I have two words I’d like to strike from the English lexicon. Devil’s. Advocate. No great thought ever started with these words. I can pretty much guarantee no one ever said, “Quiet everyone, Satan’s sidekick is about to quash what we just agreed to do.”
Why else is the phrase always preceded by, “I hate to be a…” Actually, you don’t. You love crashing the conversation. (And let’s face it, we’ve all done it at one time or another.)
Why don’t we just be honest and say what we really mean:
-Pardon me, but I’m the jackass in this conversation.
-When I’m finished with this sentence, I will have shat all over your idea.
-It took me awhile, but I finally found a way to riddle what you just said with bullet holes.
Keanu Reeves. Now that’s a lieutenant of Lucifer. The rest of us? Let’s agree to stop advocating for anyone who wants to drag a perfectly good idea into the pits of Hell.
A friend recently posted that a certain movie was “awesome.” No description. No details. It was just, you know, awesome. Was it a tearjerker? A white-knuckle ride? An escape to another world? A smack upside the head? Her words gave me no idea of what made it awesome. Merely that it was.
I was recently sent a list of the 10 most overused adjectives (and a few adverbs.) It was no surprise to find my friend’s word on the list:
Let’s face it. We all fall back on these words. They’re easy and we’re lazy. They’re the rubber chickens of adjectives. You can throw them around all you want, but all they do is lie there.
The next time you’re about to utter one of these overused words, stop. It won’t take long to pick a more vivid one. And kill the rubber chickens of conversation. Oh wait, no need. They’re already dead.
If capitalization doesn’t matter, who died in this week’s hashtag? It read: #nowthatchersdead. If you’d heard the new about the former prime minister, you’d know they were talking about Margaret. If not, you’d be likely to pluck “Cher” out of this confusing string of words.
Many a tweet asked if Cher really died. Many more lamented her passing. All because no one felt compelled to press the SHIFT key a few times to bring some clarity to the conversation. Not to mention dropping the apostrophe in “Thatcher’s.” But in Internet parlance, I know that’s asking too much.
C’mon, fellow tweeters. Would it be that hard to write #NowThatchersDead? Three capital letters and it changes the whole message. While we’re at it, how about a little more respect for the Iron Lady? A gentler #RestInPeaceMargaret would have done nicely. And if a photo was attached, there’d be no confusion whatsoever.
“He really got his act together. He did a complete 360,” said a friend about her stepson. Well, not exactly. For this word unbutchering, let’s go back to geometry.
There are 360 degrees in a circle, right? So if you move 90 degrees from any starting point on a circle, you’ve taken a right turn. A solid step in a new direction.
If you go 180 degrees (which is what she meant to say) you’d be moving in the opposite direction, which is the greatest possible change for someone whose act is out of whack.
But if this guy did a complete 360, he’d be right back at the same place in the circle. (Notice on the diagram above that 0 and 360 degrees are in the same place.) He would have wasted a lot of time and degrees just to travel back to his lousy beginnings.
Yes, I knew what she meant. And, no, I didn’t correct her. I was just happy to hear her stepson was back on track.
The other day, I asked an art director to stay within a certain color palate. Damn you, homonyms. I meant to write “palette.” So which is which, and what’s with the lopped-off “palett” version?
In the art world, a palette is both the board an artist uses to mix colors and a group of colors chosen to create a visual theme. So the art world got the “ette” version — the fancier spelling. It figures.
In biology, a “palate” is both the roof of your mouth and the way you taste things (your appreciation of flavors.) You may have a “sensitive palate.” A “discerning palate.” Or a just plain lousy one. Science got the more practical “ate” spelling. Which also makes sense.
In business, a wood shelf the warehouse guys stack up and move around with forklifts? That’s a “palett.” Which looks wrong every time I write it. So the guys down in shipping got the “Who gives a crap how it looks?” version. Which makes all the sense in the world.
Exactly when do we decide a word is passé, cut it loose and bring in its replacement?
When I was a kid, we sat on the “davenport” glued to Leave It To Beaver, which later became the “sofa.” Why?
In those days, my father wore trousers and galoshes. And then one day, he showed up in pants and overshoes.
I used to steal my mother’s rouge, which always sounded so exotic, but now we wear blush. And something got lost in the process.
Wouldn’t you rather wear pedal pushers or clam diggers than capris? They were such visually playful names. And don’t culottes sound more fun to wear than split skirts or skorts?
I used to buy a bismarck at the bakery. Now it’s a jelly donut. The attaché, which was oh so 007, has now been demoted to a briefcase. Do they still share dossiers with secret agents, or have they been watered down to “briefs?”
Is there a word snatcher out there stealing words that are getting long in the tooth and replacing them with neutered versions, or does it just sort of happen on its own? Come to think of it, who says “long in the tooth” anymore? I guess now things just get “old.”
“Let’s go out fosh. Staying home is ridic. If you can’t come, watevs.” What is about sweaty teens and childless hipsters that forces us to endure their cryptic shorthand?
If you’ve ever seen the show Happy Endings, you’ve heard the constant stream of abbrevs from ex-Saturday Night Liver and very funny Casey Wilson, poster child for word shorteners everywhere. Her favs:
Fosh = For sure
Totes = Totally
Obvi = Obvious
Sup = What’s up?
Jealy = Jealous
Probs = Probably
Ridic = Ridiculous
Tinis = Martinis
Natch = Naturally
Whatevs = Whatever
Are they bad? Not really. When I was a kid, we called our parents “rents” and talked about going on”vacay.” Abbreviations help kids distance themselves from the fast-approaching adult world. There’s just one caveat. Once you start paying a mortage or your water breaks, time’s up. And you have to stick with polysyllabic words like the rest of us.
A coworker recently told me he was weary about how a meeting was going to go. But he wasn’t tired. He was cautious. He meant to say he was wary. Confused?
Weary is the easy one. It means tired or worn out. We use it all the time.
Wary means cautious or apprehensive. It’s less common and a bit odd.
Woolly means hazy or unclear. It’s what an idiot like Tim Robbin’s character sang when he thought the lyrics of Try A LIttle Tenderness were ”Oh, she may get woolly, women do get woolly, because of all the stress.” (Kevin Costner quickly set him straight — they’re weary because they’re wearing the same old dress.)
All this talk about the underused “wary” makes me weary. And maybe even a bit woolly.
So you need to list three words. Red. White. And blue. How many commas do you need? Which sentence is correct:
Betsy Ross was crazy about red, white, and blue. or
Betsy Ross was crazy about red, white and blue.
Depends on what decade you’re living in. Back when the economy was strong and the conservatives were in office, throwing down a comma next to “white” was the right thing to do. A comma for every word!
Now the prevailing attitude is to drop the serial comma. Maybe in these days of scarcity, even one extra comma seems frivolous. After all, “and” does a perfectly good job of separating “white” and “blue.”
But not everyone agrees. I had a good laugh over this Onion story. Drop the serial comma in some circles, and all hell could break loose.
Some will cling to the serial comma until their last gasp of grammar. Others will embrace the change in a 140-character-emoticon-LOL-retweet-repin-status-updated world that leaves most punctuation on the cutting room floor. It only matters that you stick with one way or the other. And let the two grammar styles live in peace, love (no-comma) and harmony.