Pineapple

Pine...apple...?

 

I always love these sorts of hypercognates that have so specific a point of origin that they managed widespread propagation with negligible mutation centuries before the global communication boom.  Oh, English, you just had to break the mold, didn’t you?  (>^-‘)>

Although, to be fair, ‘ananas’ is also a perfectly valid English word for what we usually call the pineapple.

And Spanish speakers are more apt to call it a piña.

…and let’s not forget languages like Japanese that are perfectly happy to say パイナップル (PAINAPPURU!!!).

 

Bene scribete.

Something Positive

Plus

 

One of the most important benefits of language is that it fosters the organization of thought.  One of the most interesting things about the study of language in its many forms is what it tells us about transcultural psychology.

For instance, do you know what is perhaps the most widely disseminated term in a given language?

Gracias.  Grazie.  Merci.  Danke.  Arigato.  I’m willing to bet that the majority of you native English speakers could tell me not only what that means, but also the language to which each of those words belongs.  I bet many of you have even used one or two for fun in an otherwise English conversation.  And yet, I imagine most of you couldn’t tell me off the top of your head what the word for ‘I’ is in those same languages.

That says something kind of nice about what we at large have felt is most important to be able to convey to our fellow earthlings, don’t you think?

 

Bene scribete, et gratias vobis ago.

Brand Capitalization

Tic-Tac Logo

Freshens your breath, so you don’t have to

 

I’m always slightly, unavoidably offended when companies don’t capitalize their own brand names. Primarily because proper nouns have free rein to eschew orthographic decorum, and their specifics take precedence over propriety.  Which means I also have to write them that way.  Which is wrong.

You’re making me do language wrong, brand.  But that’s on you.  I’m not taking the fall for that.

The most untenable, however, is when the second letter – oh, the second letter! – of the name is capitalized when the first is not.  Ever tried to start a sentence with ‘iPhone’?  It’s the worst.

Stop it, brands.  Just stop.

 

Bene scribete.

Wednesday Writing Word: Zeugma

Zeugma

/ˈzugmə/  |  ZOOG-muh

 

Zeugma is a fun little device that occurs when a word is used in multiple contexts simultaneously – i.e., to mean two (or sometimes more) things at once as it applies separately to the other words in its purview.  Mostly used for humorous brevity, it naturally requires that the word have some homonymous or polysemic properties.

 

Examples:

  • Billy ran from the slog and for mayor.
  • The minstrel plays the flute almost as well as he does the fool.
  • I punched the slog with fury, indignation, and my fist.
  • I like chips in my cookies, not my teeth.

 

Bene scribete.

Singular ‘They’

Lots of theys

 

“Did someone leave their wallet in here?”

It’s not unusual to hear this sort of sentence in English.  The sex of the subject (‘someone’) is unknown, so the speaker uses the pronoun ‘they’, even though the subject is not plural.  Now, as a copyeditor (and otherwise general linguistic snob), I may be expected to rail against such usage, but alas – I am, in fact, about to do just the opposite.

The problem with this sort of construction is that English, like many languages, doesn’t have explicit fourth person* syntax, so any way we cast it becomes a sort of workaround.  And, when it comes down to it, singular ‘they’ is simply the least ambiguous and awkward of a lot of bad options.

* (“What the #&@$ is fourth person!?” a non-super-language-nerd might ask.  Well, I’m glad you did: a fourth-person entity is one that is unknown, generic, or irrelevant.)

Let’s take a moment to consider the alternatives.

  • The formally prescribed solution is to randomly choose a gendered third-person pronoun: “Did someone leave his wallet in here?”  The issue with this option, aside from the awkwardness of randomly assuming a gender, is that it creates a particularly strong pronoun-antecedent disagreement, so the initial impression is that you are asking if an unknown someone left an identified other person’s wallet in here.
  • The construction “Did someone leave his or her wallet in here?” is also a preferred one, but it is needlessly cumbersome.
  • ‘One’ is the closest thing English has to a real fourth-person pronoun.  So you could ask, “Did someone leave one’s wallet in here?”  But that sounds terribly stilted.
  • Similarly, ‘someone’ itself is, in essence, a fourth-person pronoun as well, but “Did someone leave someone’s wallet in here?” recreates the pronoun-antecedent divorce that makes it sound like you could be talking about two different people.
  • You could subvert the need for the second pronoun altogether by using passive voice: “Was someone’s wallet left in here?”  There’s nothing inherently wrong with that phrasing, but it changes the focus of the inquiry to the presence of the wallet itself rather than the owner you’re trying to reunite it with.
  • You could try a number of other rewordings, but each would have a slightly different meaning than what you’re intending, and they would only be applicable to the specific sentence.

So we’re left with ‘they’.  It’s hardly ideal, but it’s cleaner than the other choices, and it’s used so often informally that it now sounds the most natural, and its meaning in context is immediately clear.  Reusing plural terms for certain singular cases is not without precedent (we have only to look at the subjunctive form of “to be”), and ‘they’ is frequently used in other fourth-person constructions, anyway (“You know what they say.”).

Thus, while I’m not about to encourage anyone to start using singular ‘they’ in formal writing, I would advocate for a grammatical shift in that direction, if for no other reason than to be relieved of the constant need to convolute phrasing that avoiding it entails.  (>^-‘)>

 

Bene scribete.

Wednesday Writing Word: Epistrophe

Epistrophe

/ɛˈpɪstrəfi/  |  eh-PISS-truh-fee

 

Epistrophe is the repetition of a word or phrase at the end of consecutive sentences or clauses (basically the converse of anaphora).  Like its counterpart, it is mostly used for emphasis through poetic redundancy.

 

Examples:

  • The slog is the worst, its face is the worst, and its mere existence is the worst.
  • Stop writing, and you lose.  Stop editing, and they lose.  Humor the slog, and we all lose.
  • I’d slay the slog with pleasure, then dump its remains with pleasure, so I could finally write – with pleasure!

 

Epistrophe.  Use it.

 

Bene scribete.

Wednesday Writing Word: Antimeria

Antimeria

/,æntɨ’mɛriə/  |  AN-tih-MAIR-ee-uh

 

Antimeria is one of my favorite rhetoric devices.  It is the application of a word outside of its lexical category – e.g., using an adjective as a noun or a noun as a verb (in this case also autologically called ‘verbing’!).  Even with the words repurposed ad hoc, the missing semantics are filled in by context and their meaning is easily understood.

When particular uses become common enough, polysemes are born.

 

Examples:

  • The slog is giving me a case of the sads.
  • I can’t computer very much with the slog gnawing at my brain.
  • Thanks to the slog, I feel like I’m stupiding all over the place.

 

Antimeria.  Use it.

 

Bene scribete.

Literally?

Confused man

 

A few days ago, a friend of mine posted an article on Facebook concerning the use of the word ‘literally’ in the increasingly popular figurative sense.  The article unfortunately seems to have disappeared at the moment, but the gist of it was pointing out that most dictionaries have now appended this alternate meaning to the word’s definition, and explaining that this usage may have originated with, or was at least first recorded in, Frances Brooke’s The History of Emily Montague (published in 1769).

Naturally, this sparked a conversation on whether or not this sort of language development is acceptable.  Prior to encountering this, I had no idea there was even a movement to gain legitimacy for this non-literal use of ‘literally’, as it’s kind of the butt of diction jokes everywhere, but there are apparently many who feel that rejecting it (or any other semantic shift) amounts to needless linguistic authoritarianism.

My own take on the matter was as such:

The evolution of language and words is a natural, inevitable thing, and in the general case it is something to be embraced.  That said, stability is a necessity of language’s functionality, thus any given modification cannot be assumed to possess intrinsic merit.

Language is a tool of communication, of which clarity is an important aspect, and I should assert that preserving its ability to convey meaning is a not an unworthy goal, particularly in an instance such as this wherein the suggested secondary interpretation of a term, when used in the same context, implies something strictly antithetical to what the accepted definition would.  This dilution of precision, while admittedly neither entirely untenable nor without precedent, is nevertheless customarily unfavorable.

(That the word was used in this sense a few centuries ago scarcely argues its virtue – words have been used improperly since words were first words, and most such misuses do not incur a change in their respective societal perceptions!)

But, I’ll concede to being guilty of a little linguistic snobbery.  People will say what they will, and language will be thus, regardless of what may or may not be in its own best interest.  (>^-‘)>

 

I’m curious to hear where others lie on the issue, though.  Any thoughts to add?

 

Bene scribete.

Wednesday Writing Word: Merism

Merism

/’mɛrɪzəm/  |  MAIR-iz-mm

 

Where a synecdoche is a specific type of metonym, a merism is a specific type of synecdoche in which a phrase refers to something by the name of a few of its components (usually two in contrast).  Like other metonyms, their usage most often comprises pre-established terms (such as saying “high and low” or “near and far” to mean “everywhere“), rather than existing in unique cases.

 

Other examples:

  • The slog can corrode you, mind and body.  [Referring to the ‘whole of a person’ to mean completely]
  • Don’t let the slog waste your blood, sweat, and tears.  [Referring to products of ‘bodily exertion’ to mean hard work]
  • Being the worst is the slog‘s bread and butter.  [Referring to ‘basic needs’ (by way of food) as a function of their acquisition to mean manner of supporting oneself]

 

Merism.  Use it.

 

Bene scribete.