A Word About Words

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.

English Language

English Language (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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.

26 Comments

Filed under Musings, Uncategorized

26 responses to “A Word About Words

  1. Not only does it drive me crazy but I feel particularly annoyed when I hear that kind of language spoken by television anchors and other ‘personalities.’ You have some of my pet peeves in your post, but I would add ‘realtor’. There is no ‘i’ in realtor. A lot of people say realitor. Why? I have no idea. I feel I was born in an age of English and grammar education that has disappeared to a large extent. Oh, here’s another one. Alls of a sutton. Can you guess what they mean? Yes, all of a sudden. The Alls of a Sutton could make a good poem with an Arabian Nights theme perhaps. Oh…yes, I use some big words, too. Being and sounding educated used to be a good thing. Teachers would teach you correct English if you didn’t already know it becuase you had parents who spoke to you that way. Parents would correct your speech, too. Yes, we are lazy and sloppy now.
    And yes, bum bag is what my English friend called it…LOL! I remember the napkin/serviette issue as well from my days living over the pond…
    You really rang my bell with this post!

    • I can understand Americans not knowing what a serviette is however alls of a sutton….absolutely no excuse! I know there are more but I couldn’t remember them! Thanks for the comment : )

      PS-Educating one’s self is a good thing, we can’t give in lol!

  2. I’ve always thought English was a stupid language. We have to memorize so many grammatical and spelling rules and just as many exceptions to those rules. English is the most widely used language in the world so it should be simple to learn and follow a logical pattern.

    What drives me crazy is that “flammable” and “inflammable” essentially have the same meaning. Anyone who hasn’t heard of these words would assume they are antonyms but for some weird reason, they mean the same thing.

  3. wow Dana, this blog must have taken you countless hours to put together! As a proud wearer of a U.S.A. version of “fanny pack” that is made in China, I am appalled by what Brits think of it :(
    Anway, this was another really funny blog of yours and as soon as I get off my lazy butt, I will be selecting you for one of the blogger awards in next few days. I hope you don’t mind it :)

  4. scgeordie

    And who could forget the “rubber incident”, as a Brit in the USA (and one with ‘regional roots’) I am glad there are some differences, I can curse away to my hearts content at work and no-one has a clue what I’m saying! :)

  5. Pingback: Gratitude into Action « the magic of language blog: partnering with reality – by JR Fibonacci

  6. LMF

    We moved to the US in the late 1970″s from the UK and the first time we went grocery shopping, my mother went to the meat counter and asked the butcher for a joint (which is a roast in the uk). Needless to say there was a great deal of confusion on what exactly she wanted.

    • Yes! So funny. I could not figure out what mince was when I moved to Engalnd as we called it chop meat in New York and other places it’s called ground beef. I loved learning British words and watched the soap operas to learn slang-my husband never believe me about that-love nicknames like brolly, cozzie, hozzie. English is much more colourful in England ‘ )

  7. purpleowltree1234

    One of the things I love about your blogging, Dana, is your particularness at choosing the appropriate words. And spelling! :) It’s a joy.
    Having grown up in American curriculum schools with American teachers, then moved to Australia at age 15, I’m constantly paying attention to subtle and not-so-subtle differences in grammar, spelling, pronunciation.. and yes, my father IS a linguist! haha “Aluminium”, “Oregano”, and “Tumeric” always get my attention pronunciation-wise. I always cringed and scowled whenever I hear George W Bush saying “Nucular” too… defies comment.. Then of course when you’re writing in UK English or in USA English, there are the spelling differences, such as centre / center, colour / color, memorise / memorize, etc, etc. There are MANY subtle spelling differences. Then of course, the plain mistakes people make in spelling and punctuation. My pet peeves of these are a lot / alot, your / you’re, whose / who’s and where apostrophes go depending on whose the ownership of the word is (eg. That’s Thomas’s, or That’s the Thomases’, or That’s the Thomases). Ohhh, there are so many NUANCES!!
    I laughed my head off at you telling people you were self-sufficient. Ohhh that’s a funny one! :)
    And in Australia, to “get rooted” means to have sex, by the way, North Americans. And a “rubber” in Australia is an eraser.
    I’m sure there are whole BOOKS on these nuances and differences! :)
    I LOVE this post of yours!
    Love from Rach

    • Thanks Rach! My husband always screams “IT’S ALUMINIUM!!!” and goes on to lecture me about the Elements chart. I lived in England for 3 years and am still influenced by my hxh (see if you remember that from my other post lol). I change my spelling depending on who I’m writing to at the time. My British friends don’t even realise ‘ ) I do it. I even started writing in Scottish lol They didnae ken either, hehe. We are spelling chameleons my friend! So your father chose an interesting profession-I always wanted to be either and anthropologist or a linguist. He must have driven you crazy with it though. Not sure if I mentioned, but I drew up a list of words that were different when I lived in England and found that there were more words for getting drunk and having sex than any other topics! Not surprised having lived there lol. If you told me to get rooted, I’d think you were wanting to garden! Thank you for what you said about choice of words. I drive myself crazy sometimes, knowing there is one word out there that will fit, like the right puzzle piece. Where in the States are you from?

      • Anonymous

        Yes, I totally get what you mean about searching for that one word that will fit. It’s funny how our brains work.
        My father was obsessed with a previously unwritten dialect, so thank goodness he didn’t drive everyone crazy with English, though he used to insist I pronounced certain words more cle-ar-ly. I rebelled. Haha.
        I’ve never been to North America actually. I grew up going between the Philippines and Australia, mostly. I always considered myself far more American than Australian, until I lived here for over a decade- then I felt slowly more okay about identifying with Australians.
        I used to change my spelling for friends in different places too, but am spelling more consistently like an Australian now. I’ve been here 23 years now, I figure it’s time.. Ha!
        Aluminium is a word that almost always gets a strong reaction by anyone else who pronounces it “the other way” to however it was just pronounced. It’s quite predictable! It’s funny how a particular word’s pronunciation can be so divisive! Such a stand to be taken, with “aluminium”! I could hardly care less about it as a metal- why would it be so vital to care about the pronunciation? It’s about sticking your flag into the top of the mountain saying, “I’m Australian,” or wherever you are from. In my opinion anyway.
        Now, I’ve decided that in Blog ettiquette, one thing to never do is leave a comment longer than the actual post which inspired your comment! Lol! So I shall stop here. :)
        I’ve read all your posts and loved them All! I look forward to many more installments!
        Love from Rach.

      • purpleowltree1234

        Thank you Dana for following my Blog! Makes me want to go through it and quickly correct the many spelling mistakes and sloppy wordings! haaha I’ve been very sloppy in writing my Blog. Unlike you!! My Blog is Not light-hearted, so please feel free to drop it if it gets you down. No pressure at all, seriously. Love from Rach.

  8. purpleowltree1234

    PS-Proper cursive writing is different for English-English and for American-English too! I failed a spelling test once because I wrote my letters in the Australian way and not the American way.. Argh! :)

  9. purpleowltree1234

    Shared this post on Facebook for all my cross-cultural and linguist friends! :) They’ll Love it!!
    Rach.

  10. purpleowltree1234

    Thanks Dana, for following my Blog! It is Not light-hearted, so I understand if you decide to let it go at any time. :) I feel like I need to quickly go and fix all my sloppy spelling and wording there now! haha My Blog is quite sloppy- unlike yours!! I’ve thoroughly enojoyed your Blog. I giggle remembering things you wrote in it. I’ll be sharing it with friends for quite a while, I think! :) I already sent my mom a link to it yesterday, plus posted it on my Facebook page. :)
    Love from Rach

    • I was really interested in what your blog would be and I think you are very brave and courageous to write it and better understand some of the things you said, sorry if I seemed obtuse at first. Please don’t feel like that with me about cleaning it up. I’m just another writer trying to find and stay true to her voice. Your grammar is probably better than mine btw. Really glad you like my posts and still can’t get over the response I’ve had. This is the first time that my writing has been exposed to a large group of people. Thanks for sharing it with your friends and family, that is very generous of you!

      • purpleowltree1234

        I’m serious about wanting to see you write a sit com or a book! :) I think the response you’ve gotten since your writing has been opened up to everyone, is clearly indicative of how bloody good you are at writing! :)
        I just mentioned to Chris that Blogging is like getting a virus and spreading it around. Now I’m following him and another of his friends! haha! And Chris is reading my Blog too. The virus is spreading exponentially! If it continues in this fashion I’m going to have a hard time keeping up! :) Oh, but it’s fun!!
        Gotta read your newest post now. :)
        Love from Rach

  11. What a great article! I have a few pet language hates too, the most annoying is when people don’t bother to put the “ly” on their adverbs. For example “I went slow down the road”. The correct word is “slowly”.
    It never fails to annoy me, and I hear this mistake a lot, even from radio and TV announcers, who in my opinion, should be getting it correct.
    The other phrase I detest is the incorrect use of the word “fun”. “This is so fun” makes me cringe. Please, let’s all have “so much fun”, it sounds so much better and is grammatically correct!
    However, language evolves along with public use/acceptance, so I think these words, interpretations and bad grammatical habits are here to stay :-(

    • Thanks again! You are too kind. I agree with the ly problem and notice that often myself. Fun…hmm never thought about that one and wonder if I’ve done the same. I know language is fluid but do wish there were hard and fast rules so everyone knows the answers to these grammatical questions. I’ve heard people say ironical which I found hysterical. However, looked it up and it’s actually in the dictionary. That is just a shame lol.

  12. I just love your post. It reminds me of my country (India), where there at about 1652 languages and dialects. Imagine my situation, I had to switch my tongue for every 100km I travel. We call it “unity in diversity” in our history text books. So I reckon, not to worry much about the language :)

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