Wrong Words

When you work with something every day, you're likely to end up with at least some strong opinions about it.

I work with words every day, so I have some strong opinions about them.

I don't think I'm unduly picky about spelling and grammar. A lot of word-workers get very upset about the use of American words in Commonwealth English, or vice versa, for instance. But I frequently mix US English terms into my largely Commonwealth writing, when they make more sense.

"Flashlight", for example, is just a better word than "torch". Its meaning is clearer. And "torch" can, of course, continue to be used when someone's referring to oxy-acetylene or oily-rag-on-a-stick.

I still spell "analog" as "analogue", but I don't feel very good about it. It's stilly silly [dang it - a typo in a post about word-pickiness... now I'm going to hell].

I was happy when most Australian publications finally decided to stop spelling "jail" in the ridiculous English way. The English spelling is like a real life example of the ghoti principle.

(The ludicrous Frenchified "programme" is also dying out in Australia, thank goodness.)

Yes, I'm annoyed by dumb apostrophe placement and have made reference to Bob's Quick Guide to the Apostrophe in the past, but apo'strophe's in the wrong place hardly ever damage the meaning of a sentence. They just make it a bit harder to read.

The growing plague of dangling modifiers is much more likely to cloud the actual meaning of what people say. As Clive James pointed out in an essay in a magazine which I read because I'm frightfully erudite and, let's face it, better than most of you, "At the age of five, his father died" is comprehensible once you stop and go back over it again. But if the same mistake lurks in "At the age of eighteen, his father died", you're likely to cruise right on through and get entirely the wrong idea.

(Update: That essay's online now, here.)

But I'm not too bothered by that, either.

There are some things, however, up with which I will not put, even if they don't actually do any harm to the meaning of the sentences where they're used.

Take, for instance, the word "hobbiest".

I can accept that people without a strong grasp of the many and varied rules of English word construction could come up with that word when they meant to say "hobbyist". And it doesn't blur meaning when it's used. It's not as if you're ever going to be wondering whether the writer actually meant to indicate someone who was hobbier than thou.

But it's ugly-ugly-ugly and it sticks in my brain and it hurts me. And it's bloody everywhere (note that it actually only appears in links to Bill Beaty's quirky and excellent Science Hobbyist site, if you don't count one comment on his guestbook).

"Hobbiest" is in dire danger of becoming an accepted way to spell the bloody word.

A similar, less common, but to my mind even more horrid word: "Turrent".

Meaning "turret".

Found, disturbingly often, on pages where "hobbiest" is also used.

It's a conspiracy, I tell you.

And, finally, could the marketer who decided that the term "in store" or, joy of joys, "instore" needed to be included in every second advertisement please step forward?

Thank you so very much. You were right, of course; before your brilliant innovation, there was no way to convey to an audience the information that the product shown in the advertisement was actually available for sale! However did commerce survive, before you came along?

It's high time you claimed your reward. They're waiting for you just through there.

21 Responses to “Wrong Words”

  1. mookers Says:

    Regarding the misplacement (is that a word?) of apostrophes...

    The Panda says No!

  2. jaranath Says:

    FWIW: This is the first time I've ever seen "Hobbiest."

  3. Daniel Rutter Says:

    Mookers: Although apostrophes and commas are not the same thing (the "Eats, shoots..." joke depends on a comma), it certainly is technically possible for apostrophe misplacement to change the meaning of a sentence. You have to try pretty hard to do it, though.

    It's a bit difficult to come up with remotely plausible examples in which adding, removing or moving an apostrophe changes one meaning into another, and cases in which this happens in the real world are rare.

    (Most examples are like "John had to leave his friends behind" versus "John had to leave his friend's behind", which doesn't really make the cut in the plausibility department, if you ask me. :-)

    If you've got even a little bit of context for (or within...) a sentence which contains an apostrophe error, you're practically certain to not end up with a misconception from the error. There are many other grammatical errors that are much more able to damage the intended meaning of a quite large chunk of English.

  4. Daniel Rutter Says:

    Jaranath: For some reason, I run into it all the time...

  5. mookers Says:

    I know that apostrophes and commas are not the same. :P

    Lynne Truss' book deals with all sorts of punctuation, including apostrophes, which is why I brought it up. :)

    It's a very funny book. If you haven't read it, you should.

  6. stewpot Says:

    My pet hate - 'flaunt the law', instead of the correct 'flout the law'. Usually it occurs in the context of a law and order rant, which usually makes it incorrect in both ideas and grammar.

    I don't think there's any point in fighting it, though. The Democrats, the Foreign Minister, and the Law Society of NSW have all used it.

  7. Skah T Says:

    My pet peeve is "alot". So much so that I modified a Greasemonkey script so that I never see that abomination again. I'm tempted to throw "allot" in there, too, but that's actually a real word (and probably used as such in some small percentage of the time).

    Of course if you're on a quest to eradicate "hobbiest" from general usage then you probably don't want to go the ignorance-is-bliss route.

  8. alastair Says:

    I still spell “analog” as “analogue”, but I don’t feel very good about it. It’s stilly.

    Stilly: quietly and with little movement.

    Hmm. Doesn't sound like the right word to me, but maybe that's the point!

  9. arteitle Says:

    I'm guessing Dan means stilly as in "stupid and silly". (I had to resort to Urban Dictionary for that one.)

  10. mstromb Says:

    Perhaps you'll be happy to know I just changed all the pages on wikipedia that used the word "turrent" to "turret"?

    Or does that merely border on excessive internet tendencies?

  11. Kagato Says:

    I must admit, horrible corruption of spelling, grammar and punctuation are like a cheese-grater to my sensibilities. If I was allowed only one pet hate in this life, it would be this.

    Non-words like "hobbiest" are awful, and careless mispronunciations are often worse ("antartic" and "artic" are particularly horrid). Misused apostrophes always niggle... but there was one offence that nearly sent me apoplectic every time I saw it.

    Got The Hungry's?

    This was the "Hungry Jack's" (rebadged Burger King, for non-Australian readers) slogan a few years back.
    It was broadcast on national television, for God's sake!

    The number of things wrong with staggers me.
    For starters, it's not even a sentence, and it's using a made-up word. I guess I can live with that; nounification is as acceptable as verbing things, under certain circumstances. :)
    But even so, you still need to conform to sensible English structure, people! You're making "hungry" a noun, like a thing you can have in numbers or quantity. 'Man, I am so hungry... it's like I am filled with many hungries!'
    That makes it a plural. You do not use apostrophes to make plurals. Ever.
    People "get the munchies", not "the munchy's". Same goes for "the hungries", if there absolutely must be such a thing.
    Get it right. You illiterate morons.

    (I've been carrying that around for far too long. Thank you for the opportunity to vent.)

  12. omgror Says:

    I guess missing an Apostrophe in "we're" could change the meaning of a sentence. eg. "Were going on holiday"

    I think the most common meaning-changing error would be your/you're though. I do enjoy answering people based on the actual meaning of what they've typed.
    "Mark your crap"
    "Err... 8/10. Satisfying, not too smelly, but could have done with less wiping."

    I also enjoy asking people: "Who is this Noone you keep talking about?", or "Is Noone a friend of yours?"

  13. JoachimH Says:

    You lucky English speakers! I fart in your general...you get the point. :-)
    In German, the apostrophe was, until recently, only used to signify a contraction of a word with a missing letter. "Tu's" would be the contraction of "Tu es" ("do it"). A few weeks ago though a reform went into effect that allowed the aptly named "Idiotenapostroph" (idiot's apostrophe). This term was coined to describe the usage of the English possesive form in German. Thus now you are allowed to write "Hitler's Hund" (Hitler's dog) instead of the formerly correct form of "Hitlers Hund" in the many German publications about this delightful fellow and all that surrounded him. German idiots, of course, take this even further with the shop that proclaims "CD's-Verleih, Montag's geschlossen" (something like "CD's-rental, closed on Monday's")or the even more delightful sign atop a software shelf in a large electronics retailer that proclaimed its contents to be "Lexikon's" (encyclopediae) which made it to three errors in one word: the correct plural for "Lexikon" is "Lexika", not "Lexikons", and anyway the apostrophe (at that time) was wrong, and finally, the shelf contained dictionaries ("Wörterbücher"), not encyclopediae.

  14. mph Says:

    Here's one that's been annoying me on places like Slashdot: The use of "queue" instead of "cue", meaning to prepare a recording for play. Example:

    "Queue the video of Uncle John getting kicked in the crotch!"

  15. RichVR Says:

    "A similar, less common, but to my mind even more horrid word: “Turrent”.

    Meaning “turret”."

    Thank you, thank you, thank you.

  16. rsynnott Says:

    Oh, the apostrophe thing is horrible. Cafes and such here seem to have decided that the word 'panini' must be singled out for special treatment, so that its plural gets an apostrophe even if no other word on the menu does. Grr

  17. Phage Says:

    Worst of all "Let lose the dogs of War", or "Loose those extra pounds now !" (A startling image there).
    Don't get me started on affect/effect.

  18. mph Says:

    rsynnott: How does that work? "Panin'i"? (That's another one of my recent gripes. "Panini" is already plural.)

  19. theanorak Says:

    Ack. Don't get me started.

    What about that much-loved, and seemingly soon-to-die word, lose? Replaced by "loose", as far as I can tell.

  20. Red October Says:

    I have never seen, thank the gods, "Turrent" before now. I am aghast. Many people I know do use "irregardless" in spite of the fact that it's not even a word. Even "Missunderestimated" has discernable meaning (To underestimate improperly, which is something of an epic fail if you manage not only to underestimate but to do it improperly) but "irregardless" makes my brain hurt. The apostophe is a good one, I often see commercial trucks (Lorry/HGV/what-have-you) that say "Driver's wanted", prompting me to ask "Driver's WHAT wanted?"

  21. tomsk Says:

    Once you've read Eats, Shoots and Leaves, a good book to read on this subject of linguistic pedantry and correctness would be David Crystal's The Fight For English (US), which is far more sensible than any of the perennial nitpicking peddled by the likes of Truss (my review, in case anyone's interested, please forgive the self-link). Actually, anything by Crystal is worth a look, he's generally excellent.

    Personally, I think English spelling and orthography are pretty bloody stupid, but there's no way to fix the mess, so it's best to just learn the rules and use the language to the best of one's ability, appropriately within context, and with due consideration for the audience. Basic spelling errors like "turrent" show a disregard for the reader that will generally lead to a reciprocal disregard towards the author and everything else they write. It is important to do your best to get basic things like spelling and punctuation right if you want to be taken seriously. Conversely, though, we shouldn't be bothered by seeing occasional mistakes in informal settings. I suspect that much of the fuming and grumbling about that sort of thing is just point-scoring on the part of insecure people who use the handful of supposed rules that they know to demonstrate how much better educated they are than stupid greengrocers.

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