Category Archives: Language and Communication

Playing with, and ranting about, language: miscommunication, badly worded signs and questions, and changing usage (Anyone heard from “take” lately? Didn’t think so.).

Who You Gonna Call?

Returning home to a three-month pile of snail mail, I start by making four piles: His, Mine, Ours, and Junk, the most easily handled but sadly the smallest pile.

Pile of snail mail

His

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Up To Or More Guaranteed

“That’s an up to $500 value, or more.”

The TV spokeswoman—apparently named Jennifer and a former serving member of the US Navy—is promoting a mortgage loan scheme that’s somehow linked to Veterans Affairs benefits.  This is not my country and the details of its government programs escape me.

In addition to offering savings through lower monthly interest charges, this program includes a free home appraisal to determine the size of the allowable loan.  Jennifer is pretty pumped about it.   Continue reading

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Poetry and Prose

“Marriage is a book in which the first chapter is written in poetry
and the remaining chapters in prose.”
– Beverley Nichols (1898 – 1983), British writer;
attributed in The Quote Verifier, by Ralph Keyes

In high school I wanted to write poetry.  All my succeeding chapters have been in prose.

Most of my work life has been helping other people write better prose: clearer, shorter, punchier.  Most of my leisure time has been trying to help my own self write better prose: snappier, funnier, memorablier.   Continue reading

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The Ize Have It

I don’t say it’s wrong, exactly, but it is faintly precious, this current British preference for the “s” over the “z.” A preference clearly on display for me these days, working with some writers from England.

They analyse, categorise, characterise, compromise, finalise, optimise, organise, pressurise, rationalise, and realise.  If I object, they apologise.

I say “current preference” because, as it turns out, the Brits started with “z” in all those words.   Continue reading

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What I Mean to Say

I can fend for myself.  Well, sometimes.  What I mean to say is that this is acceptable English usage.

I can fend off an attack.  Well, sometimes.  What I mean to say is that this, too, is acceptable, albeit different, English usage.

Screenshot of MW Dictionary defintion of "fend."

Archaically speaking, I can fend myself, although it would be more modern to defend myself.  I can call on heaven to forfend something, if I insist on speaking archaically.

Screenshot of MW definition of "forfend."

But while English allows me to fend, defend, and forfend, I cannot unfend.  Indeed, fend is a sadly limited verb.  Consider these strange omissions in its range. . .

I can prorate, but not profend.  Upsell and upend, but not upfend.  Counteract and countersign, but not counterfend.

I can disarm, disembark, and discontinue, but not disfend.  Revisit, return, and refund, but not refend.  Misstep, mislead, and misbehave, but not misfend.

I can (in usage, at least, if not in fact) outwait, outthink, and outperform, but not outfend.  Become, bestir, and befriend, but not befend.  Transact, transform, and transship, but not transfend.  Cochair, cosign, and cohabitate, but not cofend.

For goodness sake, I can underestimate but not underfend, and overeat but not overfend, although I don’t for the life of me see why not.

I (well, Someone Else, p’raps) can preordain, but not even God can prefend.  Thus is fend seen to be the opposite of preempt: I cannot empt, but I can do it early.

It’s all a bit of a puzzle, although I’m sure there are good historical reasons for all these limits on fend, if only I knew them.  But as I search for ways to use my virtual tiles in Scrabble®, it seems cruel to be a hostage to history.  After all, the computer just played “un” on my “gazed,” and that’s ridiculous.

“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.”
“The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.”
“The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master—that’s all.”
Lewis Carroll (Charles L. Dodgson), Through the Looking-Glass, chapter 6, p. 205 (1934)

Yeah!  So back off, Scrabble® dictionary: I’m the master here.  Cofenders is absolutely a word.  What I mean to say is, “Fight me, fight my gang.”

 

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