Friday, June 5, 2009

Everybody's got to be wrong sometimes

People gave me a number of good examples of bad vocabulary before my trip, and I'm just now getting 'round to sharing it. This will be the last grumpy word-use post for a while, though--I swear.

Penultimate comes before ultimate. (from Andrew)

I think people assume that if there's any extra syllable on a known word, it is an emphatic, so penultimate must be *even more ultimate*. But in this case, it's not; penultimate means the step *before* ultimate. The ultimate event is the fireworks; the penultimate event is running back to your blanket after lighting them.

Believe it or not, I'm enamoured of (not by) you. (from The Storialist)

This one is a bit formal and perhaps less-known, which is probably why I like using it so much. The most common (and euphonic, to my mind) thing to say one is that one is enamoured *of* something or someone, but most dictonairies will allow "enamoured with" also, and the Collins Gage even admits "by." I'm not having that one, but I guess I won't criticize anyone who does.

Furthermore, one can be enamoured whether or not affection is returned, and whether or not the object of affection is capable of return. I can be enamoured of my boyfriend, Nick Adams, and little glittery throw pillows without least, not grammatical conflict.

Intensive purposes is probably not what anybody means. (from Rachel)

Apparently people write this after mishearing the cliche "for all intents and purposes," which in most contexts means "by default" or "without formal recognition", ie., "She is for all intents and purposes the manager, but she doesn't have the doorplate or the salary." Thus, she has the intentions and goals (purposes) of a manager, although she isn't called that.

"Intensive purposes" makes less sense if used in the same context, but I guess not *no* sense--you could say that for only the most important (intense) purposes she acts as manager. But that wouldn't sound all that bright, in my opinion.

You can't get less regard than regardless. (from Mark)

This mistake might be a cousin of the "penultimate" one, people using an extra syllable as an emphatic. I guess this one is slightly better because the misspeakers are not corrupting the meaning of a real word. Irregardless is a nonsense word, or at best (worst!) a neologism created by sloppiness in the early 1900s that also means "without regard to," same as "regardless." Use regardless, really--why not?

Hopefully is to perform in a hopeful manner. (from my Father)

Oh man, I hate this one, because I do it (thanks, Dad!) I know it's wrong, I hear myself saying it and wince, but it's a really hard construction to correct midsentence. But I do know what makes sense, and it does not make sense to say, "The airline won't lose our luggage, hopefully." Hopefully is an adverb, and adverbs modify verbs--therefore, the literal meaning of this sentences is, "The airline will not lose our luggage, and will do so in a hopeful manner." Which is probably not what anyone means.

I don't know why it's easier to say, "hopefully" than "I hope that" or "I am hopeful that" but it does seem to be, at leat for people of my own genearation and younger. I guess it's a slang thing, but an unfortunate one, because it really can lead to confusion. "We'll go to the awards ceremony, hopefully," when heard allowed (ie., you can't hear commas) could be understood, grammatically correctly, as: your plan is to defintely attend the ceremony in a mood of hopefullness. Or it could be understood, slangwise, as: you *might* attend the ceremony, mood irrelevant. Very difficult for someone meeting you there to parse what you mean, and what their action plan should be.

I am going to try to take my own advice, obviously, and do this less or, hopefully, never.

I pack my case / I check my face


August said...

My very favourite one of these is one I got from Robertson Davies.

"Spitting Image" (as in, she's the very spitting image of her mother) is a corruption similar to "intensive purposes". It's supposed to be "spirit and image", as in "she's the spirit and image of her mother".

AMT said...

... ok, so you are not going to like me. but i am a linguist, so i gotta tell you.

this 'hopefully' thing? the complaint is bizarre. my dad has it too, but some years ago i whipped out my degree at him and made him promise never to complain to me about it again.

so, english has (at least) two ways of modifying verbs with adverbial thingums like 'hopefully'. one of them describes the manner in which the action was done, and one is a larger-scale thing, which modifies something about the tense/aspect/genericity etc. of the entire proposition. so, examples:

'he deliberately cut the cake in half'

that 'deliberately' can get both readings. the manner reading means something like:

'he cut the cake in half in a deliberate manner' -- taking his time and so on.

the sentence-level reading is something like: 'he cut the cake in half on purpose'

... to tease apart the readings you might imagine a scenario where the cake is disguised as something else - say it's wrapped in opaque paper of some sort. in this case, the person with the knife could cut through it very carefully, but not know it is really a cake (thinking the cake is somewhere else, and in fact NOT wanting it cut) ... and then under the first reading, the sentence is true, but under the second it is false.

ok, so. 'deliberately' works with this way -- it gets both readings.
you can often make one of them more likely, or even the only option... so, compare:

a) deliberately, he cut the cake in half
b) he cut the cake in half deliberately
c) he cut the cake deliberately in half

... anyway. the point is, some adverbial things only get one or the other. so:

he usually/typically cut the cake in half

... these really only get the sentence level reading. we don't think these mean 'he cut the cake in his usual manner' or 'in a typical manner'

anyway: hopefully gets both of these readings. and what is wrong with that? if you want, you can compare to:

'regrettably, he cut the cake'
'he cut the cake regretfully'

... so, i suppose you could suggest that the problem is that we don't use 'hopeably' for the sentence level reading... but we have a lot of frozen bits of morphology in english words, and it's a bit late to run all over the language fixing that.

so: ... this one's a crock! :)

Rebecca Rosenblum said...

Ok, AMT, I believe you and I stand corrected (and I do appreciate the explanation; no point in being wrong permanently). But I do think the English language lets us down for *not* have having hopeably... How *does* anyone know if I plan on feeling hopeful when I go to the awards ceremony, or I simply hope to go, but am not certain I'll make it...?

But that's just the way it is, I guess.