Hi there! Welcome to my very miscellaneous blog. Here, I write about everything from mis-used words to gardening, to bad habits in society to going places and seeing things! Enjoy my ramblings.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Here we go again...

Every day I am amazed anew at the very basic, elementary education that seems to be missing amongst adults who ought to know better. Frankly, I am shocked.

This "Oh, well, so what? No big deal!" attitude is just plain scary. For if folks are that apathetic about their very language, then they are likely to be just as apathetic about what the government is up to--and that is extremely dangerous territory. The little things do matter, and it is not just about some "old folks" being nit-picky.

The most recent bunch of offenders deal with people seeming to not know the difference between anatomy and action; between possession and position or action; between understanding and denial, or between geometry and theology.

Let's examine these in the order in which I mentioned them:

Anatomy: Heel. The rear-most part of the foot, just below the ankle. My heel hurts.

Action: Heal. To make well or cure. The medicine will heal the illness.

Possession: Their. The book belongs to them: it is theirs.
Position/Action: They're--a contraction for 'they are.' They are (They're) here. They're going
home soon. They're sick.

Understanding: Know. Knowledge--to be aware of and understand something.

Yes, I know the answer.
Denial: No. No, you may not use the car.

Geometry: Angle. In a game of pool, you use many angle shots.

Theology: Angel. An angel is a winged being of many religious beliefs.

And that's class for today. Please take care to use the correct forms of words. It is important. The wrong word changes the entire meaning, at best, from just not making sense; to the other extreme: at worst, the wrong words have caused wars.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Every Day There are More Language Confusions..

Hello again!

Today, there are two pairs of words, and another trio that I've seen as problem areas recently. In some cases, it is a matter of just not knowing the correct usage; in others, it may be simply carelessness or trying to type too fast. To determine which is the case, read on.

I've begun by using the trio in my first paragraph. It is unsettling to some degree, seeing how often the three forms of the words "to, too, and two" are misused. I used to think this was second-grade lesson material--apparently not, in today's educational system.

"To" is used to denote a how, when, where. The "how" useage was in the previous sentence, in beteen the words "used," and "denote." Or, "In order to drive a nail, you need a hammer."

"Too" is used in the sense of 'overmuch' or 'also.' For example: "I used too much milk in the batter, making it runny." Or, "I am going to the park, and I am taking Fido, too." (In that sentence, we also see the 'where' useage of the "to" spelling.)

"Two," of course, designates the spelled-out version of the numeral "2."

And on to the next:

High on the list of errors made with our goofy spelling and origins are "sight" and "site." The first spelling, "sight" refers to your eyes, as in 'eyesight,' or to a beautiful view: "The mountains against the sunset sky were a wonderful sight to behold." Then, there is the sense of a very desireable something seen, as in "Well, aren't you a sight for sore eyes." Granted, this last example might have folks hollering about a particular chain of vision-care outlets, calling itself "A Site for Sore Eyes." That is, my friends, a very clever pun. A pun, of course being a play on words, using one word to substitute for another in an attempt to be cute.

The spelling of "site," means location or area. "The Indian burial site is considered sacred ground." Or, "We have decided on the site for the new restaurant." In the case of the vision-care chain, they are making a play on the 'sight for sore eyes' by substituting "site," thereby informing clients that 'this is the place' if your eyes are causing you problems. Very clever, indeed, but potentially confusing for those who don't have a good grasp of the two spellings--and meanings-- of this pair of homophones.

Finally, I want to take on the pair of "wreak" and "reek." Homophones, once again, but with oh-so-different meanings.

"Reek" means to smell terrible, or have a strong odor. "The locker room reeks of sweaty shoes and dirty clothes." Or, "This onion reeks and is making my eyes water."

Conversly, "wreak" means to do, act upon, or cause, and is most often seen in the sense of "to wreak havoc" upon something: "If the mayor has his way, he is going to wreak havoc upon the city's budget." I do not believe it is possible to 'reek' havoc, unless by use of the previously discussed pun, and the tossing of a stink bomb into the council chambers prior to the mayor's address.

Now this is one of those terrible words whose past tense seems very far removed from the word. The past tense still has the 'wr' beginning, but all similarity ends there. You are not supposed to say, "wreaked," but rather "wrought." It rhymes with 'thought,' or, if you prefer, with "rot." I know there are plenty of folks out there who feel that this language of ours with all its crazy rules and contradictions is a lot of rot. But, it was set in motion long before my day, and it will probably be a very long time before any drastic changes are made to eliminate all of these problems; at which point, you may be sure, it will be an entirely new language, unrecognizable as the English we know today.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

More on our Crazy Language

There are enough puzzles and bewilderments in the English Language to drive most folks crazy. At the very least, it seems that many folks just stop trying to bother with correct spelling and structure.

While all languages do shift and evolve over time, such shifts happen faster in languages with so many different sources of confusion. Indeed, sources are the key problem, for English is a bastard language. It has no true direct heritage of its own, but has come about by means of borrowing from many other languages. We have old Norse, some Gaelic, German, French, Latin, Spanish--and others--a little bit of everyone else's native tongues. This was the history and development of English. No wonder it can have such confusing spellings, and such a wide variety of meanings for a single word. And...the faster a language changes, the more confusing things get. So...help hold the line and slow down the pace of change by using the correct words and spellings! You will be the ultimate beneficiary.

In looking up definitions for homophones (words sounding alike, but spelled differently, and with different meanings), we find that many of these sound-alikes have come into the language from different root languages. "Ambulance" and "ambulatory" are words that come to mind to examine this issue. While not true homophones, because they are, in fact, different words with slightly different endings, and therefore different pronunciations, they both begin the same way. This would lead most logical folks to figure that they must have come to us from the same root.

Now, of course, someone who is 'ambulatory' is able to walk about on their own, while someone needing a ride in an 'ambulance' is certainly not 'ambulatory.' Contradictory, yes. But, the two words did not come to us from the same root language, but from two different ones. The sound-alike component is pure coincidence.

Other words that sound alike but mean very different things get folks into trouble on a daily basis. At best, they make themselves look foolish and uneducated with these errors; at worst, serious misunterstandings could arise with who knows what consequences.

There is a trio of words on my mind today which fall into this category. I have seen numerous errors with these very recently, prompting my decision to discuss them here.

We have "peak," "peek," and "pique." All share identical pronunciation, yet each has a very different meaning than the others, so it is critically important to use them correctly.

"Peak," of course, means the very top, as in "peak performance," or summit, as a mountain's "peak."

"Peek," is a sly look-see, as to "peek" through a fence to view what is happening on the other side, or a game of "peek-a-boo" with a baby.

"Pique," on the other hand, has more of a meaning of stimulation, usually used in the sense of "to pique one's curiosity." In other words, to drop a hint to stimulate others' interest in what comes next. They do this daily on the news broadcasts, telling you just a little bit about the next news bit "...coming right up after this break." In the broadcast business, they call this a teaser. The effect, though, is to make you sufficiently curious to stay tuned through the commercials to see the next segment....they have piqued your curiosity.

Just when you thought things were confusing enough, "pique" also has a second meaning, that of being in a state of anger or irritation. People are said to say (or do) unfortunate things, which they may later regret, "...in a fit of pique."

While all three words sound the same, they are very different in print. In hearing them, you choose the appropriate meaning through the context in which they are used. In print, you have to know the correct word to use. If a writer has used the wrong word, you must then rely on context to determine what they meant to say. I ran across this just the other day: someone was on Twitter, plugging their online store, and had posted, "..take a peak at my new items." Incorrect word! No one is going to the top of anything, or climbing mountains in order to view things in an online shop.

If a visual cue to remember would help, then think of it this way: visualize "peak" written thusly: peAk. The top of the 'A' represents a mountain peak, hence, the sense of 'top' or 'summit.'

For "peek," visualize the two 'e's in the middle with pupils added, so they become eyes, "peeking" out to see what they can see.

For "pique," however, a visual is harder. Just think of it by its sense of being 'curious,' (or irritated) and as "that one with the funny spelling." ;-)