Don't be a grammar bully

Recognize that good grammar is a privilege that not everyone is lucky enough to have.

As someone who reads a lot, and who has (if I may be so bold) a better-than-average grasp on the laws of grammar, I can't help but twitch when I see people doing it wrong. Forget rules about dangling participles and split infinitives; most people on the internet seem unable to use the right your/you're or its/it's correctly. 

But we all know that most tiresome of internet spectacles, the grammar bully. They delight in swooping in to "fix" someone's post. They mock the use of the "grocer's apostrophe." And although they find themselves hilarious, no one else is laughing.
 
First of all, it's plainly obvious that when you correct someone else's grammar, all you're trying to do is score points for yourself. And you're not trying to score points by being helpful or even entertaining. You're trying to score points by showing off how smart you are. No one wants to see that, trust me.
 
Second of all, although most people use the term "Grammar Nazi," I very specifically prefer to use the phrase "grammar bully." Because this sort of thing IS bullying. It may feel good, like the final act of a Revenge of the Nerds movie. But bullying the bulliers is no way to live. It just repeats the cycle of bullying.
 
And it makes you look like an insufferable jerk, to boot. I would rather hang out with a group of homophobic racist 14 year-old XBOX Live players than spend time with someone who corrects people's grammar. That is how bad it is.
 
And finally, grammar bullies are acting from a perspective of unacknowledged privilege, as blogger Chandra details in this recent blog post. She walks the reader through her experience as a "recovering grammar snob." 
 
What transformed Chandra from someone who endlessly pointed out other people's grammatical errors to someone who shrugs it off? Four years spent helping "disadvantaged adults acquire fundamental literacy skills."
 
Chandra learned that having an excellent grasp of grammar and literacy skills is a privilege. It means that you went to a somewhat decent school. That you weren't forced to drop out at an early age to get a job to help support your family. That you were able to study in the evenings, instead of going hungry or suffering abuse. 
 
There are a lot of reasons why someone doesn't learn and use basic literacy skills. And none of them are the kind of thing that deserve getting picked on. Not to mention, it's basically the equivalent of a rich kid making fun of someone's beat-up used car. 
 
It's time for grammar nerds to stop being insufferable, and start understanding that everyone has their own challenges to face in life. In other words: get over yourself.

Words ruined by our generation

Curse you, Gen XYZ!

There are so many beautiful, beautiful words that we have in our language that help us describe our world (also beautiful). But what we’ve done to the English language is anything but.

Not only have we butchered the spelling and grammar of our own language (while we laughably insist that non-native speakers use it properly), opting to use text speak in everything from daily conversation to essays; we’ve also ruined the actual meaning of words themselves. Here are just a few words that I will forever miss using in the way they were…Twilight

Once upon a time, this was one of my absolute favorite words. Remember what it used to mean? Any word associated with nighttime, from twilight to dusk to eclipse (oops, there’s another ruined word) that used to hold such a magical allure, reminding us of the most mysterious time of day, is now ruined forever as they have become synonymous with that damned book series. I cannot use the term in my writing without a reader immediately brining that connotation to mind, whether it’s accidental or, “Oh, she must be a Twihard!” thoughts. Alas, I miss that word.

Gay

I like two definitions of the word gay. I like that it means both joy and homosexual people, as I believe the latter deserves the former—and who wouldn’t want their identification to be associated with a word that means pure happiness? But I do not like that the word has come to mean derogatory terms, such as stupid or lame or whatever people mean when they say, “That’s sooo gay!” It drives me crazy. I always want to say, “It’s a pair of shoes, it can’t be happy.” Well, not anymore, anyway, depending on if they are leather or not. Anyway, it’s impossible for anyone over the age of eight to sing “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” without knowing that there will be someone some snickering over the gay yuletide.

Creamy

A word that was once used to describe a frothy coffee or a cool frozen custard treat has been mutilated by goofy slackers and the Cartoon Network. If you hear the word creamy today, do you think of a frozen treat—or do you think of some version of literal toilet humor? Yeah, it just doesn’t have its appeal to me anymore, either. Thanks a lot, Gen XYZ; you can forget the marketing term, Dairy Queen. It’s not a selling point anymore, unless it’s used on Robot Chicken.

Is The Phrase "Young Buck" Racist?

Or is it just "racism-adjacent"?
If you had asked me yesterday, I probably would have said no. I would have said that, even though it's true that black men were referred to as "bucks" on Southern slave plantations, the phrase "young buck" probably comes from the behavior of young male deer. Who are notoriously randy, full of themselves, and constantly spoiling for a fight and doing stupid things.
 
But then I saw Jesse Thorn - a nice guy, but white as white can be - use the phrase to describe a black male rap artist, and it made me really uncomfortable. 

First of all, there is a misconception that the word "buck" to mean "dollar" has its origins in slavery. That if something was worth "two bucks," that means "I'll trade you two black male slaves for it." This is untrue. The word's actual origins derive from fur trappers, who used deer skin as currency. "Two bucks" meaning, "I'll trade you two buckskins for it."
 
To confuse the issue, the phrase "young buck" has been taken up by the rap world, as a friend rightly pointed out to me. Among other things, it is the stage name of rap artist David Darnell Brown. But this raises the question for me, whether it's a rap thing like "ridin dirty," or a rap thing like "re-appropriating use of the N-word."  
 
Even Urban Dictionary is - surprisingly - not much help here. All of the entries for "young buck" refer to the rap artist, but the entry for "buck" lists "slang for a young black man" as the third usage, above "male deer" and "slang for money."
 
Even if the phrase "young buck" doesn't have racist origins, it's definitely a phrase that I would call "racism adjacent." Current usage blurs the line between its meaning, and it can certainly serve as a dog whistle to other racists. At the very least, I think one would be well advised to use caution when trotting this one out. I certainly wouldn't use it to describe a young black man.
 
Of course, if you say something like "this phrase is racist-ish and should be retired," people get all outraged about it. White people, specifically. But I feel obliged to point out that there are about a million billion word combinations in English that are still available for your use. Phrases that DON'T raise the orange "possibly racist" flag. Why not play it safe, and use one of those instead? Better safe than sorry, right?
 

3 Words I Learned From Star Trek

Not to mention "triticale," which is actually a real thing

 

Yeoman
I ran across this word over the weekend, and it made me smile. I remember the first time I encountered it, in an episode of the original series that I watched when I was eight or nine. Yeoman Rand makes an appearance, and I was like, "Who is this chick, and what's a yeoman?"
 
A yeoman is, of course, a rank in the US Navy which performs administrative and clerical duties. Luckily for real-world yeomans, a massive blonde beehive is not required for the job. (Although sadly I suspect that the two jobs may still have "unwanted sexual advances" in common.) 

 
Concordance
I used to love going over to this one particular friend's house, because her father owned a battered copy of the Star Trek Concordance. He allowed me to read it if I promised to be careful and not eat or drink while I had it in hand.
 
My friend would get pretty miffed when I showed up at her house only to bury my nose in some stupid book of her dad's. I guess that was pretty rude of me, but the Concordance was a pretty rare thing at the time. It was long since out of print by then, and I didn't have any money of my own to buy one, anyway.
 
You can imagine my surprise, many years later, to learn that in most people's minds, "concordance" referred specifically to a Bible textbook. Technically it just means "a big collection of facts about a specific subject," but most people only encountered the word in relation to the Bible. 
 
Biblical concordances take every word in the Bible, and show you which pages they appeared in. Useful for those times when you want to look up every single instance where a horse appeared in the Bible, or whatever.
 
What can I say? I wasn't raised with any religion (just Star Trek).
 
Catspaw
I used to constantly get this word confused with "dogsbody," which is kind of the same thing, but not really. (I also once called "houndstooth" "dogstooth," to the merriment of the collection of adults I was with at the time, and to my eternal embarrassment.)
 
It probably didn't help that the Star Trek episode titled "Catspaw" prominently features a cat. I remember looking the word up in the dictionary, and then being thoroughly confused about what relationship the word had to actual cats.  

Language Anachronisms: Downton Abbey Vs. Mad Men

Tracking down when a word originated is a fabulously slippery task.
Slate's Browbeat columnist David Haglund thinks that Mad Men is being more careful about linguistic anachronisms than Downton Abbey. But is it really? And what about Deadwood?
 
The issue of anachronisms in period shows spills over to every aspect of the show. Much - one might imagine - to the shows' creators' dismay. I know of a fistful of blogs which obsessively track font choices in Mad Men, and which gleefully crow over fonts being used by the ad agency before they were invented in the real world.

 
(One unanswered question is, why should we care? It's a television show, not a history textbook. But this sort of question is its own answer to the sort of obsessive nerd who engages in this level of nitpickiness, myself included.)
 
Tracking down when a word originated is a fabulously slippery task. Text is usually considered the arbiter. But presumably a word has been kicking around in the world for a while before it ends up being entombed inside a book with a solid publication date. Except in cases where an author invented a word, most of the time they are simply recording a pre-existing world in print for all to see.
 
Of course, it's not as simple as "People didn't say that then." For example, the word "uppity" existed in the 1880s in America. Is its use in Britain in Downton Abbey an anachronism? The word had plenty of time to migrate across the Atlantic. But would it have? And even if it had, would it have been used by the character who said it?
 
I have a friend who found Deadwood unwatchable, because she was constantly distracted by all the modern swears being used. "C**ksucker" in particular drove her up the wall, because it wasn't invented until much later. 
 
The show's producers have explained that they substituted modern swear words for the swears the cowboys would have actually used. Because what was a terrible swear word back in the 1800s (like "God's teeth!" or "God's truth!") barely even registers on our radar today. In other words, the producers felt it was more important for the characters' swearing to have the same impact as it would have at the time, than it was to be historically correct. 
 
I suspect the same is true of Mad Men. Otherwise, the characters would spend a lot more time saying things like "shucks" and "aw, nuts" and "23 skiddoo!" and all those other wacky things people said in the 1960s which sound so quaint to us now.

Ruminating on the word "ruminate"

In a quiet moment, we burp up old thoughts in order to chew them over a little better
Earlier today I was reading about cows, and how they like to lie down in order to chew their cuds. Cows are ruminants, which means that they belong to the class of animals (like goats and llamas) who have to chew their food twice in order to digest it. 
 
Long story short, cows like to lie down to ruminate. And so do I.
 
Grazing animals have a tough job: they have to break down the cellulose in plant matter in order to extract nutrition from it. Grass is tough stuff, which is why cows have four stomachs. This practice also lets the cow bolt down its food now, and wait until later to chew it. That's a handy ability, when you're a shy grazing animal on the run from predators.

Rumination is a quiet, calm practice. Animals only burp up and chew their cuds when they are relaxed and at peace. On a lovely sunny afternoon you may see an entire herd of cows lying down in a field, staring off into space and chewing mindlessly.
 
When humans ruminate, it tends to be a more morose affair. We tend to store past slights and misfortunes, only to burp them up later at a quiet moment to chew them over. The metaphor is as robust as it is apt. In order to digest these slings and arrows, we have to process them first. We have to chew them down into paste, wringing every little bit of knowledge and perspective out of them.
 
A cow ruminates silently on its own. Cows don't share their rumens. You can't just give it to someone else to chew; you have to chew it yourself. That blob of half-digested thoughts is yours alone to process. Although it's nice to have someone else to bounce thoughts and ideas off, in the end it comes down to this: you, alone, with your thoughts.
 
I often ruminate while on a long drive. Being alone in the car gets me thinking over things, turning them over in my mind. Typically things I can do nothing about. Frankly, it often seems like a waste of time, which is why I always try to remember to bring some podcasts along to distract me.
 
We can also ruminate in the positive sense, of course. Before starting a new business or making a life-changing decision, it's wise to spend some time pondering it first. Rumination gives you a chance to think over all the angles and consider ways in which you can make things better. It's a good way to plan, if you have the time!

Business Jargon: Core Competency, Buy-In, and More

Like any form of jargon, business jargon is meant to solidify bonds between a social group.
Forbes recently identified their least-favorite items of business jargon. The full list, if you don't care to do all that clicking, is:
  • Core Competency
  • Buy-In
  • SWAT Team
  • Empower
  • Open the Kimono
  • Bleeding Edge
  • Lots of Moving Parts
  • Corporate Values
  • Make Hay
  • Scalable
  • Best Practice
  • Think Outside the Box
  • Solution
  • Leverage
  • Vertical
  • Over the Wall
  • Robust
  • Learnings
  • Boil the Ocean
  • Reach Out
  • Punt
  • Impact
  • Giving 110%
  • Take It To The Next Level
  • It Is What It Is
 
Like any form of jargon, business jargon is meant to solidify bonds between a social group. Whether it's a teenager saying "wack," a server admin saying "bounce," or a business person saying "incentivize," these slang and jargon terms are often aggressively opaque to outsiders. 
 
In many cases, jargon is a re-purposed "real word." Such is the case for business jargon like "impact," which does after all mean a real thing. But if you use the word "impact" in its dictionary sense in a business meeting, people will look at you funny. It will brand you as an outsider.
 
The words themselves are virtually meaningless. Sure, a lot of these jargon terms are grating. Many of them say poorly what another word says well. But the function of the words exists at a level beyond the bare bones of language, to the function of language itself. Jargon terms signify not only that "I belong here" but that "I have mastered the social cues of this subculture." And perhaps more importantly, that "I have embraced this subculture whole-heartedly, which you can tell, because I am constantly using crazy-ass terms like "buy-in" and "push-back.""
 
Honestly, there are some business jargon terms that I have kept from my time in the business world. The aforementioned "push-back" is a good one, along with its cousin, "friction." Saying that you're "getting some push-back on that project" is a nice, polite way to say "John Doe is being an obstructionist jerk." It can also mean that "people aren't happy with this," but without having to be directly confrontational.
 
In fact, if you study a lot of business jargon, much of it exists in order to signal confrontation without engaging in it. The corporate world is a world of proxy wars and turf battles, and frequently the loser is the one who displays their aggression most openly. Jargon terms are like the passive voice in writing; they let you say things without really saying them. It's frustrating, but sometimes helpful.
 
And the term "monetizing" is just genius, frankly. That's a rare example of a jargon term that has no better equivalent that isn't longer and more clunky. Plus, you can use it to make people laugh, as when I remarked the other day that my friend needed to figure out a way to monetize his dog's bad behavior, like hiring her out as a document shredder. 

Do You Have Remora in Your Life?

The word of the day for Saturday, January 21st, 2012 on dictionary.com was remora. This word is pronounced [rem-er-uh]. Though related phonetically, this word has quite a different meaning than, better known word, remorse.

The first definition means that this word refers to a hindrance, obstacle or obstruction. The second definition has quite a different meaning. You have to love the English language.

The second definition refers to scientific context with regards to a type of spiny-finned fish that constitutes the family Echeneididae. They have, (believed by the ancients) on top of their head a type of vessel or sucking disk that allows them to attach to larger fish, rocks, turtles, ships, sharks or any other object of motion in their marine living environment.

Remora was first used in book: The History of the Life and Reign of William the Fourth, by Robert Huish. In context, Huish stated that while extremely unpopular (in the public eye) as a soldier, there was no remora to the Duke of Kent’s employment.

Walter D. Mignolo’s Local Histories/Global Designs: Coloniality, Subaltern Knowledges, and Border Thinking also made mention of remora. In this book he states that all cultures coexist today in diachronic contradictions. What coexists is the colonial remora of Bolivian history, colonized victims and the differing opinions and articulations of colonizing forces.

This word is archaic and was likely formed in 1560-70. It was derived from the Latin word: remorārī, which literally means to linger or to delay. To learn more about this word, go here.

What Does the Word Limerence Mean?

Have you ever heard of the word limerence? What could it possibly mean?

 

Limerence is regularly tied with the term “crushing on someone”, but this relation is wrong. Regardless of whether those feelings are returned or not, to crush on someone means that you have developed feelings of desire for a person. Limerence is where one desires someone and that desire is fueled by reciprocation from the person they desire.

Whereas a crush on someone or puppy love can last for merely days or weeks. Limerence has been known to last for at least several months or even years.

A crush is usually consciously formed, while limerence is usually an unwanted cerebral state of mind that forms on the subconscious level. Someone demonstrating the effects of limerence would practically walk on water if they came in contact with the person of their desire. While a simple crush would cause more subdued actions. The website, Lovepanky, voices their opinion on the matter, here.

Strangely, during certain periods, one with limerence may not display any emotion or feeling toward the person they crave. These are considered low lying periods. Conversely, low lying periods are replaced with hope for reciprocation; as well as enormous amounts of energy that are devoted to obsession.

Interestingly, there doesn’t appear to be much recorded history on the etymology (or origins) of the word limerence. It appears that the word was adapted initially from word, limerent. The second definition of limerent meant 'learned in skulls'. This was only used once in 1819 in a phrenological (this simply refers to the science of measuring a human skull) context.

In 1977, The Observer published the following by Dorothy Tennov: “I first used the term ‘amorance’ then changed it back to ‘limerence’... It has no roots whatsoever. It looks nice. It works well in French. Take it from me, it has no etymology whatsoever.” To learn more about this fascinating word, go here.

What Would You Do if the Internet Failed?

A few years ago, I donated the last of my dictionaries to Goodwill.  It isn’t that I don’t love words and want to know more about them, but I just never used my paper copies because it is so much faster to find what I want to know online.  Recently, I have been thinking of our dependence on the Internet, and how different life has become in the past decade because of it.

I donated my dictionaries because I never questioned that the Internet would always be available to me.  Even if my own personal Internet connection was unavailable, I can still access the information I need from my smartphone or from a Wi-Fi spot, so the likelihood of the Internet being completely inaccessible to me is very slim. 

These days though, there are talks of terrorist attacks through the Internet, and some people speculate that it would become completely locked down to the public for a time if that happened.  While having access to a dictionary would be the least of my worries then, I’ve started thinking about how lost I would feel if I couldn’t look up information whenever I wanted to.

The same goes for books and other printed media.  I no longer carry reference books in my personal library because it is simply more efficient to search for whatever I need to know online.  If the ‘net went down, however, it would be like flying blind through the world to not be able to learn and read.  Perhaps it is time to buy another dictionary.  What do you think?
 

Pages