A good whine, I believe I’ll have another.

Enough people seemed interested in my last rant about language that maybe a sequel could be tolerated, just to make sure this horse is a little deader.

It will follow a different format, as I try to explain what I had to consider as I was collecting items to include.



Trolling, joking, ill-trained, or ignorant?

That’s a hard thing to tell sometimes.


Since I wrote my entries about trolls and how to handle them a couple of years ago (here  and here), this word has acquired much wider use, and has been applied to many offline activities.  It usually refers to the most common technique of an online troll: that of saying something that the speaker does not believe, just to provoke a reaction.  It serves to distract a group from whatever it’s trying to get done.  Glenn Beck and Ann Coulter are consummate trolls, in the tradition of Joe Pyne and Wally George.  Their whole purpose is to distract suckers (both pro and con) from anything worthwhile.

One little Easter egg that might be buried in a troll’s post (or speech) is the deliberate misuse of a word or phrase just to provoke a correction.  This can summon up a long tangential conversation about usage, to keep anyone from addressing what the conversation is supposed to be about.

Politicians and pundits have always made free use of this old magician’s trick: misdirection.  It’s especially easy if there’s no two-way conversation going on, but just a speaker on a podium.  If a Rep refers to “the Democrat Party”, everyone with half a clue knows that’s not the name of the party to which s/he’s referring, and all thinking about the substance of what the speaker might be saying is suspended as the brain goes in circles over this error.  There are many occasions when a politician is obliged to just show up and say something, and the last thing s/he needs is for anyone to think too much about the meaning of the words.

I believe this might account for much of what Bachmann and Palin say.  If you’re not the target audience, you’re not supposed to listen anyway.

If you are the target audience, you’re too stupid to notice some little thing like “Democrat Party”, or what it really means to call for investigation of the opposing party for unamerican activities.



Joking, or ill-trained?

It’s pretty well-known (thanks to Chris Matthews often reminding us) that Dick Cheney and his family pronounce the name “cheenee”.

Nevertheless, nearly everyone else says “chaynee”, as in Lon & son.  Is this an allusion to the damaged kinds of characters played by those actors?  I simply don’t know how this habit originated.  I do know that it’s a very well-established habit that even the rasping manner of Chris Matthews can’t exorcise.

One misstep that seems to be always a joke these days is “irregardless”.  It’s been about twenty years since I’ve heard anyone speak this in earnest. It survives as a deliberate malapropism, like:  “Is the bear a Catholic? Does a pope sh*t in the woods?”



I recently had to remind someone that “hoi” is the definite article in Greek, and therefore “the hoi polloi” shows ignorance.  The title of a Three Stooges movie got it right.  The peers in Iolanthe got it wrong by the writer’s design.  They were supposed to be not-too-bright.

In any case, English has a great many phrases with exactly the same meaning, and there’s no good reason to use a Greek phrase.  It once meant “those who haven’t had a classical education, so they don’t know what I’m saying”, but that’s nearly everyone now, with no class significance to it at all.

While we’re talking about definite articles, there’s this uh… ahem…. “à la” thing.  Now, French is not an obscure language.  Lots of us had a semester or two at some point.  There are many French words in English, and to top it off, Spanish and Italian have the same feminine definite article “la”.

So how is it that I see things like:
“a poem à la Ogden Nash” ?????

Ok, I’ll start at the beginning, for the noobs.  The preposition “à” is usually “to” or “at”, but once in a while it’s “in accordance with”. “À la mode” is “according to the fashion”. “La” is “the” for a feminine noun.  Though I’ve been sorta comfortable with French at some times, I would never consider using this kind of “à” with anything other than a full stock phrase in French. It just doesn’t sound right otherwise.

Much easier to say “in Ogden Nash’s style”.  Maybe this use of “à la” is more in that “irregardless” category, and that’s why I still see it once in a while.


“Didn’t hear it, don’t understand, so I’ll just make something up”

“hone in on”

When a pilot follows a homing signal to the destination, that’s about as straightforward an image for a metaphor as there can be.  How do you screw up “home in on”, especially with such a little-used word as “hone”?

“pawn off on”

It might be possible to fool a pawn broker, but it seems very unlikely.  Pawn brokers are far more savvy than their clients.  It’s their job to be.  The original phrase, “palm off on” refers to something that’s not done much these days.  It might survive in furtive things like drugs deals, but it used to be done with tips.  The tipper didn’t want to make a big deal about it or show how much was involved, so there was the “golden handshake” with something concealed in the palm.  The recipient showed trust by taking it unseen, and found out later what it was.


“This use of language is bad, so I think I’ll make it worse.”

“quote unquote”

No one, I mean NO ONE likes to speak punctuation marks out loud.  It’s done only when absolutely necessary, such as conveying a URL in speech or making sure that the listener knows exactly what part is a quote.  So what does anyone hope to convey  by saying “quote unquote” with nothing between them?


Gerry Adams on siege of Gaza:

“And repression didn’t work here and it won’t work there.  It will only exacerbate a bad situation.”

How did such a long, clumsy, ugly-sounding word come into common use?

It’s a long story.

Once upon a time, there was a happy pair of opposites: “aggravate” and “alleviate”.  In their origins, they meant “make heavier” and “make lighter”, respectively. They soon acquired solid meanings of “make worse” and “make less bad”, and everyone was happy with them.  A doctor might say: “Drinking will aggravate your headache, but aspirin might alleviate it.”, and everyone understood.

But there was an evil monster that couldn’t stand to see such happiness.

It reached out from its cave and twisted “aggravate”.  The word came to be used for “irritate”, as in:  “Your whistling is aggravating me.”  Notice that “me” in this sentence is not something inherently bad.  It’s just something being irritated.  This use of “aggravate” became probably more common than the one that made more sense, and very much grated on the ears of those who understood the words.  At some point, a couple of decades ago, as I recall, “aggravate” disappeared.

Someone must have decided that it wasn’t worth explaining to the idiots who used “aggravate” in that second sense, and just said:  “Don’t use ‘aggravate’ any more!”

Now, having lost that word, heaven forbid that we should revert to plain English and say “make it worse”.  Someone had to look pretty hard to find a long, obscure word to replace it, and “exacerbate” seems to have been chosen.

I might be a dinosaur, but I will defiantly use “aggravate” in the first sense with my last breath.






This one is just for Greens in California, since the GPCA seems to be the only bunch of people in the world using the word in such a bizarre way.

Guys, I’m one of you. I have most of the same goals as most of you, one of which is to bring previously inactive people into politics.  Some of these people can’t even name the current Governor of California offhand.

We need to teach them about things like the mechanics of getting on the ballot, keeping a political party in existence, what the bylaws mean and how they’re used, all kinds of things.

Do we really need to create our own jargon for something as ordinary as a statewide convention?  Is there not enough for noobs to get used to, without us acting like some secretive cult?  “General Assembly” is fine.  It says what it’s supposed to, but where in hell did “plenary”, in reference to a whole weekend of activities, come from?

If you don’t know what I’m talking about, just look at the definition of “plenary” in an online dictionary.  Here’s one, for example:  http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/plenary

Nowhere does it speak of a weekend of activities surrounding a few meetings some of which might be “plenary sessions”.  It’s just a pretentious word for “full” anyway.  Why use it at all?

That takes care of my language whines for a while. I’m outta here.

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12 Responses to A good whine, I believe I’ll have another.

  1. I bow to the High Priestess of Language Gaff Bloggers! This was fantastic–from the animated images to the hysterical (and informative) explanations. I can’t believe people don’t know these things, but people are delightfully surprising. I’m glad. It gives us something to write about!

  2. msmouse7 says:

    I was reading this post while having TV on in the background (Covert Affairs). I had just read the “hone in on” part when I actually heard dialog on TV saying “…hone in on.” Yes, it did occur and although I am hard of hearing, I did hear this. I think either you or TV is trying to tell me something. Guess I’ll just have to continue with both until I sort out that special message. Of course, it could just be a coincidence.

    • kitchenmudge says:

      Must be Google just figuring out what you wanted to hear at that moment and giving it to you, back through the cable tv. All I have to do is say “Peanuts” out loud, and a Planters commercial will come on in the next few minutes.

      • msmouse7 says:

        Hmm — I tried the “Peanuts” trick for several days, but nothing. Of course, I already have a couple jars of peanuts laying around anyway. My keyword is “chocolate.” Whenever I say “chocolate” a commerial comes on with skinny (scrawny) model girls who have never tasted chocolate in their life. Makes me sad, so I go eat another piece of chocolate.

  3. kitchenmudge says:

    Maybe the grocery check-out feeds into the same database, and they decided that it was more important for you to eat down your chocolate inventory.

  4. ennospace says:

    Great post with so many funny pictures!! Like it!

  5. I just watched a local news story the other night — and the anchor used the word “Irregardless.”


    And two of my favorite language atrocities: “very unique” and “centered around.”


    • kitchenmudge says:

      Someone once told me that every promo piece in the arts is required to contain four words (This is a law, apparently): “leading”, “creative”, “unique”, and “outstanding”. Someone is getting desperate to put a “very” in front of “unique”. Most remarkable is to call a person “unique”. So what? Everybody’s unique.

  6. Pingback: EVERYTHING YOU SAY IS WRONG, CHAPTER IV | kitchenmudge

  7. You are the best teacher I have ever had. I hope you know that is a compliment. My husband makes up words all the time. One of his favorites is aggrasturb, but that’s a whole nother (help me with that one) story.

  8. RAB says:

    Very satisfying post! Just yesterday a Someone on the car radio said “hone in on,” and I spent at least a mile shouting “Home! Home! Home!” directly into my dashboard. Luckily I do not have voice-activated steering. I think the error comes from a lack of experiences such as piloting a plane or trying to locate a signal or a signal light, scanner or scanning eyes or ears coming closer and closer to “home” point; meanwhile, somewhere along the way somebody heard “hone,” learned it meant “sharpen,” and began to think finding something or getting more precise about something meant sharpening it up. I have no other plausible theories on this.
    Thanks to Mikalee Byerman for “centered around,” a paradox if ever there was one. My students are fond of “based around,” which is arguably equally paradoxical but does conjure up a mental image of a besieging army, based around the walls of a city. Students never mean this, though.
    Thanks for visiting my blog, by the way!

  9. Pingback: THE GREY SPEAKER STRIKES AGAIN * | kitchenmudge

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