Literally, Another Post on My Love for Language

By November 5, 2008 language No Comments

My love for all things wordy was joyfully fed with a new read by Paul Yeager (of the languageandgrammar blog). His book, Literally, the Best Language Book Ever: Annoying Words and Abused Phrases You Should Never Use Again, provides a litany of advice and rulings to set every linguist on her high horse.

I have decided, however, to trade in my high horse for something less pretentious—a miniature horse, perhaps. Or a Shetland. (Or are those one and the same?)

You see, I found several entries in Yeager’s book that convicted me of my own word usage. Which is good—I am fascinated how improper speech originates and spreads. (I just hate it when it has so obviously landed on me.) My miniature horse seems more appropriate when in the company of such experts.

Of special interest was the chapter on speech redundancies. Common phrases such as blazing inferno and mass exodus—I’ve used both of these—are two phrases that have become ingrained in our society’s lexicon.

Yeager also includes a chapter on excessively trendy words and expressions, providing some humorous slang definitions and explanations. I especially appreciated this comment:

“Anyone older than the current generation who uses those words in an attempt to seem young or trendy is like the forty-five-year-old man who has a ponytail because he thinks long hair will make him look younger. . . . Anyone over thirty-five who tries to use the latest trendy catch phrases makes herself sound even older than she is. No one is being fooled.”

The truth stings: When adults use slang it only magnifies their age. I’ve seen this in action, and I’m sure I’ve been at the center of it at some point. I do make a conscious effort to avoid pop culture phrases for this very reason—it’s painful to everyone else listening. (For some reason I think of the discomfort I would cause others if I began to say, “Oh, snap!”)

In the midst of this recent language laden foray, I discovered a word that I have always pronounced incorrectly. (And now I’m not sure the first source that made me aware of my error.) The word is short-lived, as in, “My horror and disappointment were short-lived.” The proper pronunciation is with a long i, as in alive. (Click here for the audio file and additional commentary.) [polldaddy poll=1079350]

I’ve used this correct pronunciation a few times now. I must admit it feels awkward to my tongue; those listening seem rather stunned. This correction may not stick, but I’m giving it a go. The American Dictionary site says that 39 percent preferred the original and 18 percent preferred either pronunciation; so at least 57 percent of the people should be familiar with the correct usage.[polldaddy poll=1082376]

(Not that it’s about popularity—if that were the case, we would also have to accept other offensive mispronunciations that fall into my fingernails-down-the-chalkboard category. Uh-oh, looks like my high horse is back in action. I think that’s a sign to conclude this post.)

So how about you, my fellow language lovers? What words and phrases have caught your attention lately?

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