Words at Play

Your car won’t start so you have it toed to your local repair shop.  A few hours later the mechanic calls you with the bad news: you have a defective disgronifier and it will cost $250 to replace it.  What should you do?  Find another mechanic because there is no such thing as a “disgronifier.”  It is nothing more than an imaginary object created by unscrupulous people to cheat their customers out of money.

When you want to name something, but the right word escapes you, you might call it a “dumaflache” (here in the deep south I’ve always heard the word pronounced “dumafliche”), a “whatchamacallit,” a “thingamabob,” or a “thingamajig.”  But you wouldn’t use those words, would you?

With ebola being in the news, every news program on TV features a doctor about once an hour discussing the disease.  I’ve been shocked to hear a number of physicians say things like, “She didn’t have a temperature when she got on the plane.”  If she didn’t have a temperature she wouldn’t be getting on a plane or doing anything else because she would be dead (OK, to be technically correct she would have a temperature equal to that of her surroundings).   What she didn’t have was a fever.

“Bananas” and “nuts” can both mean “crazy.”  I’m not sure where or when the words picked up this meaning, but both are commonly used in American  slang.  Back in 1968 Guy Marks had a hit record with a novelty number called “Loving You Has Made Me Bananas.”

You often hear someone talk about the perks of a job.  Where does the word “perks” come from?  It is a shortened version of the word “perquisites.”  And where in the world does that word come from?  It is derived from the Latin word “perquisitum” meaning “a thing sought after.”  As far as we can tell, it was first used in written English in 1443 as “perquysite.”  At the age of 571 it is still going strong in its shortened form.

Recently I heard someone use the words “don” and “doff.”  The words are contractions of “do on,” and “do off.”  That is, to put on and take off something such as a hat or a coat.  Both words were coined around 1350.

If you have two apples and I give you two more apples, you will have four apples.  That will never change.  Language, however, is always changing.  The rules of languages are set by the people who speak them, and the rules concerning what is correct and incorrect vary greatly from one language to another – and from one point in time to another.  That being said, I must admit that I still have a problem when I hear someone say, “That begs the question: why did he do what he did?”  To “beg the question” means to get around answering a question by using what’s called a “circular argument.”  Politicians are masters when it comes to begging the question.  Does it come naturally or do they take courses on how to beg the question?  There is a website that is dedicated to promoting the proper use of the phrase.  Appropriately, the website is named Beg the Question.

And to “beg off” means to ask to be excused from something such as a dinner party.  “I was supposed to go to a dinner party last night, but I begged off because I didn’t feel well.”  Have I mentioned any of this before?

By the way, while I’m complaining about improper English usage, one does or doesn’t feel “well,” not “good.”

I’ll end this rant with an example of something I hear over and over again: “There’s ten reasons why you should be concerned about . . .”  “There’s” is a contraction of “There is.”  “There is ten reasons why you should be concerned about . . .” definitely sounds wrong, doesn’t it?  “There are ten reasons why you should be concerned about . .  .” sounds much better and is the correct sentence structure.  Note: I use Microsoft Word to write my posts.  The spell checker flagged “There is ten reasons” as being questionable, but not “There’s ten reasons.”  Does that tell us that “there’s” is acceptable in the above example?  I hope not.

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