Prescriptivist’s Corner: Confusing Word Pairs (Part I)
English has many pairs of words that are spelled almost identically or have meanings that are almost, but not quite synonymous. These words are often confused and writers frequently use one when they mean to use the other.
So here, with the help of our favorite loan shark, Vinnie “The Squid” Calamari, we present some of these word pairs and examples of how to use them correctly.
American Dialect: Southern Speech
Perhaps no American dialect is more famous or recognizable than the Southern dialect. It certainly covers the widest swath of territory of any of the variants on standard America speech.
First, let us dispense with the myth that Southerners speak with a purer form of English, one that is closer to Elizabethan English and the language of Shakespeare than any other dialect. Some Southerners love to tell tales of how Elizabethan English is preserved in the backwoods and hollows of the South, living relics of the original English settlers. Utter bunk. Southern speech is no closer to Elizabethan English than is Brooklynese or Australian. Sure, it shares some common features with Elizabethan English that are not found in other dialects, but it has just as much that is not in common with the language of Shakespeare.
Book Review: Bryson’s Dictionary of Troublesome Words
Bill Bryson, a writer best known for his humorous travel books but also the author of two books on the English language, has recently produced a usage guide. Bryson’s Dictionary of Troublesome Words is an updating of his 1983 Penguin Dictionary of Troublesome Words and Phrases (now out of print).
In the book, Bryson lists a fair number of words and phrases that are commonly misused, misspelled, or confused. A very good writer in his own right, Bryson’s advice is usually sound and practical, although he does stray a bit into the realm of personal idiosyncrasies and stylistic preferences and the book contains more than its fair share of errors.
Word Of The Month: Brand
This month, a US Federal District Court judge will rule on whether or not Microsoft has the right to trademark the term Windows. Lindows.com, a maker of Linux computer operating systems, has asked the judge to summarily dismiss a lawsuit against them in which Microsoft claims that Lindows.com is infringing on their trademark and brand. For their part, Lindows.com claims that windows was in common use as a computer term for rectangular graphic user interface displays before 1983 when Microsoft began marketing their Windows brand and that no company has a right to exclusive use of common English words.
As a result, brand is the word of the month. A brand is the name of a product or company, a trademark. By extension, the brand is also the values that customers and the public associate with a product or company. The term comes from the practice of literally branding products, or the casks and crates that contain the product, with a hot iron. The idea of brand as a marketing tool is relatively recent, only dating to 1827. Brand name dates to 1921. Brand image appears in 1958 and brand loyalty a few years later in 1961.
American Dialect: Pennsylvania
Pennsylvania is unique among the fifty states in that it has two very distinct major dialectical centers, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. Many states have internal variations of dialect, New Jersey for instance is split down the middle with half the state paying homage to New York City and the other have speaking like Philadelphians. But no other state has two urban centers each with its own dialect.
Book Review: AP Stylebook & Briefing on Media Law
For years, the Associated Press wire service, or AP, has published its style manual, allowing journalists and writers from outside the organization to copy the AP’s style. The operative question is why would someone want to.
Unless you are an employee of the AP or writing for an organization that has adopted the AP style as its house style, this book is an uncertain guide. It is designed for daily, newspaper reporting, not for other types of writing. Its rules and conventions are arcane and Byzantine. For example, should one use periods when abbreviating the names of organizations? According to the stylebook, the answer is no, except when you should. AP uses periods with U.S. and U.N., but not with FBI, CIA, or AP.
Old English in LoTR
This month, Peter Jackson’s film The Two Towers hits theaters in the United States. It is the second installment of Jackson’s dramatization of J.R.R. Tolkien’s trilogy, The Lord of the Rings. It seems an opportune time to take a look at Tolkien’s use of language to set the tone and environment of Middle-earth, particularly his use of Old English.
Tolkien was not simply a writer of fantasy stories. He had a day job as a professor of philology at Merton College, Oxford. He was one of the world’s foremost experts on Old English and his 1936 essay, Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics, revolutionized the teaching and study of Anglo-Saxon literature, treating the poem as a work of literature for the first time, rather than just a historical artifact. The Middle-earth stories about hobbits and wizards were simply a hobby and a way to amuse his children.
Word Of The Month: Weapon of Mass Destruction
The word (actually it is a noun phrase) of the month is:
Weapon of Mass Destruction, n., a nuclear, biological, or chemical weapon. Sometimes radiological weapons are included in the definition. Also WMD. In use since at least 1937. Pre-1945 uses of the term referred to conventional weapons of great destructive power, such as the bombing of cities by aircraft, and chemical weapons.
Weapons of mass destruction have been all over the news lately. The United States is gearing up for war in Iraq because Saddam Hussein continues to develop them. The United Nations has sent inspectors to Iraq to ensure that he does not, in fact, possess such weapons. And in the midst of this, North Korea announces that it has a nuclear weapons program, in violation of agreements it has entered into with other nations.
American Dialect: New York Speak
One of the most distinctive dialects in the United States is that found in New York City. Often called Brooklynese (a misnomer as the dialect is common to all five boroughs, plus parts of New Jersey and Connecticut, and not just Brooklyn), the dialect has been introduced to the world via Hollywood, from the Bowery Boys to the Sopranos.
New York is the largest and most cosmopolitan city in the country. Not everyone there speaks with the New York dialect. And unlike the dialects of other regions, like Boston or the South, the New York dialect is class-based. The higher you are on the social ladder, the less likely you are to sound like a New Yorker.
Correction: Hub City
In last month’s issue, in the article on New England dialect, we said that Boston was called the Hub or Hub City because Bostonians considered it the hub of the universe. While this may be true in the hearts of Bostonians, it is not the exact origin of the term. The term is from a quotation from Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr. (father of the jurist), who said in the 1858 Autocrat of the Breakfast Table, “Boston Statehouse is the hub of the solar system.”
Copyright 1997-2014, by David Wilton