THE TV SET — “The snow will hit further south, near Ree-FUGE-ee-oh.” I am told that a third to a half of all TV weather people are graduates of Mississippi State. Maybe there should be a course called Etymology 101 which would teach future forecasters how to be right 10 percent of the time with a chance of scattered screw ups. Refugio is tough, and so is Mexia and Nacogdoches, but would the students please be taught the difference in further and farther? Further is invisible and means going for more, as in: “Further studies are needed on this matter.” Farther is distance, measurable, going from here to Ree-FHUR-ee-oh.
While we’re at it, let’s clean up the English language. Do you know when and how to use whom? It is preferable in the past pluperfect nominative tense, which means only English graduates know how to speak the word properly. Example: “To whom do I have the pleasure of meeting? Welcome to Wal-Mart.” Abbott never asked Costello, “Whom’s on first?” Whom is one of those words we should toss out. Who is good enough for all cases. We no longer need wench, blackguard and the Sandwich Islands (Hawaii). Getting rid of unused and unneeded words is not new. We toss them all the time: whence and thence and shan’t. Our children have abandoned please and thank you. You probably haven’t used drollic lately. It means of or pertaining to puppet shows. Impigrity means quickness or speed which pigs are not — unless you include javelinas.
Here is a much-misused term. “Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein used poison gas against his own people!” When speaking of the Syrian civil war, every newscaster trots out: “Bashar al-Assad used chemical warfare against his own people!” No. They aren’t his own people and don’t want to be. This is like saying: “President Abraham Lincoln turned the world’s largest army against his own people.” Under Lincoln’s authority, between 258,000 and 490,309 (who’s counting?) Confederate soldiers died in that war and I’ll bet not one of them considered themselves Lincoln’s own people. Let my people go.
On Jan. 15, 1999, David Howard, a white aide to the black mayor of Washington, D.C., used “niggardly” in reference to a budget. The word is of Scandinavian origin and means stingy, miserly. Nevertheless, Howard was accused of racism and fired. If you “could care less” then you have not yet hit the bottom of your indifference. The term is, “I couldn’t care less.” How often do you use the word ethos? The late T.R. Fehrenbach used ethos quite often in his wonderful book, “Lone Star.” In Winston Churchill’s “History of the English Speaking People,” he liked to break out exhausted to describe every country after every war. No doubt that was true, but about 50 years into the Hundred Years War I became exhausted reading exhausted. Churchill did win the Nobel Prize for Literature, but whose side are you going to take? What’s the difference in flammable and inflammable? None. We all know the line about the opposites of pro is con. So what’s the opposite of progress? Shop worn, but true.
It’s probably been at least a week since you used the word ersatz. It means an artificial and inferior substitute or imitation, and every single story about Germany in WW II used “ersatz coffee” at least twice. Must have been required by the Gestapo. If you are not discrete are you crete? I have trouble using the word nonplussed — a state of perplexity, confusion, or bewilderment. If I know what’s happening am I plussed?
Preplanned is a useless word. Everything planned is preplanned. You may past-plan, but by then you’re too late. Yet preplanned is used constantly by people who don’t know better.
Naughty used to mean bad, up to no good, ugly. Shakespeare in “The Merchant of Venice”: “How far that little candle throws its beams! So shines a good deed in a naughty world.” Today we use naughty to describe a mischievous child. Erstwhile and penultimate have been savagely misused. Some people think erstwhile mean earnest or really into it. Not even close. Erstwhile means former, one-time or even long ago. Penultimate is not the ultimate of ultimate but quite the reverse, next to last place. I find it most annoying for someone to refer to himself or another as “one.” As in: “I should think one would know better.” Or: “When one makes such a decision…” The Brits can get away with it, but coming out of the mouth of Billy Bob or LeRoy it is an affectation. Does he like the colour of one’s boot in one’s lorry?
Do not say, write or think anything is literal or literally unless it actually happens. That’s what literally means, so don’t dilute the word by saying, “I was literally awash in frogs,” unless you can produce a photo of you awash in said frogs. This word gets so overused. “I was literally on pins and needles.” No you were not, nor were you literally at death’s door, nor is your hair literally on fire, unless you can smell the smoke.
It was the aforementioned W. Churchill who wrote, “Broadly speaking, the short words are the best, and the old words best of all.” The best are old, short words, like blood, sweat and tears. Of course, the quicker among us will point out that Churchill never said that. True, it gave a rock band its title, but what he actually said was, “I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears, and sweat.” Incidentally, Humphrey Bogart never said, “Play it again, Sam” in “Casablanca.” And more incidentally, Sam was played by Arthur “Dooley” Wilson who was from Tyler. He was a drummer and couldn’t play the piano, so you never see his hands.
It is clear that the farther one gets into the English language the more it colours one’s preplanning, but frankly I could care less.
Ashby mangles the language at firstname.lastname@example.org