June 5th, 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 conflict…at 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
RR

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So Much Love by Rebecca Rosenblum

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