Saturday, July 19, 2008

Language odds … with no ends in sight

Oh, this is exciting. At least for me it is. I’ve decided to forego all pretense of attaining a topic, a theme, a focus for today’s column. Today we simply clear out some of Mike’s Miscellany — a way to handle some odds and ends that have lived with me long enough. So, in no order whatsoever, here we go.

One day as I walked through Lowe’s hardware store, I heard this recorded announcement: “Special assistance needed in the blind cutting area.” Gosh, I expect so.

One of my relatives made a needlepoint for a wedding gift, and it said this: "What God hath joined together, let no man put us under." Truly it did say that.

“The best kept secret.” Gosh, could we stop saying that, please, about everything? And we do not need an “s” at the end of “anyway,” at the end of “somewhere” or even at the end of “toward.” And for goodness sake it’s “across,” not “acrosst.”

Say “henceforth” or say “forevermore” (if you like), but don’t use the redundant “henceforth and forevermore.” The word is “infinitesimal,” not “infintesimal” (it has six syllables, not five). Say “LACKadaisical,” not “LAXadaisical,” and you can stick an “r” in “Washington” if you must, but only if you promise to warsh your hands in warter.

In our ongoing battle against inappropriate jargon — meaning usage that tends to confuse, or at least fails to clarify — let me give you this description of a wine that I heard on the radio: “This is a highly complex wine for the price point. You can tell it’s angry because it gives a back-end tannin structure. And it is extremely raising on the nose.” At least I think that’s what I heard. This next one I read in the paper, so I don’t have to guess. It quotes a Yale University art student: “This piece creates an ambiguity that isolates the locus of ontology to an act of readership.” Whew.

Are you still with me? Here’s another from higher education. Examples of degrees one can earn include a bachelor of science degree and a master of public health degree. In so doing, one then holds a bachelor’s degree or a master’s degree. That’s where the possessives (bachelor’s, master’s) are appropriate. But you don’t earn the bachelor’s of arts or the master’s of arts degrees.

How often do you hear promos on television along these lines: “Stay tuned for an all-new episode of Prison Break [or whatever]”? Why is it proclaimed as “all-new”? Does that mean that sometimes the new episodes are really part new and part old? I don’t think so. I assume it’s ALL-new, if it’s a new episode. And boy howdy would I love to get back to the days when we had plots and stories and themes and any number of things other than “arcs.” (“Look for a 10-episode arc on Showtime’s drama set in the ’hood.” Yuck.)

Speaking of themes, you have a recurring theme (or dream!), not a reoccurring one. Also, I recommend that you go with “preventive” rather than “preventative” measures and with “orient” rather than “orientate” (when talking about finding your direction or becoming accustomed to something new). What about “flammable” versus “inflammable”? If you’re referring to something that might catch on fire literally, go with “flammable.” However, if you’re describing something that is easily inflamed — your temper, perhaps — then “inflammable” works all right (as opposed to the nonstandard “alright”). Of course, we all know to say “regardless” and to avoid the horrid “irregardless” like the plague.

Here’s a rule of thumb for you when using some possessives. It should be Jack and Jill’s insurance policy, with only one apostrophe, if they jointly own that policy. However, say Jack’s and Jill’s cars if each of them owns a separate car. Get it?

Let’s stop saying “the Rupert Murdochs of the world,” or “the Donald Trumps” or the Whoever Elses. Recently an ESPN reporter, talking about the L.A. Lakers, said, “What is going to happen to the Farmars, the Vujacics, the Radmanovichs and the Waltons [of the world]?” Please. We’re all unique. There is only one Rupert Murdoch, one Donald Trump (thank goodness), one You!

Finally, having railed against silly hybrid word inventions before — including “guesstimate” and “harassination” — let me tell you what I just now heard on the radio: “All I can say is that I have deep skeptimism.”

Heaven help us.