Whose Using The Dictionary?

This is it boys and girls!  This is the post about English language usage and misusage that I’ve been threatening for a year.  I don’t know if it’s the fact that I decided to do one, and have paid more attention, but the last month or so the mistakes have just been leaping off the pages at me.  I have to do a bitch post about them, or I’ll smack somebody with a thesaurus.

Despite the high rate of literacy in North America, there’s a difference between can read, and do read.  There’s a disturbing percentage of the population, for whom English is a spoken language.  They cannot make the mental connection between the random grunts that fall from their face, and the magic marks which appear on paper or computer screen.

Even among the more intelligent and educated, the professionals, paid to use the language, there is too much attention and thought given to the information being broadcast, and too little given to the words used to convey those stories.

I think of it as a young man who has proposed to his sweetheart, and now has to go to meet her family.  After a shit, shower, shave and shampoo, he splashes on some nice cologne, dresses in his best clothes and sets off to drive to see them.  He knows exactly where they live, and exactly which streets and roads he will take to get there.  He rolls into their driveway, and they see that, instead of his shiny Audi coupe, he has somehow taken the neighbor kid’s rebuilt ’73 VW Bug, with the flowers and peace symbol.  Everyone knows he made the effort, but he still looks like a fool.

Other words cause problems for the inattentive, but homonyms seem to be the most numerous problem.  Pairs of words with similar pronunciation, but vastly different meanings.  It sounded like what I wanted to say!  Restricted vocabulary sometimes means the speaker/writer doesn’t know both words, and uses one for all cases, but that’s a mute point.

I’ve got a list of doozies I’ve seen recently.  I’m going to put them down and make fun of them.  Pay attention please.  Even the best of us may learn something.

I don’t know whether to be more irked or amused when a columnist writes about something they know nothing about.  A recent article by a female about archery, enjoying a resurgence because of movies like Brave, and The Hunger Games, contained this line.

this bow and arrow, with a bendy piece of wood with one sharp end held taunt with a piece of string

So few words – so many mistakes!  I could taunt her by telling her that the correct word is taut – tight.  A bendy piece of wood??  There’s a crisp descriptive passage.  With one sharp end?  Is she writing about the arrow?  It’s an unusual bow that doesn’t have symmetrical narrow ends.  The word taunt I’ve already dealt with, but you can’t hold one end taut, it requires two, and the string doesn’t hold the bow taut.  The bow holds the string taut.

I do crossword puzzles.  There’s a lot more to them than a large vocabulary.  It’s like The Mentalist on TV.  It’s a guessing game, a long-range mind-reading act.  What was he thinking when he wrote this clue?  I have to guess not only what he meant, but what he meant when he used the wrong word.

Overly verbose – gregarious.  Gregarious means being part of a large group.  You may talk a lot when you do that, but gregarious has nothing to do with being verbose.  You may be the quiet one in the crowd.

Opposite of none – some.  The opposite of none is all.  Some is in the middle.

Day before a holiday – eve.  Eve is short for evening, perhaps from 6 PM till midnight.  It’s not the entire day.

Reared – bred.  Bred is producing offspring, reared is raising them to independence.

Between – amid.  Between is two.  Amid is more than two.  It’s that simple, and precise.

Retainers – fees.  Retainers are what you pay to ensure that a professional will work for you when you need him/her.  Fees are what you pay when the work is done.

Withered – sear.  Sear is what you do to a steak.  This one needs the word sere.

Like dandruff – itchy.  A dry scalp, which produces dandruff, is itchy.  Dandruff is dead.  It has no feelings.

Timidity – fear.  Timidity is lack of bravery or self-confidence.  One can be timid without fear.

Discus or javelin – event.  Discus or javelin throwing are events.  Discus and javelin are projectiles.

Nasty laugh – sneer.  A sneer, like a smile, or a frown, is a facial expression which makes no sound.  It can’t be a laugh, nasty or otherwise.

Restricted vocabulary can produce some interesting, though irksome, word usages.

We need to reign those politicians in

Even with lots of local Mennonites on the road with their buggies and wagons, people forget about horses and reins.

Raccoons don’t really watch their food

No, they eat it with their eyes closed, after they scrub it under water.

I don’t want to be one of thoughs.  And he worked so hard to be wrong.

Hallink, a plastic bottle dye maker.  What color were the bottles that came from the forming die?

A Wiccan experienced a right of passage, and low and behold.  Well, Wiccans don’t read much Bible, or they’d know the words were, “rite” and “lo.”

A golf cart for sale, with fancy weels and ect.  This one sets my teeth on edge.  Weels is bad enough, but the “and ect” is becoming too common.  The spelling is “etc”, an abbreviation of Et Cetera, which means, “and other things”.  And Ect is redundant, with incorrect spelling of a three-letter word.

The local car columnist, writing about station wagons, reported that they evolved from depot hacks, which were pulled by a handsome team of horses.  What he meant was that they were pulled by a pair of hansom horses, a hansom being a two-horse cart.

A woman fell and broke her tibula.  That might mean eyebrow, because the two bones in the leg are tibia, and fibula.  Even if the bones were jammed together when one broke, the words shouldn’t have been.

Wrist dramatically to forehead, Oh, whoa is me!  Well stop doing that, and use woe!

He pulled a slingshot from beneath his robe, placed a stone in the cup and whirled it around his head.  A slingshot is a Y-shaped object with an elastic band to propel objects.  Like David against Goliath, what he had, was a sling.

I could go on all day, but I’m already over quota.  Thanx for reading my rant.  Perhaps more another time.

16 thoughts on “Whose Using The Dictionary?

  1. benzeknees says:

    I must admit these kinds of errors in language usage drive me nuts too. I do not do crossword puzzles since I cannot put myself in the writer’s place to figure out the clues. If you can, you are much better than me!


    • Archon's Den says:

      To do crossword puzzles, your mind must be open to multiple meanings/possibilities. There’s so little going on in my mind, there’s lots of open space.


      • Jim Wheeler says:

        I strongly agree about crossword puzzles, especially ones by those few talented authors with a sense of fun who are able to tease with playful clues. Outstanding brain exercise! My current favorites appear in the USA Today newspaper.


    • Archon's Den says:

      I saw an interesting one the other day. A free-floating square in the centre, completely surrounded by black spaces. Sadly, I was too busy to get to it. It might have been challenging. I’ll never know.


  2. benzeknees says:

    I invite you to read the following report which I found hard to read due to grammar & spelling errors http://news.sympatico.ca/oped/coffee-talk/politicians_calling_for_a_union_between_nova_scotia_new_brunswick_and_pei/07037657


    • Archon's Den says:

      I see what you mean. I only noticed one spelling mistake, although years of exposure to poor usage has inured me to it. It seems difficult because the writer used upscale construction, without sufficient punctuation to guide the reader. Insertion of a dozen commas would make it much clearer.


  3. ladyryl says:

    The pair that have been haunting me the passed, pardon me, I mean past few weeks have been hanged [no no silly, hung] up in my mind repeatedly.


  4. Um .. How can I put this politely? Mennonites tend to drive cars far more often than horses. Amish are the horse and buggy drivers, who would would be using reins to travel through the rain while going to a meeting to celebrate God’s reign over the universe. (Amish don’t believe in having houses of worship – they hold services in their members’ homes.)
    Otherwise, you are spot on. Thank you for this!


    • Archon's Den says:

      We have none in this area who declare themselves to be Amish. They are ALL Mennonites. That said, there are about a dozen levels of them, from the Older Order, up to hot-rod drivin’ pot-smokers. The bottom two layers drive buggies and wagons, and it’s quite common to see them clip-clopping down the side of the highway. The Government of Ontario, through the Department of Highways used a HUGE D-shaped steel culvert to create a safe road-crossing underpass, about a mile above the farmers’ market. The original point being that you allow someone free rein, not reign.


      • Oh, we have Amish in all flavours as well. There’s one group who use NO modern technology – I’ve been in one family’s house, and the only “technology” was a water wheel driving a washing machine that could’ve come from a 1910 Sears catalogue. Then you pass the buggy, lit with LEDs, and see the bluish glow from the Smartphones in the front and the hand-held video games in the back! Cellphones are widespread around here, too.
        The real classic? There are a number o groups that allow 12-volt car-battery power for lights, appliances, and such. So they have a drop line from the electric company out by the street, and a big battery charger to charge all the batteries. See, this keeps them “self-sufficient” because they aren’t tied into the electrical grid.
        Can anyone say “rules lawyers”? 😀


      • Archon's Den says:

        Our Mennonites didn’t think that the Amish in Penn./Ohio were strict enough, and found they were abused by the more numerous sect, so they trekked up here 200 years ago. Of course, as soon as they arrived, the same splintering you have down there, occured up here. They just don’t use the name Amish. My Oct. 2 post, Let Me Think About That, covers some of the same points.


  5. liorasophie says:

    In Hebrew, the words “water” and “life” are used always in the plural form. It is not uncommon to hear an Israeli say in english, “Are the water cold?” or, “Life are hard.” But these can be excused as second language errors. I have lots of friends whose first language is English who say, “Would of” for would’ve and “a whole nother.” 🙂


    • liorasophie says:

      And thank you very much for your generous comments on my blog!


    • Archon's Den says:

      These are the ones, of whom I wrote, that for them, it is a spoken, not a written language. I would be embarrassed and ashamed to have such little ability in my mother tongue. I have heard, “Why do you study English? We all speak it.” Many not only revel in their lack of facility, but are antagonistic to anyone who shows intelligence and education. In America, where all men are *equal*, they want everyone to be equal to those at the bottom. It is a sad social comment.


  6. whiteladyinthehood says:

    Well, Archon, I missed this post. You have a very observant eye. (I hope you use a kind eye when reading my posts….I’m sure I’m full of errors) Along with mis~usage, I enjoy the dot.dot.dot. and I’m a dash-lovin’ fool, too!


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