As a watcher of all things English (the language, not the people, though Pippa is pretty cute) I’ve picked out a few strange verbs popping up in our daily vernacular.
I’m not talking about fantasy verbs created from artifacts of the language… you know, the George Carlin kinds of things like:
- When you get off a plane you “deplane”, so does that mean you “planed” when you got on?
- If someone is disheveled, then cleans himself up, does that make him sheveled?
I’m talking about verbs that well-meaning people are creating every day.
How about “google“? The little search engine that could has become so pervasive that we now use it as a verb in all tenses, and as a noun we only capitalize it when we explicitly mean The Company.
Then there are the verbs that just don’t sound right. For example, someone under NSA surveillance (that is everyone, apparently) is being surveyed, right? Or watched, supervised, violated.
So why do people keep saying they are being “surveilled“?
Well actually, surveil is in Webster’s dictionary, which surprised the heck outta me. Spellcheckers don’t like it though, so I feel vindicated. It still sounds bogus to me.
Here’s a better example. Someone who serves drinks at a bar “tends the bar”, meaning to take care of it. With use, this term was shortened to “tending bar”, and even “tend bar”. The person who performed this activity became a “bartender”, at least in North America.
The natural progression, of course, was to shorten the noun to create a verb. So now, a bartender bartends.
I find that kind of full-circle-etymology interesting.
How about a pair of fraternal twins: lase and tase.
The verb “lase” of course comes from “laser“. It is more correctly spelled LASER, but the acronym was used so often it became a word, like “radar” and “snafu”.
Most people don’t realize these are actually acronyms. In fact, people often spell “laser” with a ‘z’, which is cleverly inventing two new words at the same time: “lazer” and “ztimulated”.
By the way, SNAFU should not be used in polite company. Like Sarah Palin’s use of “WTF”. Does she think kids don’t know what that means?
Anyway, when Jack Cover developed a weapon to deliver electric shocks at a distance, he called it a Taser. He says he named it after an electric rifle developed by his childhood hero Tom Swift, but the fact it rhymes with “laser” is certainly not coincidental.
So naturally people shortened that noun too.
Thus a laser lases and a taser tases.
That’s all cute and logical. It fills a need. What bothers me is when people use more complicated words than necessary.
Let’s take “explicate“. It means “to explain”.
So why explicate when you can just explain?
Same thing with “orientate“. It means the same thing as “orient”. Why add the extra syllable?
One extra syllable, heck — let’s try for three. The perfectly good word “instant” has been elbowed out by “instantaneous“. See my earlier rant on that.
What’s next? Configurate instead of configure? Actually, I have already heard that.
Well then, to stand up is to perpendiculate. To treat something with fire retardant is to noninflammabalize. To speak in superfluous syllables is exhaustifying.
It’s time to cessate before I nonsense. Here, ladies and gents, is my favorite new verb:
I’m sure you will agree that our kids spend waaay too much time on video games. We are evolving into a species of button-mashing troglodytes, with swollen thumbs and hunched backs, our pale liver-spotted skins crisping under the forgotten rays of the sun.
Well, any video game that pits one tiny troglodyte against another starts with a flashy title screen that says, “Grim-faced yin-yang monster vs. babe with overpixellated breasts” or something like that.
Kids quickly learn that vs. means “versus“, which is good. But then they start using it as a shortcut. The first time my son said to me, “C’mon, Dad, let’s versus,” I fell out of my chair. At least, I think I was sitting. I know I hit my head on something.
So “versus” has become a verb, thanks to video games.
It will certainly catch on in the Middle East, where they versus all the time. Gives new meaning to “The Satanic Versus”.
Everyone, please, before you decide to verbalize a noun, stop and ask yourself: would Pippa approve?
I’m sure the answer, in all cases, is no.
For Whom the bell tolls
I wish to lament the passing of an old friend.
Whom do I mean? About whom am I speaking?
I think you know who.
Our old friend whom is disappearing. Our old friend whom we will surely miss.
It is to whom I dedicate this blog post.
Wait a minute, what?
I don’t know.
Whom is the object form of who, in the same way him is the object form of he and them is the object form of they.
We used to be more strict about this. When you talked to someone you didn’t know, you used who. Any time you needed to talk about someone you didn’t know, you used whom. For example:
- Who are you?
- About whom are we speaking?
Thing is, whom instead of who only sounds right when it comes after a preposition.
- Whom is that cup for?
As opposed to:
- For whom is that cup?
The first sentence sounds awkward. Don’t believe me? Try saying it to the barista at Starbucks.
However, the second sentence sounds stiff outside of classic literature and English class. Actually, it sounds stiff even there. No one talks like that anymore.
So, third time’s the charm:
- Who is that cup for?
There. That’s what you say to the barista.
It’s because the silly rule “thou shalt not end a sentence with a preposition” is disappearing. In fact, it was never a rule in the first place, just a myth born of a few crusty old linguists’ pet peeves. And, along with other so-called rules like “thou shalt not start a sentence with a conjunction”, I won’t miss it.
Using whom just doesn’t sound right unless it follows a preposition. So it becomes collateral damage when we take down the whole “end a sentence with a preposition” thing.
Now, I’m not saying we should start every sentence with a conjunction and end every sentence with a preposition, just to spite our old English teachers. The point is, English is a language with innate beauty and endless flexibility. To keep it flexible, we need to stretch it now and then.
Plus it’s an amalgamation of many languages, and it keeps evolving.
Still, I’m a language purist. English can’t stay beautiful if we stretch it all out of shape. I’ll still use whom now and then, just for variety.
Now you pick up the ball, and throw it to Whom…
How do you move?
Everyone walks. That’s boring.
But in the right circumstance, your character can:
And there are even more ways for your character to run:
- beat a retreat
- beat it
- break away
- bug out
- catch up
- clear out
- foot (it)
- hightail (it)
- hoof (it)
- hotfoot (it)
- leg (it)
- light out
- make off
- make tracks
- turn tail
Know any good ones I missed?
Our permanent state of superultrahyperbole
According to Webster, hyperbole is “the representation of something in terms that go beyond the facts”.
In other words, it’s lying.
In fiction, or comedy, hyperbole is acceptable because everyone knows you are exaggerating for effect. You are trying either to impress or amuse.
There are clichés like “my head feels like a freight train ran through it”, or “she made enough food to feed an army”, or the directly related “she has as many chins as a Chinese phone book”. Those are exaggeration for effect, and not meant to be funny. More sad.
However, and of course, hyperbole is the cornerstone of humor. Jacob Cohen got a lot of respect for statements like, “And we were poor too. Why, if I wasn’t born a boy, I’d have nothing to play with.”
And what comedian hasn’t tried something like: “My dick is so big, I entered it in a contest and it came in first. And second. And third.”
Unless the comedian is a comedienne I suppose, but then she would do a boob joke. Or a thighs joke. Or a shoes joke. Oh good God! the shoes. The streets are paved in shoes. How many feet do women have…
My point is, hyperbole in certain situations is expected. However, hyperbole in news articles is unacceptable.
It used to be restricted to tabloids, but it’s leaking into mainstream media as well. See if you have noticed the following trends:
- anything apparent is blatant
- anything obvious is glaring
- every misfortune is a nightmare
- anything unexpected is a shocker
- anything shocking is a bombshell
- anything ugly is a horror
- every worry is a terror
- every disagreement is a slam
- every debate is a crisis
- every trend is an epidemic
- any expression of surprise is a freakout
- everything hidden is a “secret shame”
- every shame is a disgrace
- every disgrace is a scandal
- anything romantic is steamy
- every want is a “desperate desire”
- every setback is a failure
- every disappointment is a disaster
Most people don’t even notice anymore. When you are in a permanent state of hyperbole, it becomes the new normal.
Soon we will need the superhyperbole. Then the ultrahyperbole. Then the superultrahyperbole.
Or we can boycott any news media that has to exaggerate to get your attention.
Because — think about it — if it really was worth your attention, they wouldn’t need to exaggerate.
A couple of quickies: another Audible update, and better buds
First, no doubt being prompted and encouraged by my review of their last update, Audible has released another update to their iPhone app.
They added two more narration speeds (0.75x and 1.25x) and a shorter sleep timer option (8 minutes).
The 0.75x speed does slow the narration down, and the pitch correction stops your alto narrator from turning into a baritone (just like it stops said narrator from turning into a chipmunk when sped up). Unfortunately it sounds all echoey with the two books I tried.
Why would you want to slow a book down, anyway? Trying to stretch your Audible credits as much as possible?
The 1.25x narration speed works well, and sounds really natural. I expect it will become the default speed for a lot of people, especially with non-fiction books.
But who asked for an 8 minute sleep timer? Who falls asleep that fast? Someone call a somnambulance.
They also fixed a bug with the sleep timer not working when running multiple apps — something I never noticed. And they promise a volume control in a future update. I guess people miss it. I don’t, really. I just use the normal volume up/down controls.
Second, I wanted to update my review on Jaybird JF3 Freedom Bluetooth earbuds. I had forgotten to test the microphone sound quality for voice calls.
In my review of my first set of buds, I had said the microphone sucked. Well I’m happy to report that it no longer does.
I have made several calls now and the voice quality is good on both ends. It needs a quiet environment though — once I walked into an Arby’s while talking and my friend got a blast of background conversation, even though the place was relatively quiet. Apparently they still need improvement on filtering out ambient noise. It does work well outside though, even with a light wind.