Un­wise words

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - VOICES - BRENDA LOOPER

Ihear the voice of Inigo Mon­toya in my head a lot. Not just one of my all-time fa­vorite lines from a movie: “Hello. My name is Inigo Mon­toya. You killed my fa­ther. Pre­pare to die.” It’s that other one from The Princess Bride: “You keep us­ing that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

In cor­rect­ing Vizzini’s con­stant use of “In­con­ceiv­able!” when he re­ally means “im­prob­a­ble,” Mon­toya launched a mil­lion memes and gave us a line des­tined to be re­peated by word nerds the world over.

Zef­frey Zodis of Ken­tucky’s Cen­tre Col­lege wrote on Odyssey Online of three pos­si­ble rea­sons for Vizzini’s mis­take: cat­achre­sis, letho­log­ica, and sopho­ma­nia.

Cat­achre­sis is the mis­ap­pli­ca­tion of a word to some­thing it doesn’t prop­erly de­note, such as us­ing “lit­er­ally” when you mean “fig­u­ra­tively.” And now “lit­er­ally” is so over(mis)used that it has come to mean “fig­u­ra­tively” to some. Is it any won­der peo­ple some­times have trou­ble learn­ing English when even na­tive speak­ers can’t get it right?

Letho­log­ica is the in­abil­ity to re­mem­ber the cor­rect word (but it’s right on the tip of your tongue!), some­thing I had trou­ble with long be­fore I suf­fered my stroke two years ago. It’s also the rea­son I pre­fer writ­ten com­mu­ni­ca­tion; no one is too im­pressed when you think of the right word three days later.

Sopho­ma­nia is the un­re­al­is­tic be­lief in one’s own in­tel­li­gence. Zodis writes: “Vizzini has sur­rounded him­self with a less-than-in­tel­li­gent mus­cle­man and a Spa­niard whose English is con­sid­ered sub-par. This op­tion presents Vizzini as a mas­ter­mind who is not re­ally a master of his mind. Sure, he man­aged a few tricks and un­der­stands dia­lec­tics as if he were Hegel him­self. How­ever, delu­sions being delu­sions, Vizzini thinks he can sim­ply say what­ever he wants and as­sume it is cor­rect be­cause his sur­round­ings prop­a­gate that be­hav­ior.”

Zodis said his money was on cat­achre­sis, but I tend to fall on the side of sopho­ma­nia in Vizzini’s case. He did have a dizzy­ing in­tel­lect, after all. For most of us, though, the rea­sons for mis­use of words likely are ei­ther cat­achre­sis or letho­log­ica.

Of course, on Twit­ter, you can al­ways blame your thumbs or voiceto-text pro­grams. Well, for some of it. “Her Renda stench” comes to mind from one of my re­cent dic­ta­tions. Not sure what “Renda stench” is, but ap­par­ently it is ab­so­lutely hor­ren­dous (the com­pany iPad didn’t un­der­stand “hor­ren­dous,” but “cryp­togamic” was no problem … go fig­ure).

What trips up most peo­ple isn’t any­thing like “cryp­togamic,” but far more com­mon words. Go to just about any pub­lic online com­ment board, and you’re likely to see some­thing like this: “Take my ad­vise or you will loose you’re mine. Im so mad I cant breath!”

It’s hard for peo­ple like me to con­tinue read­ing some­thing so full of er­rors, and what’s sad­der is that even po­lite at­tempts to cor­rect the er­rors are usu­ally met with hos­til­ity. To be fair, part of that is be­cause gram­mar grouches do tend to be more con­de­scend­ing than help­ful, so any cor­rec­tion is likely to ir­ri­tate the per­pet­u­ally ticked-off.

Stick with the word nerds. We’re nicer.

Just in case you have plans to do any writ­ing online or else­where, here are a few of the more com­mon mis­used words to re­mem­ber so you don’t look like a com­plete dolt.

Im­ply/in­fer: To im­ply is to in­sin­u­ate with­out say­ing some­thing out­right. To in­fer is to de­duce some­thing that hasn’t been said di­rectly. If I say that you’ll like what’s hap­pen­ing later to­day, you, ya crazy cat per­son, might in­fer that your of­fice is in­sti­tut­ing an af­ter­noon “kit­ten break.” (Hey, I’d like that!)

Far­ther/fur­ther: Far­ther is phys­i­cal dis­tance, while fur­ther is metaphor­i­cal. Clark might have gone far­ther for that story, but Lois pro­gressed fur­ther in her ca­reer than he did … maybe be­cause she wasn’t fly­ing around sav­ing peo­ple on the down-low.

Com­ple­ment/com­pli­ment: A com­ple­ment com­pletes some­thing, such as an en­sem­ble, while a com­pli­ment just makes you feel good. You like my pur­ple scarf? Aw, shucks.

As­sure/en­sure/in­sure: To as­sure is to tell some­one that some­thing is true. To en­sure is to make sure of some­thing. To in­sure is to take out an in­sur­ance pol­icy. And En­sure is a not-so-de­light­ful “nu­tri­tion” drink. I’ll stick with my Spe­cial K, thank you very much.

Who’s/whose: Who’s is a con­trac­tion meaning “who is.” Whose is a posses­sive pro­noun. If you’re con­fused, use the non-con­tracted ver­sion of who’s, and if the sen­tence doesn’t make sense, you’ve prob­a­bly got it wrong, and the rest of us are laugh­ing at you.

And one of my all-time pet peeves—It’s/its/its’: It’s is a con­trac­tion that means “it is.” Its is a posses­sive meaning “be­long­ing to it.” And its’—one I’ve been see­ing lately, and which is not a word—is ap­par­ently some­one’s bid to drive me com­pletely nuts. Stop it.

Just about every­body has that one word that grates when­ever some­one mis­uses it. Maybe it’s “verses” (as in a song) in­stead of “ver­sus” (against). Or per­haps it’s “then” (im­ply­ing time) in­stead of “than” (com­par­i­son). Hear­ing or see­ing it can make your blood boil.

You might want to lash out, but don’t. It’s just not worth go­ing to jail. OK, maybe for “lit­er­ally” …

As­sis­tant Editor Brenda Looper is editor of the Voices page. Read her blog at blooper0223. word­press.com. Email her at blooper@arkansason­line.com.

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