November 20, 2009

Vocabulary and all that other proper English stuff

I freely admit that I am a word freak. When the congressman shouted out "You lie!" at the President and it was called an admonishment, I was very angry. I could care less that he did it, but it was not an admonishment. A scold, maybe, but an admonishment is supposed to be a genteel way of letting someone know you disapprove.

When my husband first mentioned the word 'pummies', I was perplexed. I asked him what a 'pummy' was, and he said the word is 'pummies', there is no 'pummy', and it refers to what's left after sugar cane stalks are ground for the juice. Fair enough, but the word always bothered me, since there really can't be a plural form of a word unless there is a singular form. This year I finally managed to find where the word came from. It's a regionalization of the word 'pomace', which refers to the solid remains from fruit that has been pressed or ground for its juice, mispronounced as 'pummies' and used with incorrect grammar so it seemed to be plural, and now refers solely to the waste from sugar cane in this area. This misuse has been around since the late 1800s, and still isn't in the regular dictionary (thank God). That makes me want to start a movement to strike 'pummies' from the local vocabulary and reinstitute use of 'pomace', but I know I losing battle when I see one.

I have the websites for the Mirriam-Webster and Oxford dictionaries bookmarked. I put the complete Oxford English Dictionary on my Christmas list every year (no luck yet, but it is expensive). I own at least three general dictionaries and two specialized dictionaries (medical and musical). I have been known to end up reading the dictionary after using it to look up one word and either having another word catch my eye or continuing to look up words within the definition of the original or subsequent words. New words bother me. I don't care if they put them in the dictionary, there is rarely a need for a new word. 'Truthiness' for example, is unneccessary. There is nothing wrong with the word 'truthful' or, if you must, 'truthfulness'. Chances are that if a word has been made up or 'coined', there is another word or form of a word that will do just as well and has actually been used for a long time. If 'pummies' isn't in the dictionary after approximately 150 years of use, we can certainly do without 'truthiness', even if it has been made popular by the ignorant.

Words that are not words also bother me. 'w00t' can not be a word because it contains numbers. I honestly don't care if people debase themselves and their language base with such idiocy, or if they use such idiosyncrasies occasionally because it's appropriate in that situation, but do not presume to call it a 'word' in the true sense. Words are composed of letters, and letters only!

So, all of that said, please let it also be implied that 'all that other proper English stuff' refers to grammar, syntax, punctuation and the like. Misuse of the English language in any form bothers me, but if I go into those other areas this post will never end.

My point? Well, I'm not sure I have one, but I was reading an article about the top words of the past few years (as rated by Mirriam-Webster) and words that have been added to the dictionary and it made me mad, so I blogged. :)

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