Monday, January 2, 2017
The difference between the usage of “beside” and besides” is a good thing to get clear on, as it’s an easy one to learn, but an easy one to get fuzzy on as well.
“Beside” is a pronoun. It is a location for one thing relative to another thing, whether or not that thing can be touched. The nightstand is beside the bed and a good idea lives beside a bad one.
“Besides” means “in addition to,” and in that usage, it is also a preposition: “Besides earning millions in playing contracts, popular athletes earn massive promotional fees as well.” It also serves almost as an antonym to “beside” in the sense of “apart from.” "Besides" also has a linking adverbial function as well when you say something like, “Grammar tiffs are no fun. Besides, you have better things to do.”
Sunday, January 1, 2017
Don't make the rookie mistake. You wish people a Happy New Year, not a Happy New Years. It is neither plural nor possessive and earns no letter "s," with or without apostrophe. You hope people have a good time on New Year’s Eve, and also on New Year’s Day, but when saying, "Happy New Year," such well wishing expresses your hope for an entire year’s worth of good fortune. There are a few possessive holidays, and they include Valentine’s Day, Mother’s and Father’s Day, and if you’re a fan of Henry V, St. Crispin’s Day. On a related note, Presidents’ Day is plural possessive and Veterans day is plural. As to the capitalization of "Happy New Year," convention and AP hold that it should be capitalized. I do not, but like all thralls of prevailing editorial convention, I have capitulated.
Friday, December 2, 2016
I am always fascinated when the primary connotations of words are missed by tens of millions of people. Tolerance is one such word. As multiculturalism rises in this country, tolerance is celebrated by progressive thinkers as an ideal state of how one human being should regard another. “I attend a church that preaches tolerance,” says one, and “I voted for the candidate who displays tolerance toward others,” says another.
When we tolerate something, we permit its existence, we allow it to live, but we do so begrudgingly, with a sneer. You tolerate your uncle’s alcoholism. You tolerate your dog’s farting. You tolerate your spouse’s gnarly mole. You endure them under the yoke of some perceived moral obligation, but deep inside you loathe them. You revile them. Well, maybe the mole is cute if it is at least hairless, or if not completely hairless, maybe something just shy of it resembling a sea anemone.
Some of these tolerances are so in name only, and are perhaps more accurately described as resentments. You only refer to your willingness not to crush the host of the offending attribute like a bug as tolerance rather than as resentment because it makes you feel a little better about how you feel.
Something tolerated is something disdained. The occasional dead mouse plopped from cat’s jaws onto an oriental rug, the neighbor’s frequently noisy children, the boss’s incessant need for status updates. Why then has tolerance emerged within political discourse at least as the best word to describe the dissolution of all prejudice within a person or an institution?
When we display tolerance toward another religion, we make a promise not to blow up its mosques, churches or synagogues, but we still may disdain them profoundly under the umbrella of tolerance. Mutual tolerance across all of society would seem to promote a seething resentment amongst all peoples, but with a pledge not to slash anyone’s tires.
Acceptance is a far better word. The difference between acceptance and tolerance is the difference between involvement and commitment, which is in turn the difference between the pig’s and the chicken’s relationship to your ham and egg breakfast. It is in part a semantic debate, but only in terms of usage, not word choice. Acceptance is a bit further up the ladder as far as one's regard for another human being, but still, you can accept people you hate. Ideally, let's not hate one another.
That might invoke another word, celebration, but that I think celebration in this context a bit conspicuous. It is contrived political correctness at that point I think, so I'll stick with acceptance over the course of my campaign to eradicate tolerance. Down with tolerance! In closing, if there is one thing I will no longer tolerate, it is misuse of the word ‘tolerance’.
Friday, November 25, 2016
The Oxford English Dictionary’s 2016 Word of the Year is “post-truth.” And it was a perfect choice. Post-truth refers to a political and social environment that exists not uniquely but preponderantly in the United States in which the truth is a moving target, with opponents in argument each seeming to have a separate set of facts to argue from. What’s more, persons predisposed to one side of an argument are generally comfortable with the set of facts that support their existing view of the issue and are likewise suspect of the facts that support the side they oppose. Post-truth is a sausage skin, a thin membrane of lexigraphy that holds together a great load of noxious material and manages to make it seem less horrible than it is. It is an antiseptic and prophylactic term in that way, reductive to the danger point, but it is indeed efficient, and despite good, solid information never having been more at the ready, it succinctly describes the alphabet soup of specious nonsense the fair debater is up against in a post-truth America.
Friday, October 21, 2016
When it comes to assaults on language, Donald Trump is Genghis Khan, and the latest killing field in his syntactical warfare is the quasi-word, bigly. Or is he saying, big league? That debate is raging and you can machete through a thicket of opinions with a quick search.
The resting state for this particular Trumpism appears to be that he is saying big league, but cannot quite eek out that last glottal stop. I wonder how he plans to pronounce blitzkrieg.
A People Magazine reporter in good stead with the Trump machine recently assured one and all that he was indeed saying big league, that clarification having been emailed from the campaign to the reporter in the middle of the debate after its usage there. Trump used to say the same thing about a year ago and the same questions came up then, and the campaign likewise insisted that he was saying big league, and not an imagined adverbial form of big. The line from the Trump campaign has been steady on this.
Bigly is not a word. It has a history as a word, but it is a word no longer. Its turn of the twentieth century usage meant boastfully or with great haughtiness. While accurate with Trump in most cases, it had a distinctly negative connotation when it found its way into novels by Ford, Forster and Hardy, and Trump would never knowingly refer to himself in those terms. No writer in English uses it now, and while word coining is certainly not off-limits (Shakespeare was prolific in this regard), we should probably not be looking here for leadership in language modification.
To me, it sounds like Trump is saying bigly most of the time. Here’s what I think happened: last year, he initially said bigly, thinking it was a real word and was called out on it by press. He found a way to double down with a “clean out your ears, stupid,” stance on the issue, and now partially swallows his “g” whenever he says it, exactly halfway between the phrase and the quasi-word.
We are safe as far as bigly becoming a part of the language, as popular culture utterances of various kinds sometimes do. I predict that this officially abjured piece of Trump misspeak will not be followed into the dark by enough American writers for the word bigly to become minted. The way words work their way into usage is through repeated use, traditionally through newspapers, though more recently web, radio and television, and as soon as Trump is done, this word will be done as well.
Friday, October 14, 2016
I was up late writing when my brain stopped working before the rest of me and I paused at the word, “whether,” momentarily stumped as to whether it contained one or two of the letter “h.” Brain quickly restarted and I typed both letters, brain even earning extra credit for then saying, “Wether without a second “h” is a castrated ram.”
Which brings us to today’s word, bellwether, which means trendsetter, or an indicator of things to come - a portentous individual or event. It derives from an old English usage that described the lead sheep of a herd, usually a castrated ram with a bell around its neck.
In political pundit-speak, “bellwether” is often used to describe a smaller region that in microcosm reflects the sentiments of a larger electorate. Comparing statewide results with the national average typically identifies a bellwether state, the leader of which across the last American century is Ohio, with scarcely a two percent variance on average relative to how the nation goes.
That leading political indicators can be described by a term derived from sheep and impotence ought not be a surprise I suppose, and it isn’t. It is simply another of the endless delights to be found in the English language.