New Words And Extra Syllables

>> Friday, December 18, 2009

I think some of you have gotten the hint since I started this blog that I am a fan of good grammar.

Of course, I have made a rather grand exception to the rule shoved into me as a child that I should never, ever, ever start a sentence with "and," "or," or "but," because, frankly, these words make great starts to funny sentences. In addition, my spelling, or rather, my typing, could use some help, but I am working on it. I swear. I've offered an unpaid position as my proofreader, with the fabulous benefit of seeing my blogs in advance, but so far no one has the wisdom required to accept my offer. (Good spelling and grammar a must for this position.) So, in the meantime, I am relying on spell check, which doesn't always help and is useless when I accidentally type a different word from the one I intended.

In addition to my support of good grammar (someone start a Facebook fan page, please -- oh, wait. Someone probably already has), I am fascinated by the apparent international compulsion among English speaking people to invent new words. Well, quite possibly this compulsion appears in people who speak all languages, but I don't speak any other language well enough to recognize a fake word when I hear it.

Almost 20 years ago (cripes, am I old enough to say that?) I was touring England. (As a matter of fact, yes, it was the same trip made famous for the carrot abundance, thanks for asking.) We had this lovely tour guide named Theresa, and she spoke in this lovely accent that, to my ears, sounded so charming and cultured. Or, it did until the day she had the bus driver drop us off in a nice English town and said that she needed to "orientate us" before we got off the bus. I'm not sure which unnerved me more that day -- the use of the word "orientate" or the fact that I could never remember which side of the bus had the door ....

My exposure to this made up word "orientate" was the first time that I can recall observing that someone invented (or elongated) a word when a perfectly fine word already existed. For those of you having trouble keeping up, she should have offered to "orient" us, not "orientate" us. If we follow through on the pattern, no one will ever be "disoriented" again. We'll all have to be "disorientated." I have to admit, I'm getting there myself.

Of course, for those of you who follow sports, you have undoubtedly heard the sports-coined terms, "trickeration" and "commentator," both of which can now be found in online dictionaries. I doubt there is any way to stop our grandchildren from thinking that these are actual words. Too bad.

I'm not sure what about the human psyche makes people want to use bigger words when shorter ones will do the job. Caustically, I might say that some people want to sound smarter than they are, and they think more syllables will do it, but I don't really think that is the case for everyone. Certainly this theory works for some people, and quite well, too. For others, though, I think they must have a compulsion that some words are simply too short to hold all that they are trying to convey ... and so additional syllables just come blathering out. Not all of them are new, but most of them are unnecessary, and unnecessarily wrong as well. And incorrect, too. And erroneous, also.

At times like this, I am reminded of a bumper sticker I received from a Cap'n Crunch Peanut Butter cereal box when I was a young girl. It said, "Stamp out and abolish redundancy." Of course, at that age, I didn't even know what it meant, but I believe you can still see said bumper sticker (as opposed to the bumper sticker) on the back of the Radio Flyer wagon in my mother's garage. You are most welcome for that flashback.

The examples of excess words seem endless. To wit (That's a quaint lawyer-ism meaning, essentially, "namely," but doesn't it make me sound smarter? Or, perhaps, saying, "namely" just doesn't seem like enough of a word to hold all these examples.):

I once read a friend's newsletter where she referred to her daughter's boyfriend as a "romanticist". Again, I'm not sure whether I was more baffled by her making up a new word, "romanticist" rather than simply saying, "romantic," or by her husband and children not bothering to tell her she made up a word before she sent the newsletter. Maybe they didn't know either. She isn't exactly the kind of woman who has enough chutzpah to make up a word and be proud of it, although some of her children are.

When I was still working in the law firm, a great many of the staff would send around emails and memos with sentences like, "If you have any concerns, please contact Sheila or myself." Oh, I cringed just typing that quote. I may need another cup of coffee to finish this story. I cannot tell you how often I was tempted to walk out and start referring to the staff members as "Herself," except I was pretty certain those who needed to get the joke wouldn't, and those who got it already thought I was a little bit odd. (Again, for those of you having trouble keeping up, she should have said, "please contact Sheila or me.") The rule of thumb, per Grammar Girl and my high school English teachers, was to drop the "Sheila or" and see what still made sense. Unfortunately, I also saw a lot of emails asking people to "please contact myself." I have no idea what to tell the people who wrote those messages.

Darling Husband and I have some interesting discussions about odd speech habits heard in this house. He has a tendency to use the word, "whenever" instead of "when" and we have endless discussions about when to use which. Rather than picking on him much further, and risking him starting his own blog about me, I will just refer you to this link that addresses a somewhat similar dialogue between two people I have never even heard of, much less met. The most interesting part about Darling Husband's speech, though, is that he doesn't realize he even says it. In his head, he thinks he is saying, "when." Curious, don't you think?

I would think that perhaps, "curious" is a poor word choice for forgetting the words that just came out of your mouth, except Darling Husband is not alone. We have a friend that starts the first sentence of every new discussion with the phrase, "As I said." (When did you say this before? You just got here.) He doesn't believe he says it either. I've threatened to follow him around with a video camera just to prove it.

Also, one of our family members, who shall remain nameless, likes to respond in conversations with the phrase, "I agree with that one, too." (In addition to what else? No one knows.)

On that same trip to England I mentioned above, my mother and I took an extension tour of Ireland, where we met another lovely tour guide named Finola (I think). She would tell stories using the bus microphone to help keep us entertained during some of the longer rides. One day, apparently, she lost track of what she was saying, as she told us the story of some Irish heroine who, "died and never recovered." After we all laughed she had to ask what she had said because she admitted she wasn't really paying attention anymore.

Well, I'm going to stop here, now, at this point in time, to get me a cup of coffee for myself.

Until tomorrow ....


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