Friday, April 17, 2009

You imply, I'll infer

I'm skipping ahead on the teaching post, being as I am still too sad about its demise to work on version 2.0. Instead, a vocabulary rant. Have you ever noticed that rants are the easiest sort of writing to do quickly? And the kind that one probably really *shouldn't* do quickly? But whatever, I am impassioned!

These are things I've been pointing out to my students, but in truth, they are mistakes that grown ups make all the time, too. I mean, grown ups do all kinds of crazy stuff with language, myself included, but these are things that, for whatever reason, drive me insane.

You can't be jealous of what you don't have. Envy is the correct word for coveting our neighbour's car, cow, or cash, as well as the resentment we feel for his good fortune in possessing those things. Jealousy is what we feel about our *own* cow, car, or cash if we feel our neighbour might sneak over and take it. About the only time people use the word jealousy correctly is in romantic relationships; you are jealous of your significant other not because he/she has something you want but because you want him/herself. Also, a pirate guards treasure jealousy; a toddler jealously eyes his candy stash.

This might be a battle I've lost due to the evolution of language, but that would be stupid, because then we'd just have two words for envy and no word for jealousy.

Most people don't have the authority to inquire. If you enquire after dinner reservations, my father's garden, or my state of health, that's correct--enquire is synonymous with ask. Police inquire into a murder, an auditor launches an inquiry into missing funds, maybe even as a joke parents would hold a formal inquiry about the whereabouts of the the cookie jar. In general, lay people aren't inquiring; that's a professional role.

Again, this one's probably dying, and when I write "enquire" in an email I get condescending remarks indicating people think I'm trying to be snooty and Britsy. But again, this is a slice of meaning that we are losing if there is no dedicated word for a professional or formal request for information.

Regressive taxation is just that. Regressive taxes take a greater proportion of the taxee's income the smaller that income is. There's more to it than that, but that's the basics. You normally hear this term as related to sales taxes and the like. For example, income and commuting distance do not correlate, but everyone pays the same gas tax. Thus, the group of people who average $8/h income pay approximately the same *amount* of money on gas and gas taxes as those who make around $60/h, but those poorer folk pay a much higher percentage of their total cash flow. This is why there is no sales tax on food or children's clothing in this country; people don't have a choice but to buy that stuff, and it eats up a huge percentage of low-income folks' dough.

Progressive taxation is the opposite, when the government takes an escalating percentage of income the *more* income there is. That is how the income tax system in Canada (and the US) is structured.

Ok, my students never made this mistake (in my hearing) but adults do, and I never speak up because I can't explain much more than what I've put here, and I'm afraid they'll ask questions. So I'm shoehorning it in here.

The past tense of cast is cast. The plural of moose is moose. That's just how it is; I don't know why.

Of course, if anyone's reading this (and why would they be--it's gorgeous outside!) they might be thinking about the times I've said, "Are you cellphonic?" instead of "Do you have a cellphone?" how I address groups of women as "You guys," and I can't pronounce the words "origin" or "reticent." Or one of my many regularly featured typos here on this blog. Welcome to my glass house. Feel free to chime in with your own vocab pet peeves, mine or otherwise.

No excuse to be so callous


Ferd said...

My mom likes to think that the plural of moose is meese. I humour her.

saleema said...

These are some good ones! Just last night I was at a party where somebody brought up the difference between jealousy and envy to me -- I'd never thought of the distinction before.

Since you've so kindly invited us to rant, my pet peeves:

More a pronunciation thing that anything else, but when people say "weary" when they must mean "wary" or "leery," e.g. "I am really weary of online dictionaries." Now I suppose one could also be weary of them (but why? so convenient!), but I've heard enough people say this in similar contexts that I'm convinced it's becoming a thing.

And this pair below -- I am pretty sure J.K. Rowling is the only person left using them correctly (and, I suppose, a fairly influential advocate for their continued correct usage):

Nonplussed: It means bewildered, or perplexed, but people seem to think based on the sound of the word that it means not excited about something.

Bemused: Again, bewildered or perplexed, though it's true that the word seems to suggest some kind of wry amusement. I've seen this in more than one book with the wrong implied meaning. (And confession: one of my first published stories used it in the wrong sense, too.)

Rachel Power said...

Thanks for those explanations. The other day I was talking to someone about a woman I approached for advice who didn't respond kindly. I said she guards her knowledge jealously, and my friend thought that was a strange way to use the word. I feel vindicated now!
The one I love is "for all intensive purposes" instead of "intents and purposes"--have started to see that one all the time.
Tense-wise, the other one I find confusing (related to cast perhaps) is 'past' versus 'passed'.