Monday, March 26, 2012

You said it, Inigo

"You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means."

How often I have quoted this great movie line! The world is filled with Vizzinis using words with reckless abandon. There's the blogger who reports that a diet book author “was able to beat a chronic health issue in his life by using the strategies implored in The Perfect Health Diet.”

I find most diet books bark orders. Imploring might work better for me. 

Then there's the columnist who wrote: "If you like his over-the-top enthusiasm for public-employee union collective-bargaining rights at the municipal and state levels, why not urge him to get consistent and signify for unionized federal-employee collective-bargaining rights, as well?"

I think that sentence signifies the need for a dictionary.

You say the big media outlets never fall into such weird word usage? Here's the Washington Post: “Since 2004, earthquake scientists have been caught off guard, or to some extent consternated, by huge killer earthquakes in the Indian Ocean, Haiti, China, Japan and New Zealand.”

They have been caught consternated? Aren't there over-the-counter remedies for that?

But for sheer confusion, I nominate this offering from the OMG Facts Web site: “American soldiers found one of Cher Ami's decapitated legs with a message!” 

Cher Ami, apparently, was a messenger pigeon during World War I* and didn't live to tell the grandkids war stories. Decapitated legs! Inconceivable!

*N.B. This has been corrected per Don's comment. 

Monday, March 12, 2012

Whole Lotta Verbing Going On

The signs of spring-to-come are unmistakable around here—azalea blossoms, pine pollen, and primary politicians. And language starts reproducing like mosquitoes. Specifically, I have noted a surge in verbing—the process of turning a noun into a verb.

I can hear what you're saying. Get a grip, cranky. Language is living. It must grow and change to survive. I know that. Really. I don't condemn verbing willy-nilly. (The only thing I do willy-nilly is housework—if, in fact, I do it at all.) But there has to be a brake as well as an accelerator if this vehicle is going to travel smoothly on the highway of communication. I just happen to be one of the world's natural brakes.

Since we are in the throes of a presidential primary here in the Word Crank homeland, I'll mention a brand-new verb I heard for the first time about this time last year—"to primary." This seems to mean "run for election in a primary," as in will Politician X primary? Or worse, the passive voice subspecies: "Will President Obama be primaried?" Apparently, that means "will some unnamed politician run against the one (in this case, Obama) that the primary happens to.

Let me go on record as saying I'm against it—the verb, not the process. I vote "no" on the following propositions, as well: 1. A nutritionist recently spoke of a diet “that will plaque your arteries;” and 2. A radio spot for a heating and A/C company flogs an air conditioner that can be adjusted if you don’t want “to comfort an unused room.”

To be fair, that last example may not be verbing. Maybe there are people who are so sensitive that they apologize to spare rooms so as not to hurt their feelings.

Is verbing ever good? Yes. Sometimes you need a verb to fill in a gap in the language. Witness "to diet" and "to summit." They work. And there are times when a newly hatched verb is a delight. At a recent choir practice, we singers apparently were not being expressive enough in a passage of music, so the director implored us to "marcato it!"

That communicated perfectly. It also seems like pretty good advice for living. You only go around once. Marcato it!