Conundrum is dumb

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.

AP’s latest revelation makes copy editors cry like little girls

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]

And if you can’t believe the dictionary, how about language hero Bryan Garner?

“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.

Copy editors riot after the Associated Press announced on Thursday that it no longer sees value in enforcing the imaginary distinction between “over” and “more than.” Many protesters wore helmets of bread because most copy editors cannot afford actual riot gear.

 

 

Ever read something so good you’re angry because someone else wrote it?

Yes, well, that’s where I am with this post by Kory Stamper, whose blog I found today somehow.

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?

That’s all. Carry on.

The language of Abraham Lincoln

I got to see Steven Spielberg’s “Lincoln” recently, and it was a dazzling film. Daniel Day-Lewis, of course, was incredible, but he had a great script to work with. Screenwriter Tony Kushner really nailed it. Ben Zimmer at the Boston Globe writes about how Kushner pulled it off:

One key to making the language historically suitable, he told me, was having the 20-volume print edition of the Oxford English Dictionary close at hand. A complete set of the OED—which includes deep histories of all its entry words, with examples—was one of his first purchases when he started earning money from his 1993 Pulitzer Prize-winning Broadway play, “Angels in America,” Kushner said. Through the many drafts of “Lincoln,” he checked every word that he thought might not have been appropriate for 1865.

The 20-volume OED is about $1,300, by the way. But the dialogue in “Lincoln” really is a treat to listen to, so I’d say it was money well-spent. And Tommy Lee Jones’ character (Thaddeus Stevens) has some especially good lines. Well-done, Mr. Kushner. Very impressive work. I am a little disappointed, though, that grousle isn’t a word anywhere.

And, again, Daniel Day-Lewis’ performance was flawless — and surprising. Add to the long (and getting longer) list of things I did not know: Abraham Lincoln apparently had a high-pitched voice. Not high-pitched like a woman or a crying cat, but higher than what you’d expect coming from such a large man — in stature and presence. Civil War scholar Harold Holzer wrote last year at Smithsonian.com about what Lincoln might have sounded like:

When Holzer was researching his 2004 book Lincoln at Cooper Union, he noticed an interesting consistency in the accounts of those who attended Lincoln’s speaking tour in February and March 1860. “They all seem to say, for the first ten minutes I couldn’t believe the way he looked, the way he sounded, his accent. But after ten minutes, the flash of his eyes, the ease of his presentation overcame all doubts, and I was enraptured,” says Holzer.

Same with Daniel Day-Lewis. After about 10 minutes, the incongruous voice starts to make sense and it just becomes part of the character.


Here’s an interview where Daniel Day-Lewis talks about finding the voice he used.


The trailer for Steven Spielberg’s “Lincoln.”


Tommy Lee Jones using words as weapons in “Lincoln.”

Of course the very best Daniel Day-Lewis character ever is Bill the Butcher in “Gangs of New York.” So here’s a clip from that movie for no reason at all. Enjoy.

Nothingburger. With cheese.

I keep coming across words I’ve never heard before. Have I been living in a cave? Seriously.

Today’s great discovery is nothingburger. Mary Matalin, the Republican strategist probably best known for being married to the odd-looking Democratic strategist James Carville, said it during a show on CNN. I don’t know what she was talking about because I wasn’t really paying attention. But nothingburger jumped out at me.

From Urban Dictionary: Nothingburger: something lame, dead-end, a dud, insignificant; especially something with high expectations that turns out to be average, pathetic, or overhyped. “Much to the team’s dismay, the number one pick in this year’s draft turned out to be a nothingburger.”

An embarrassing discovery

I was shocked to discover recently that the word pub is short for public house. How did I not know this?

I was watching the delightful “Downton Abbey” when Lord Grantham learns that his former valet (in the show, pronounced with a hard T — huh?) is working in a “public house.” Public house? Public house = pub? Oh, wow. Of course it makes perfect sense now.

Reminds me of that time when I was, oh, probably about 6 or so, that I saw a blacksmith working at the Silver Dollar City theme park in Missouri and realized that an anvil was a real item. Up until then, I thought it was just a symbolic heavy thing cartoon characters dropped on each other.

Wonder what else is out there that I don’t know. Scary.

Cheers.

A real thing, apparently.