I don’t usually indulge in peevery, but I’m making an exception here.
Just a small fraction came up at work the other day, and I removed the word small, which created strife between me and the writer. A discussion ensued in which he said he wanted small reinserted because nine-tenths is technically a fraction and he was emphasizing the smallness. Without small, how would the reader know what he meant?
Yes, it’s true that nine-tenths is a fraction. And yes, one could truthfully say that a Bugatti Veyron, at $3.5 million, is a fraction of the cost of the $4 million Lamborghini Veneno. But you wouldn’t. You would never say that.
It would be a dumb thing to say because the idiom just a fraction means a very small amount. See how small is built in there? This is what I’m talking about. There’s your technical, mathematical fraction (three-fifths, etc.) and then there’s your idiom, in which the word fraction means a very small amount.
a small part, amount, degree, etc.; portion
Anyway, I don’t care about who/whom or begs the question, and I’m learning to live with due to/because of. But a small fraction still gets to me a little.
Aw, man. Get this: I’m at work, and a writer used conundrum in a way that didn’t feel right, so I looked it up.
co·nun·drum: noun. 1. : a riddle whose answer is or involves a pun.
What?! You have got to be kidding me. Since when? So add this to the getting-longer-every-day list of things I didn’t know, I guess, but it needs an asterisk, because come on. This is really so common a thing that it needs its own definition? I had to look up the definition again to find an example of such a thing.
What’s the difference between a jeweler and a jailer? One sells watches and the other watches cells.
Hurrr. Lame. How is this even a thing, people? Very disappointed in English today.
Pretty disappointed today in my editing brethren after the Associated Press’ bombshell that it will no longer make the distinction between more than and over.
If Facebook and Twitter are any indication, the AP ruined many lives yesterday and copy editors nationwide are in full revolt. The language world is in chaos.
But here’s the thing: Over means more than. It always has. Look:
o•ver (ō´vər) prep. [[ME ouer < OE ofer, akin to Ger über, ober < IE *uper (orig. a compar. of *upo, up) > L super, Gr hyper]]: More than, or above, in degree, amount, number, etc. [a moderate increase over his current salary, a gift costing over five dollars]
“In one of its uses, the prepositional over is interchangeable with more than <over 600 people were there>—and this has been so for more than 600 years. The charge that over is inferior to more than is a baseless crotchet.” — Garner’s Modern American Usage
It seems to me that editors and others who are supposed to enjoy language should be impressed by over‘s versatility and appreciate that it can do so much (I’m over it; hand it over; he was over the line; discussed over drinks; ad infinitum). I also wonder where all of our copy editors ever got the idea that words can do only one thing. How limiting.
The sooner we can stop blindly following arbitrary and meaningless rules and editing like robots, the sooner we can get back to the business of clarity and common sense. For the record, I don’t think much of the distinctions between over and during; like and such as; or since and because, either.
“I like to write things the right way,” said Pierre Gervais, the longtime equipment manager in charge of putting name bars on the Canadiens’ uniforms.
General Manager Marc Bergevin signed off on the idea, and voilà, linguistic sports history was made. Montreal is the first N.H.L. club to have a policy of rendering players’ names accurately on their uniforms.
Seems like a no-brainer: “rendering players’ names accurately.” Gervais says that the reason they never did it before was because the cloth that the names are sewn onto was too narrow, as though cloth comes in only one size and can never be made differently. But now, with technology, cloth comes in many sizes! Lame excuse, Pierre.
Gervais said the accents were made possible by technology. Until recently, the strip of cloth for name bars was too shallow.
At any rate, I’m glad that Montreal is the first team to do it.
Most sports fans have a favorite team and a backup. Sometimes the backup team’s from a favorite city. Or maybe if your favorite team is in the Eastern Conference, for example, you’ll have a backup in the Western Conference.
For many years, the Toronto Maple Leafs were my backup hockey team, No. 2 behind the Montreal Canadiens. Why Toronto? Good question. Thanks for asking. To be honest, I didn’t put a whole lot of thought into it. I liked that they were in Canada, because that seemed right for hockey. I liked, too, that they were part of the Original Six NHL teams, so they had a great deal of history. Also, and probably most important, I liked their colors: blue and white. Classic.
It occurred to me more than once that Leafs didn’t sound quite right, and I wondered why they weren’t the Toronto Maple Leaves (which also doesn’t sound quite right). Turns out there is an answer. Maple Leafs is a class of word similar to still life, leadfoot, low-life, and Walkman. What Steven Pinker calls headlessness in his outstanding book The Language Instinct: How the Mind Creates Language.
A headless word is an exceptional item that, for one reason or another, differs in some property from its rightmost element, the one it would be based on if it were like ordinary words. A simple example of a headless word is a low-life—not a kind of life at all but a kind of person, namely one who leads a low life. …
As for the Maple Leafs, the noun being pluralized is not leaf, the unit of foliage, but a noun based on the name Maple Leaf, Canada’s national symbol. A name is not the same thing as a noun. … Therefore the noun a Maple Leaf (referring to, say, the goalie) must be headless, because it is a noun based on a word that is not a noun. And a noun that goes not get its nounhood from one of its components cannot get an irregular plural from that component either; hence it defaults to the regular form Maple Leafs. … Indeed, the explanation apples to all nouns based on names:
I’m sick of dealing with all the Mickey Mouses in this administration [not Mickey Mice]
Hollywood has been relying on movies based on comic book heroes and their sequels, like the three Supermans and the two Batmans [not Supermen and Batmen]
We’re having Julia Child and her husband over for dinner tonight. You know, the Childs are great cooks. [not the Children]
This all makes sense to me, and I approve. At any rate, now that I live in Chicago, I’ve moved Toronto down to No. 3 and promoted the Blackhawks to the backup spot. Sorry, Leafs. Don’t take it personally.
Just the other day, I was singing the praises of the clever wordplay Jagermeister unleashed in its new ad campaign, and it was so inspiring that I decided to pay more attention to the good things in life and initiate a regular Words Used Well feature here at the personal blog.
But now I see that Jagermeister’s ad campaign includes this horrible thing:
So nevermind. For the We Hours was subtle and clever. But Chillinois is terrible. It’s too easy, and like Jagermeister itself, it’s just a little too much. A little obvious. Reminds me of all the bad Tiger Woods headlines I’ve seen in the world (Tiger Claws Back to Win Something) or the awful Barktober Sales Events at pet stores every fall.
It’s a good lesson, though: It’s hard to use words well. Noted, Jagermeister. Noted. Luckily, this ad is limited to only this state and maybe Chillaska!
And again, Jagermeister lured me in, then disappointed me. This time, though, no hangover and no story I need to make up about where I’ve been all night or why I’m wearing a prom dress.
I don’t drink Jagermeister anymore, mostly because nothing good ever happened to me when I was drinking Jagermeister. And also because I’m not 20 years old.
But I saw a great Jagermeister ad the other day on a taxi sign: A festive scene with the words For the we hours.
Nice. And while it didn’t make me want to take a shot, I appreciated the wordplay, and it made my morning commute slightly less tedious.
It occurred to me, too, that as a copy editor, it’s possible that I can be a little too critical. We notice things that are wrong or terrible (I’m looking at you, Chevy and your awful Malibooya ad), and we point them out probably far too often than we need to.
So I want to start acknowledging Words Used Well, an appreciation for the sublime moments in our language instead of the constant snark about its misuse. I hope to pay attention and notice the good things more.
UPDATE! I found the Jagermeister ad on an El platform.
The Streisand effect is the phenomenon whereby an attempt to hide, remove, or censor a piece of information has the unintended consequence of publicizing the information more widely, usually facilitated by the Internet. It is named after American entertainer Barbra Streisand, whose attempt in 2003 to suppress photographs of her residence in Malibu, California, inadvertently generated further publicity.
Reminds me of how Beyonce’s publicists wanted to somehow remove from the Internet those “unflattering” Super Bowl pictures that would have faded into obscurity had her team not given them so much attention. Poor Beyonce.
And poor me for not knowing what the Streisand Effect was all this time I’ve been alive. I could have used it in conversation and seemed smart to someone.
I know you’re surprised that I would ever be angry about anything, but whatever. She wrote something awesome, so I’m sharing it even though I resent her.
Let’s say that you feel, despite the evidence I may put in front of you, that “decimate” should not be used to refer to utterly destroying something. That’s fine, assuming you’ve gone through Steps 1-5 above. But before you move in to correct the next guy who uses “decimate” to mean “to utterly destroy,” consider: is this the hill you want to die on? Do you want your legacy in life to be “That One Person Who Bitched Endlessly About ‘Decimate’”? Are you happy with a life that will be beset by smart-asses like me asking why, if you are so interested in so-called etymological purity, you aren’t also tackling “nice” and “frankfurter” and holy hell half the month names of the Gregorian calendar?