I’m not a linguist but I sometimes wish I was. I often feel like the word police and really must restrain myself from correcting people, lest I be ostracized and ignored by those around me. I hear a siren in my head when I hear certain words used and abused. I’m not saying I know all the rules of grammar however some faux pas just really irritate me. I am fascinated by etymology and where clichés and phrases come from as well and try to broaden my vocabulary if I can.
There is so much confusion about the English language. It would have been much easier if it remained the English language during and after its voyage to the new world. I can only assume that the introduction of other languages and vernacular caused the problems we have today. Sometimes it’s a matter of education but how does that explain George Bush, who despite being surrounded by other very educated people and having had a stellar education himself, continues to say nucular instead of nuclear-which drives me crazy every time I hear it. His use of language is beyond the scope of this post.
Were we to travel to the birthplace of the English language, yes, England, we would not be at home as one would expect as our languages are very different indeed. I lived in England for a time and found that when I needed to speak more English-English, I used my mouth and tongue more. We Americans have lazy mouths! Who knew? It actually takes work to pronounce words correctly. Here is an example of the words that caused me confusion and embarrassment at times:
Garter belt is suspenders, suspenders are called braces, pants are trousers and underwear is pants. A vest is a waistcoat, an undershirt is a vest! Vagina is fanny and a fanny is your butt. Your butt is a bum there (I’m not being crude, this needs to be known because when you go around England with your “fanny pack” you will know why Brits break out in laughter-you’re welcome!). See what I mean? Very confusing. I have actually logged hundreds of words that differed from the ones that I used as I needed to understand it to be able to function in society. There were several times I was very embarrassed (see my blog Have I Got News For You). I used the word toss at work and everyone started laughing. I was finally told it means that someone is pleasuring themselves. If I went into a store to buy something and said to the cashier, “I have a tweny”, the response would be “Sorry? I didn’t understand.” That’s because we Americans do not use our Ts. Why don’t we say twenTy? No idea. I also told someone I was self-sufficient which brought tears and laughter to my husband who told me later that I had announced that I grow my own vegetables and live off the land!
Then there are abused words that time and oceans can not be blamed for. Take the humble coupon (Koo-pon). People seem able to say coupe as in a car with 2 doors, so why the confusion? One need only drop an e and add the o n. They don’t say cyoup do they? Where on earth did Qupon/Queuepon/Q-pon come from? It sounds like half Q-Tip and half tampon to me. Other words begin similarly such as couple and couplet so one would reason that the mispronunciation would take the form of cup-on but this is not the case.
My personal favorite is the misuse of the word caramel. As there is an a in the middle of the word, I would think this would be quite easy to pronounce. Did people eat so many car-a-mels that that they felt one more syllable was just too much to take? “My mouth is just too tired, can I have a car-mel please?”
Any word that has a silent letter in it and is pronounced drives me crazy as well. Almonds are Ahmonds and calm, for goodness sake, is cahm. What about height? Why do people say heighth? It’s as if they got a running start with length and width and just kept on going!
Roof? Seems the simplest of words right? No. Ruff. Ruff? There are two Os people!!
The question that causes my skin to crawl is “Where are you at?” This one has become an epidemic! If “where are you?” asks the question, why would one add at which is a preposition? And, although rules have softened on the preposition at the end of sentence, this is just plain wrong. I have no words for “where you at,” no words.
I’ve gotten into trouble for being too “flowery” by using actual words such as innocuous and telephonic as some people didn’t think a) they were real words and b) that if they were I should actually use them. One of the biggest annoyances when it comes to language and communicating is when someone doesn’t know a word and won’t just ask what it means so we can move on with the conversation. I’ve had the bizarre experience though of people questioning me and even having the gall to make fun of me when I use a large word (there you go again using your $5 words!). It’s really all I can do to keep from laughing and it makes me feel like I’m in the twilight zone. Mind you I don’t even think I have a large vocabulary. I often feel like Marilyn in the Munsters tv show if anyone remembers that. Try to gain knowledge and use it and others see you as a freak!
Funnier still is when people email or text asking me what a certain word meant. If you can email you can look it up online people. Parting advice for anyone too lazy to crack open a dictionary, take 3 seconds to type it into Google. Geesh!
Which words drive you crazy? I know we all have them.
Disclaimer: Consult your Linguist if you experience headaches, annoyances, exasperation or total outrage from others incorrect use of language. Side effects of actually looking words up to understand their correct definitions in order to use them correctly includes but is not limited to the following: personal growth, better grammar, better vocabulary and a general sense of confidence and wellbeing.