?" The word doesn't really mean desire.
posted by Mei's lost sandal at 6:13 PM on October 16, 2014 [7 favorites]


Really enjoying the frissons of my disagreement with so many of these.
posted by fleacircus at 6:17 PM on October 16, 2014 [3 favorites]


(I put "error" in quote because things that speakers do systematically are can't really be "errors" except with regard to arbitrary social etiquette, blah blah.)

Things that people do systematically as a matter of social etiquette can't really be "arbitrary" either; incorrect grammar is commonly used as a social signaller.

It can be a little ugly, but that's society for ya.
posted by Sebmojo at 6:24 PM on October 16, 2014 [2 favorites]


It is "may I have a pound of hamburger" not "can I have a pound of hamburger"
posted by robbyrobs at 6:25 PM on October 16, 2014 [1 favorite]


I've always liked the use of "awful" or "awfully" as a generic intensifier. "That was an awful good book," and the like. There's something so delightfully Anne Of Green Gables-ish about it.
posted by Sara C. at 6:28 PM on October 16, 2014 [4 favorites]


As intensifiers go, I've always found "awfully" powerful weak.
(that's right, it's a Simpsons reference)
posted by uosuaq at 6:32 PM on October 16, 2014 [2 favorites]


The phrase "company for dinner" should always be followed by a raised eyebrow and a quiet, menacing, aside laugh.
posted by sourwookie at 6:36 PM on October 16, 2014 [8 favorites]


The word doesn't really mean desire.

What gets me is the weird linguistic platonism in the idea that words really mean something other than what people use them to mean. This meaning, is it in the gods' minds, is it encoded in our DNA, can it be deduced from first principles?
posted by signal at 6:36 PM on October 16, 2014 [14 favorites]


English exists as she is spoke, irregardless of what a book thinks.
posted by angerbot at 6:42 PM on October 16, 2014 [6 favorites]


"'Company at dinner' not 'Company for' is the required form. Many persons err in saying, 'We are going to have company for dinner' instead of 'We are going to have company at dinner.'"

Surely one does not go to have company; it is customary that one necessarily stays. Therefore, it would be most awesomest to say like, "We will have company for dinner, and they will be delicious."
posted by Sys Rq at 6:44 PM on October 16, 2014 [3 favorites]


posted by uosuaq at 9:32 PM on October 16 [+] [!]

Wow, at first I thought your username was some unicode trick, but then saw it was the clever use of substitute letters. Neat.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 6:47 PM on October 16, 2014 [4 favorites]


You may have noticed that more quickly than anyone else so far, any portmanteau, so (a) kudos and (b) I have to make my usual disclaimer that it was a friend of mine who came up with it, not me.
posted by uosuaq at 6:58 PM on October 16, 2014


upside down = umop apisdn
posted by obscure simpsons reference at 6:59 PM on October 16, 2014 [15 favorites]


I have been cut so deeply by linguistic prescriptivists telling me that something isn't transphobic, or isn't racist, or even just tiresome grammar nazis who want to rant about kids these days that i can't even enjoy this.

I don't know what that says about me, but yea.
posted by emptythought at 7:14 PM on October 16, 2014 [1 favorite]


Things that people do systematically as a matter of social etiquette can't really be "arbitrary" either; incorrect grammar is commonly used as a social signaller.

The etiquette is arbitrary, not the actions people take to follow it. A correct grammar and vocabulary, determined by what usages make people flinch, exists for any combination of social group and tonal register you could think of. The prestige dialect particular to a given time and place has no claim to a superior correctness other than its prestige.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 7:34 PM on October 16, 2014


What gets me is the weird linguistic platonism in the idea that words really mean something other than what people use them to mean.

Of course, that's the usual objection. But words have meaning because they have history. The meaning just depends on how far back you look.
posted by Mei's lost sandal at 7:35 PM on October 16, 2014


The meaning just depends on how far back you look.

For convenience, I speak and write contemporary American English, but I don't really accept any changes after Proto-Indo-European as legitimate.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 7:42 PM on October 16, 2014 [11 favorites]


It all went to hell after Etruscan.
posted by sbutler at 7:45 PM on October 16, 2014


"I love you" really means "Give Oddman a dollar."



I'm waiting.
posted by oddman at 7:48 PM on October 16, 2014


It all went to hell after Etruscan.

obviously I agree but you should have heard how they talked in the cities. awful. don't get me started on rome
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 7:49 PM on October 16, 2014 [9 favorites]


Cor!
posted by Mblue at 7:49 PM on October 16, 2014


Tod k’ek’luwōs owis ag’rom ebhuget.
posted by kyrademon at 7:51 PM on October 16, 2014 [2 favorites]


Flagged as flammable, or inflammable. Either way I am inflamed.
posted by vapidave at 7:53 PM on October 16, 2014 [3 favorites]


In general, language is a living thing.

But I do feel that some of these battles are worth fighting, even after a century - when there's no alternative for the word being misused.

What synonym is there for "disinterested"? "Impartial" isn't the same - you can be impartial when you aren't disinterested.

Ditto for enormity (which doesn't appear here) - that one really makes me said because there are so many words for "big" (big, huge, large, great, vast, enormous) but no other word for "the great or extreme scale, seriousness, or extent of something perceived as bad or morally wrong."

Interesting to see some words there that are slowly dying out - irruption, for example - the only frequency list I have has the most popular 300k words and it isn't there, and yet I have the impression an educated reader would know it...?
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 8:43 PM on October 16, 2014 [6 favorites]


upside down = umop apisdn

umop-apisdn.org
posted by lumensimus at 8:57 PM on October 16, 2014


I will have to stop using discommode, as it is now obsolete, and begin using the more current incommode.
posted by Steakfrites at 9:08 PM on October 16, 2014 [3 favorites]


Blimey! I say, old bean, what a rum turn of events! This book's bally good, by Jove! Just the ticket, in fact! Jolly good show! Well, pip pip, cheerio!
┌─┐
┴─┴
ಠ_ರೃ
posted by Pyrogenesis at 9:09 PM on October 16, 2014 [2 favorites]


It's amusing to see which disputes are still ongoing a hundred years later and which are utterly forgotten.
Lovely is properly used only of that which is worthy of love; in consequence, it should not be used in expressions such as "The dinner was lovely;" "I have a lovely gown."
I doubt one prescriptivist in a thousand would object to that usage today.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 9:12 PM on October 16, 2014 [2 favorites]


100 years of trying to make fetch happen.
posted by drlith at 9:25 PM on October 16, 2014 [9 favorites]


The entry for funny alludes to something that has been bugging me lately, namely that fun is a noun and not and adjective, SO STOP SAYING THINGS LIKE "FUNNER" AND "FUNNEST," YOU MUTTON-NUTTED NINCOMSHITS. (Not you. You're okay. Them.)
posted by Sys Rq at 10:03 PM on October 16, 2014 [1 favorite]


I will have to stop using discommode, as it is now obsolete, and begin using the more current incommode.

Yeah, people haven't used disco mode for decades!
posted by aubilenon at 10:43 PM on October 16, 2014 [3 favorites]


Some days I feel like I'm the only one advocating the original use of 'comprises'.
posted by sevensixfive at 11:23 PM on October 16, 2014 [1 favorite]


Those who have been persuaded to think well of my design, require that it should fix our language, and put a stop to those alterations which time and chance have hitherto been suffered to make in it without opposition. With this consequence I will confess that I flattered myself for a while; but now begin to fear that I have indulged expectation which neither reason nor experience can justify. When we see men grow old and die at a certain time one after another, from century to century, we laugh at the elixir that promises to prolong life to a thousand years; and with equal justice may the lexicographer be derided, who being able to produce no example of a nation that has preserved their words and phrases from mutability, shall imagine that his dictionary can embalm his language, and secure it from corruption and decay, that it is in his power to change sublunary nature, or clear the world at once from folly, vanity, and affectation.

With this hope, however, academies have been instituted, to guard the avenues of their languages, to retain fugitives, and repulse intruders; but their vigilance and activity have hitherto been vain; sounds are too volatile and subtile for legal restraints; to enchain syllables, and to lash the wind, are equally the undertakings of pride, unwilling to measure its desires by its strength.


Samuel Johnson
posted by Segundus at 1:27 AM on October 17, 2014 [9 favorites]


Evolution is a clear sign that a language is a living one. Rigidity is antithetical to useful communication, even as basic rules are admittedly important for the sake of universal accessibility.

Documentation of past criticism is useful as a marker for where things were at at a given point in time, but are hardly relevant years later when usage has changed to suit the needs of the speakers.

Of course a bit of LOLoltimeyfolks is always soothing to our modern souls.
posted by kinnakeet at 4:35 AM on October 17, 2014 [1 favorite]


I wonder if there is any way to automate and report on the change of language over time, I suppose it would probably require some fairly complex syntactic processing (I mean, if we are to determine meaning change and all). Like, I guess that with more and more casual communications being recorded on the net isn't that something we could think about doing?
Does anyone currently do that?

Also
I kinda want a plugin that can add "(Not you. You're okay. Them.)" to the end of pretty much any paragraph I write. Possibly just any paragraph I write which references people. (Not you. You're okay. Them.)
posted by Just this guy, y'know at 4:49 AM on October 17, 2014


Oh.. uh ..actually saying that I realise that I am already enrolled in a project to kind of do that anyway.
posted by Just this guy, y'know at 4:50 AM on October 17, 2014


The entry for funny alludes to something that has been bugging me lately, namely that fun is a noun and not and adjective, SO STOP SAYING THINGS LIKE "FUNNER" AND "FUNNEST," YOU MUTTON-NUTTED NINCOMSHITS. (Not you. You're okay. Them.)

Hee.
This is my favourite go to word usage for when I know word usage bugs people.

At times in my life I had to be pretty good at switching language modes because of all of the social implications of talking one way or another within different social groups. It comes fairly naturally to me. I'm also someone who picks up accents quite fast when I'm with a group of people but don't bother to get me to repeat the accent once I've been away from them. I don't have that sort of memory. When I realized that this was what I was naturally doing it could be come a lot of fun playing around with different ways of speaking and using words that differ from whatever group I was currently in.

At times I've found it useful to purposely not speak whatever the general group speak is and purposely make mistakes with grammar that I know differentiate me from that group. Speech is so dependent on the prescriptions of whatever the social group a person might find themselves in and I've found that there are a myriad of reasons why they exist and why people unconsciously or consciously follow them.

English is a language that is so easy to manipulate to convey meaning. At times I'll just make up words when trying to explain something because it just seems like that made up word will work to get across the concept. Yes technically it's not a real word but most of the time when I've done that people either don't notice or they notice but still understand what I was saying. I find it fascinating how that all works.
posted by Jalliah at 5:18 AM on October 17, 2014


At times I'll just make up words when trying to explain something because it just seems like that made up word will work to get across the concept.

Perfectly cromulent, embiggens the language for the benefit of all.
posted by eriko at 5:20 AM on October 17, 2014 [3 favorites]


Some days I feel like I'm the only one advocating the original use of 'comprises'.

No, I also use it to mean 'Intercepts a letter', 'Catches fire' or 'Becomes pregnant'.
posted by signal at 6:02 AM on October 17, 2014 [4 favorites]


I could care less about this, by simply not commenting on it, but I have decided that I do in fact care enough to leave this comment. Now that that decision has been made, however, I could not care less, as I am not a time traveler.

Upon futher pondering, I revise my opinion. This thread is more important than I originally thought. Sufficiently important that I could not care less about it. In fact, I must care more, and will proceed to do so.
posted by yeolcoatl at 6:13 AM on October 17, 2014 [2 favorites]


While occasionally risible, this list does exhibit better sense than a lot of prescriptivists:
The use of bad in the same sense of ill is, strictly speaking, not correct; but it is in accordance with the conversational employment of the language.
posted by languagehat at 8:24 AM on October 17, 2014 [1 favorite]


Interesting to see some words there that are slowly dying out - irruption, for example

I have to say that I have hardly ever seen that word used, except in John Updike's "The Music School." I bet Henry James used the word, but, then, I don't enjoy reading Henry James.
posted by kozad at 8:37 AM on October 17, 2014


You might try some early Henry James. He was less a fussbudget than he was to become. He can be quite entertaining, even funny.
posted by IndigoJones at 9:08 AM on October 17, 2014


Speech is so dependent on the prescriptions of whatever the social group a person might find themselves in and I've found that there are a myriad of reasons why they exist and why people unconsciously or consciously follow them.

I think it is Rita Mae Brown who talked about character creation and how she had her characters from higher class and better educated background use more words with Greek roots and her lower class and lesser educated characters use more Saxon and Latin root words. Or something like that.

I don't remember the exact details about it, but I remember thinking "wow, that's a very subtle choice, but it makes a lot of sense".
posted by hippybear at 9:56 AM on October 17, 2014 [1 favorite]


Maybe that was true in the 60s and 70s, but I actually think there's been an inversion. I feel like I hear "utilize" and the like much more from more working class/less educated people, while better educated people tend to speak more simply.

Related: u/non-u speech
posted by Sara C. at 10:13 AM on October 17, 2014


After having survived the 60's and 70's I've come to understand a bit more about how my native tongue tends to slide into the future--meanwhile I'm stuck with my pet retorts. True, they don't get out much anymore, yet I still feed them. But that's cool. I can handle it. I will calm down if requested, but please don't ask me to chill.

I used to love Henry James, mostly because he was a master of the complex-compound sentence. It was seductive, although you must be willing to sit back and go along for the ride.
posted by mule98J at 11:29 AM on October 17, 2014 [1 favorite]


No, I also use it to mean 'Intercepts a letter', 'Catches fire' or 'Becomes pregnant'.
Sounds like a rather busy day.
posted by NMcCoy at 11:50 AM on October 17, 2014 [1 favorite]


You can call me a prescriptivist all you want but when I hear someone at my workplace talk about how someone "is working on a project with she and I" (or utters some similar construction) the person just sounds like an ignoramus. After years of thinking about this particular mistake and its wildly increasing use in conversation, I've decided maybe people think using the subjective is somehow more formal or more respectful and they're complimenting someone by saying "with she/he" rather than "with her/him."

Otherwise I don't know what the hell is going on with people, other than that no one reads anymore so people aren't developing a natural sense for correct usage anymore from reading. I guess that's enough of an explanation.
posted by aught at 11:52 AM on October 17, 2014


Lack of prescriptivism doesn't mean complete anarchy - a hammer is never going to mean a screwdriver. But saying "awful" only means "inspiring awe" is just... well, it's just trying to make people feel bad for some nebulous reason. It's just not accurate.

when I hear someone at my workplace talk about how someone "is working on a project with she and I" (or utters some similar construction) the person just sounds like an ignoramus.

Have you tried politely correcting people? Or maybe just getting past it? Not everyone got taught the same things as you.
posted by GuyZero at 12:30 PM on October 17, 2014


« Older The Internet has been bitten by POODLE   |   I am here for other women Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments