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Sunday, August 9, 2020

A PRIG CAVILS

Each of us reacts in his or her own way to the isolation imposed by the virus. Some of us gain weight, others lose weight. Some sleep too much, others can't sleep. My reaction is to become more than ordinarily obsessed with the misuses of language that I must put up with as I endlessly watch cable news political commentary. I know I am being fussy, I know I am a prig about these things, but I just can't help it, they bug me.

It drives me wild when a cable news host, reaching for an important word to puff up a banal observation, describe someone as having given fulsome praise to something or other, oblivious of the real meaning of the word "fulsome." Lately, I have been driven crazy by the almost universal misuse of  modal terminology as a device for hedging what would otherwise be a gratifyingly strong judgment. Wanting to say the Trump has lied but not able to just come out and say it, some commentators will say that what Trump proclaimed was "potentially" contrary to the facts. "Necessarily" plays a similar role in the mindless discourse of the bloviating class.

I know, I know. Language is constantly changing, there is no such thing as standard English save in the minds of Webster and Roget and their ilk. I have many times watched YouTube clips of Noam Chomsky explaining precisely this fact. What charms me most about Noam's explanations is that they are always delivered in absolutely perfect standard English of the sort that he is explaining does not exist. Noam never utters an incomplete sentence. He never says "um" or "er" or "ah" or "like" or "sorta."

When I grow up, if I ever do, I want to be, like, Noam.

8 comments:

David Palmeter said...

I am, l mean, like I'm with you. Know what I mean?

DDA said...

Unless you're specially trained you are probably not noticing some of Noam's ummms, etc.

Adam said...

This is from dictionary.com

USAGE NOTE FOR FULSOME
In the 13th century when it was first used, fulsome meant simply “abundant or copious.” It later developed additional senses of “offensive, gross” and “disgusting, sickening,” probably by association with foul, and still later a sense of excessiveness: a fulsome disease; a fulsome meal, replete with too much of everything. For some centuries fulsome was used exclusively, or nearly so, with these unfavorable meanings.
Today, both fulsome and fulsomely are also used in senses closer to the original one: The sparse language of the new Prayer Book contrasts with the fulsome language of Cranmer's Book of Common Prayer. Later they discussed the topic more fulsomely. These uses are often criticized on the grounds that fulsome must always retain its connotations of “excessive” or “offensive.” The common phrase fulsome praise is thus sometimes ambiguous in modern use.

Anonymous said...

The Secretary of the Navy seems to think that fulsome means full, complete, and things like that. The Washington Post should have put a [sic] after the word in its article quoting him, back in April. Anyway, here’s the quotation from this guy, who is probably full of something:
‘“This investigation will build on the good work of the initial inquiry to provide a more fulsome understanding of the sequence of events, actions, and decisions of the chain of command surrounding the COVID-19 outbreak aboard USS Theodore Roosevelt,” McPherson said in a statement.’

marcel proust said...

Forward to my comment: I will tell the story below using the word "hopefully" which is how I remember it. However, looking it up in both the OED and in Fowler's I do not find what I am looking for, so it must have been another, similarly abused word. It does not matter precisely which word it was, the point is much the same.

My parents (born in the mid 1920s) had tendencies similar to our host. I grew up hearing -- over and over and over -- about the colloquial mis-use of the word "hopefully".* In the early 1990s I noticed in either Fowler's 2nd edition or the OED that examples of the colloquial usage could be traced back to the 16th century. Feeling mischievous, I pointed this out to my father. Without missing a beat he responded "They did not know how to spell back then either."

Touche, Anonymous. But I stand with RPW & my father: if you think that they did not know how to spell correctly in the 16th C, boy was their spelling off in the 13th!

So now, what about "presently"?


*For the uninitiated, likely few and far between among readers of this blog, the colloquial usage or meaning is "I hope that" as in "Hopefully x will do y". The correct, aka traditional, usage or meaning is "x will be hopeful while doing y" or "x will do y in a hopeful manner".



PS: I was about to object of -- no I mean object to -- to the usage "oblivious of", when I googled, and found this.

Eric C said...

@DDA Good one! ;-)

I think I'm now going to be afraid of posting comments here, for fear of butchering the language. (Funny that I don't worry so much about saying something stupid. lol)

I tend to be pretty forgiving when listening to political commentators speaking extemporaneously, or when reading comments in informal discussion platforms like Twitter. The one sin that drives me nuts, though, is the hypercorrection of using the subjective pronoun "I" in situations that call for the objective "me" (eg, "But for Harry and I, you know my grandmother and my father believed that we were better served and better off out in Balmoral..."). In the past few years I've been noticing people making this error more and more. I can't tell whether it's because this usage is occurring more frequently or I am just becoming more pedantic as I get older.

Mazen said...

mmmeee toooo. NC & RPW are he best refutation of ageism.
Recent NC interview on Israel/Palestine (just awesome):
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HfG5IyMc89w&feature=youtu.be&t=1386

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