Thursday, May 28, 2015


Living language
Defined by ignorance


Don't know how "curmudgeon" is defined? Look it up.

I am a former PRINT (as in newspaper, a local museum may have one) reporter and editor. I worked back in the day when reporters reported - vs. created - the news and slanting/"spinning" the news was limited.

Over the years I've been amused by how the language has adapted, usually by a push - perhaps a shove - from Madison Avenue.

The other day I saw an advertisement on tv for a four-door "coupe."

When did a "coupe" (two doors) become a "sedan" (4 doors).

According to Merriam-Webster's online dictionary, a "coupe" is defined as

    a 2-door automobile often seating only two persons; also : one with a tight-spaced rear seat — compare SEDAN
while "sedan" is defined as
    : a car that has four doors and that has room for four or more people
I'll concede that as I was growing up, a coupe could sit more than two people but the vehicle only had two doors. The first car I remember was a 1949 maroon Ford coupe.

"Penny" for your thoughts

You are handed change and you find you have a dime, a nickel, and a penny.

But in reality. That "penny" is a "cent." America has not had true "pennies" since the Brits gave up their rule over the several colonies that later became united states. There was a time when "one red cent" was as common in American's language as the mis-named "penny."

As an aside, the term "two-bits" means 25 cents as in "two bits, four bits, six bots, a dollar." A "two-bit" anything was the Made in China version: cheap.

From the Latin

Today a "cohort" is a buddy, a fellow traveler and can be both singular and plural. In fact, however. "cohort" is an ancient Roman army unit. The United Nations of Roma Victrix describes a "cohort" as a unit that

    included 6 centuriae or a total of 480 fighting men, not including officers. In addition the first cohort was double strength but with only 5 centuriae instead of the normal 6. Emphasis mine.

When something is "decimated" it is reduced by a tenth. Merriam-Webster (ibid.) states that

    to select by lot and kill every tenth man
but it admits that in current usage "decimate" is taken to mean
    to destroy a large number of (plants, animals, people, etc.)
When you think "decimate" think "deca"; Latin for ten

If it's free, it's for me

TV ads - the bane of the language - frequently offer me a free gift if I only will do this or that, usually spend my dollars for a product I probably don't need.

A "gift" is something given without recompense; it's "free." Ergo, "free gift" is redundant.

Calling a spade a shovel

Unlike the spade vs. shovel above - there IS a difference; one has a pointed blade (shovel) and one had a flat/straight blade (spade).

Spades are made for moving something (snow, manure, etc.) from point to point; shovels are made for digging (but often a post-hole digger or auger might be a better choice).

"Shatter" your expectations

GM's Buick will, according to the Mad Av language mavens, "shatter your expectations."

I THINK the agency types meant that the 2015 Buick will exceed the buyer's expectations.

According to Merriam-Webster online (ibid.), to "shatter" something means to

    to break suddenly into many small pieces or to damage (something) very badly
Neither the transitive verb and the intransitive verb definitions for "shatter" come close to suggesting that "shattering" is a good thing. I suspect that the advertising wizards were equating "shatter the glass ceiling" (as in "breaking through") to shattering (exceeding) expectations.

There is a Buick "expectation shattering" commercial on YouTube.

Heart to heart cardiac

There's a tv ad - I love tv ads; they are such fertile ground for this curmudgeon - that tries to sell me an over-the-counter (OTC) medication for my cardiac heart health.

When I was an Air Force medic, back when Orville and Wilbur were flying their machine, I learned that cardiac was the same as heart.

Granted, a "cardiac-to-cardiac talk" seems weak when compared with a "heart-to-heart talk." While "heart" has multiple means, as in "get to the heart of the matter" among others, in the advertisement's instance, "heart" was referring to the muscle that handles blood to and from the cardio-vascular a/k/a circulatory, system, in other words, the cardiac (cardio-, cardiac).

Minutes and moments

Back in the day - and I had an unabridged that told me so - a "minute" was 60 seconds and a "moment" was 90 seconds, a minute and a half. In today's usage, a "moment" can be almost any duration; it's relative. To a child waiting for parental assistance, a "moment," even in its classical sense, can seem like an eternity.

Burglars and robbers

A person breaks into a store and makes off with the goods. The person is a "burglar"; he - or she - "burglarized" the store.

You are walking down the street, enjoying the evening air and a miscreant relieves you of your valuables, you have been "robbed" by a "robber."

The FindLaw web site defines "burglary" as

    the act of entering or remaining unlawfully (as after closing to the public) in a building with intent to commit a crime (as a felony)
and "robbery" as
    theft/larceny of property or money through the offender's use of physical force or fear against a victim.
The FindLaw definition for "burglary" notes that
    The crime of burglary was originally defined under the common law to protect people, since there were other laws (as those defining larceny and trespass) that protected property. State laws have broadened the common-law crime. Entering at night is often no longer required and may be considered an aggravating factor. The building may be something other than a dwelling, such as a store or pharmacy. Some states (as Louisiana) have included vehicles under their burglary statute. There are degrees of burglary, and some of the usual aggravating factors are the presence of people and use of a deadly weapon.

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