Category Archives: Dr. Language Guy

Surprising Words

surpring-words

Dr. Language Guy here. After a long hiatus, I was brought back to life by a recent Reader’s Digest article about surprising words recently added to the dictionary.  While I cannot improve on them, I can give my own alternatives.

Humblebrag

Often found on social media, the humblebrag is a boast disguised as self-deprecation: ‘I’m so nervous about picking up my Nobel Peace Prize, I’ll probably trip on my way up to the podium!’ Most legitimately used in job interviews to answer the dreaded trick question, ‘What is your worst quality?’ There is no other answer but a humblebrag: ‘I’m such a perfectionist, and I work too hard. My boss has to make me go home at night to take a break.’

[Dr. L G: I am familiar with humblebrag.  I am often asking people to look for my lost Congressional Medal of Honor at dinner parties.]

Snollygoster

A snollygoster may sound like a Dr. Seuss character with a topknot, but it’s actually a shrewd, unprincipled politician who is only out for himself. First popularized by President Truman after World War II and fallen into disuse for decades, this colorful insult has been almost single-handedly revived by Fox News host Bill O’Reilly.

[Dr. L G: I am more likely to think of a snollygoster as snot that gets hidden under the coffee table.]

Fast fashion

Fast fashion doesn’t necessarily involve roller blades, peekaboo necklines, or racing goggles. Instead, it refers to an elaborate system of producing cheap, trendy garments in sweatshops that are designed to fall apart quickly: the perfect excuse to buy next season’s fad. Like fast food, it’s cheap, temporarily satisfying, but not especially good for you.

[Dr. L G: To quote Dolly Parton, “It took a lot of money to look this cheap.”]

Collapsar

Have you been wondering what to call an old star that’s imploded under the pressure of its own gravity to form a white dwarf, neutron star, or black hole? Try collapsar, which may sound like a Marvel super villain or an old Arnold Schwarzenegger movie, but really just means ‘collapsed star.’

[Dr. L G: Collapser also describes my investments.]

Mumblecore

Everyone knows about hardcore and software, but what about mumblecore? Lena Dunham’s TV show Girls is a prime example of this genre, which focuses on the private lives of earnest young slackers who talk a lot but don’t understand themselves and, frankly, sometimes don’t speak clearly enough for the audience to understand them either.

[Dr. L G: It is what you say under your breath when your spouse announces that a dear friend, who you cannot stand, is coming to visit for three weeks.]

Abandonware

If you’re one of the many fans who pines for discontinued software, especially games from PacMan to Carmageddon 2: Carpocalypse Now, you probably know all about abandonware. For the rest of us, it’s a revelation to discover that third-party suppliers are keeping thousands of orphaned programs alive online—enough to justify a new word in the dictionary!

[Dr. L G: Tupperware party purchases, anyone?]

Yowza

Sometimes it takes a new word a while to catch on. Yowza, an exclamation of surprise or amazement, was first introduced in 1933. It never died out, probably because it’s just so much fun to say, and this year it finally made the cut.

[Dr. L G: See Gig Young in They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? “Yowza, yowza, yowza.”]

Woo woo

Woo woo may remind you of courtship, cheerleaders, or baby talk, but it actually refers to any mystical, paranormal, and generally unscientific claim, from alien abduction to the telekinetic bending of spoons. But as Julia Moskin, a New York Times reporter, puts it, ‘One man’s woo-woo, of course, is another’s deeply held belief system.’

[Dr. L G: Some of you may be familiar with Curmudgeon-at-Large’s assertions on alien anal probing.]

Conlang

A conlang has nothing to do with three card monte, Ponzi schemes, or the lost wallet scam. It’s an invented language with a real vocabulary and consistent grammatical rules. And though conlangs arise from elaborate fictional worlds like Klingon from Star Trek, Elvish from Lord of the Rings, or most recently, Dothraki from Game of Thrones, these languages have taken on a life of their own, with thousands of fantasy fans around the world using them in real life.

[Dr. L G: It’s also the language used after six or more stiff drinks.]

Supercentanarian

Anyone older than 110 is supercentanarian, and we’ll probably be seeing that word a lot more often as human life spans continue to grow. Is that a good thing or a bad thing? Probably depends on the supercentanarian!

[Dr. L G: “Look, down on the ground!  It’s a stuffed bird!  It’s a stalled plane!  No, it’s Supercentanarian Man!”]

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Beestys and Fowlys

 

Dr. Language Guy here.

It has come to my attention that many of you face a grammatical dilemma when encountering strange wildlife in your own backyard. Now I know that, if you sight wolves, deer or locusts, you will immediately call out “There is a pack of wolves or a herd of deer or a plague of locusts in my backyard!”  Packs are common to a number of creatures – wolves, hounds and other dogs – as are herds – asses, buffalo, deer, elephants, giraffes, moose and zebras.  Plagues only apply to locusts and politicians.

But what do you say if, for examples, you encounter baboons, sheldrake or wombats? Never fear. Thanks to the Book of Saint Albans of 1486 entitled Companys of Beestys and Fowlys, aided by Wikipedia and abcteach, you will correctly and properly identify any group of animals that cross your path.  The animals will respect you for this attention to detail.

A Troop of Baboons

A Sedge of Bitterns

A Sounding of Boars

A Drove of Bullocks

A Tok of Capercaillie

A Quiver of Cobras

A Covert of Coots

A Bask of Crocodiles

A Murder of Crows

A Trip of Dotterel

A Fling of Dunlins

A Mob of Emus

A Fesnyng of Ferrets

A Bloat of Hippopotamuses

A Clattering of Jackdaws

A Deceit of Lapwings

An Ascension of Larks

A Plump of Moorhens

A Pod of Pelicans

An Ostentation of Peacocks

A Congregation of Plovers

A Rhumba of Rattlesnakes

A Crash of Rhinoceros

A Dopping of Sheldrake

A Walk of Snipes

A Pitying of Turtle Doves

A Wisdom of Wombats

Beestys

A WTF? of Weird Wildlife

 

We should start applying such terms to groups of people as well:

A Brace of Bloggers

A Klump of Kardashians

A Really Good Deal of Used Car Salesmen.

Do you have any suggestions?

Acyrologia

Once again FOAF has come to the rescue, this time from Facebook:

 

ACYROLOGIA

An incorrect use of words – particularly replacing one word with another word that sounds similar but has a diffident meaning – possibly fuelled by a deep-seeded desire to sound more educated, witch results in an attempt to pawn off an incorrect word in place of a correct one.  In academia, such flaunting of common social morays is seen as almost sorted and might result in the offender becoming a piranha, in the Monday world, after all is set and done, such a miner era will often leave normal people unphased.  This is just as well sense people of that elk are unlikely to tow the line irregardless of any attempt to better educate them.  A small percentage, however, suffer from severe acyrologiaphobia, and it is their upmost desire to see English used properly.  Exposure may cause them symptoms that resemble post-dramatic stress disorder and, eventually, descend into whole-sale outrage as they go star-craving mad.  Eventually, they will succumb to the stings and arrows of such a barrage, and suffer a complete metal breakdown, leaving them curled up in the feeble position.

Acyrologia

Dr. Language Guy Confesses

Dr LG Confesses

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Penitent Dr. LG:  Forgive me Father for I have sinned.

Reproachful Priest:  How long has it been since your last confession?

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Penitent Dr. LG:  Uh… well… it’s been a while.

Reproachful Priest:  That is okay, my son.  Tell me of your sins.

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Penitent Dr. LG:

Oh Father my sins are many.  I have tried to serve as a language maven but I have given misguided directions to my followers.  I have instructed them in better writing and diction but I have fallen victim to doubts and uncertainty.  I am beckoned by the siren calls of language change against which I have asked them to resist.  Not only that, these ideas seem to me quite normal and ones that should be incorporated into modern writing in place of their more stylistic but perhaps dated earlier forms.

Reproachful Priest:  ?

——————————————————————

Penitent Dr. LG:  Let me give you some examples of my transgressions.  I speak of the Oxford comma, the placement of quotation marks inside punctuation marks, and the split infinitive.

Reproachful Priest:  ??

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Penitent Dr. LG:

I’ll start with the Oxford comma.  As you may know, the Oxford comma (also called the Harvard comma or serial comma) is a comma placed immediately before the coordinating conjunction (usually and, or, or nor) in a series of three or more terms.  For example, we may punctuate three items as “A, B, and C” (with the serial comma) or “A, B and C” (without the serial comma).  Long have I railed against the use of the serial comma as unnecessary.  While the Associated Press Stylebook advises against it, many other style guides like The Chicago Manual of Style, Strunk and White’s Elements of Style, and the U.S. Government Printing Office Style Manual advocate its use.  How can I disagree with such an auspicious group?1

1 portions excerpted from Wikipedia

Then there is the placement of punctuation marks outside of quotation marks.  I have been told that “periods and commas always go inside quotation marks, even inside single quotes.”  Yet, fewer and fewer writers do this and I have a hard time explaining why they should.  Isn’t it easier to let the quotation marks set off the quoted or emphasized phrase and then end with the terminating punctuation mark?  Oh I fear these voices.

These same voices tell me that it matters not that I split my infinitives!  Is it any improvement or difference, they say, “to go boldy” than “to boldy go” where no writer has gone before?  The evil voices are winning, Father, they are winning.

Oh and I don’t even want to tell you how I refuse to give up the long-established habit of placing two spaces instead of one between sentences.  I know it’s wasteful of space but I cannot help but believe it gives better readability and I’m here to confess these and many other sins too numerous to mention.

Reproachful Priest:  [After a long pause]  I believe that you are at the wrong confessional, my son.

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Penitent Dr. LG:  Well, did I confess to you about how I once thought that Steven Seagal was a good actor?

Reproachful Priest:  I’m listening…

Dr. Language Guy Returneth

Acc2b

The English language is rich, complex and idiosyncratic, filled with nearly a million words.  Yet, most of us – me – constrain ourselves to three to four thousand at most.  Although we should attempt to broaden our base of words, there are some words and phrases that we should just not use.

No, I don’t mean George Carlin’s The Seven Words You Cannot Say on Television.  A number of you drop f-bombs left and right.  Even I do occasionally, just not as effectively.

No, I mean those archaic forms or trite phrases that we don’t ever get right.  Ever.

Whence and Thence

Whence means from what place; from where.  Thence means from that place or therefrom.  Since the ‘from’ is already included, there is no need to add it in a sentence but we invariably do.  If noted authorities like the English legal system and author Jane Austen can’t get these words correct, what chance do we have?

“You shall be taken to the place from whence you came, and then hence to a place of lawful execution, and there you shall be hanged by the neck until you be dead, and afterwards your body shall be buried in a common grave within the precincts of the prison wherein you were last confined before your execution, and may the Lord have mercy on your soul.”

–The formal death sentence of the English legal system

“Away ran the girls, too eager to get in to have time for speech.  They ran from the vestibule into the breakfast-room, from thence to the library …”

–Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice

From whence translates literally as ‘from from where’ and from thence as ‘from from that place.’  It’s nonsensical and redundant.  So, unless you are giving a formal death sentence (appropriate in certain circumstances) or speaking in literary circles like Jane Austen’s World, don’t use these words.  You’ll get them wrong.

Whilst and Amongst

Okay, you can use these words.  Whilst means while; amongst means among.  I just prefer while and among.  However, amongst friends, you may use these words whilst writing.

They control their own destiny.

How many times do I have to hear this phrase from ex-jock commentators?  “This team controls its own destiny.”  Even commencement speakers, like Dr. Oz, tell students “to control their destiny.”  Oh, yeah?  Destiny is defined as ‘the seemingly inevitable or necessary succession of events.’  If it’s inevitable, how can you control it?  You can’t.  Maybe you can affect your future but you cannot control your destiny.

It fell between the cracks.

“This legislation fell between the cracks” says some late night political pundit.  The space between the cracks is filled.  Between is defined as ‘in or through the space that separate two things.’  The space that separates two cracks in the floor is the solid area of the floor.  If something falls and is lost, it falls into the cracks, not between them.

Whilst you ponder on these words of wisdom before they fall between the cracks, Dr. Language Guy, in control of his own destiny, returneth from whence he came.