Five O'Clock Somewhere

Welcome to Five O'Clock Somewhere, where it doesn't matter what time zone you're in; it's five o'clock somewhere. We'll look at rural life, especially as it happens in Rio Arriba County, New Mexico, cats, sailing (particularly Etchells racing yachts), and bits of grammar and Victorian poetry.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Grammar Moment: Misused Words

Say what you REALLY mean!

It’s been a while since my last Grammar Moment, and I know I have a few newcomers here, so a word of explanation is in order. In my day job, I’m a community-college English instructor, and from time to time I’ll take up a grammar issue to explain. Usually the inspiration comes from some incident or series of incidents in which I observe a pattern of lapses; I’ll also cover topics by request.

Today’s topic is misused words and phrases – when people use a word, intending one meaning, but the word they use has a different meaning, sometimes the opposite of what’s intended.

Take, for example, the word literally. It does NOT mean figuratively or virtually. It means actually or truly. Thus, one can not say, “We were all literally dead after running that marathon!” That would mean the local funeral home is doing a booming business, and the event organizers are in for a major lawsuit for failing to watch out for the well-being of participants.

Another often misused phrase is the lion’s share. It is frequently used to mean most. But that’s not the true meaning. If you go back to the original Aesopian fable, you will discover that the lion ended up with everything, and nobody else got anything. So if someone says, “Senator Foible got the lion’s share of the pork this session,” that means his constituents are going to be very happy, but the voters in all of the other districts have been shafted.

One can look to literature also for the true meaning of platonic. Many times someone will say something like, “Daphne and I have a strictly platonic relationship,” meaning they are “just friends.” Take a look at Phaedras, in which Plato describes the relationship, and you will see that there is more to it than being “just friends.” Between Phaedras, the student, and Socrates, the teacher, the relationship involves devotion, loyalty, passion – yes, love. The intensity is similar to that of a sexual relationship, but without the sex.

These are, of course, only a few examples. You’re all welcome to add your own favorite misuses to the list.


Anonymous Jerry said...

A good compilation of common errors can be found at Common Errors in English, maintained by Paul Brians, a professor at Washington State University.

Of course, with any such list, sometimes opinion comes into play. For instance, Mr. Brians lists the usage of "Lion's Share" to mean most in his non-error section, based on the ubiquity of the usage.

Fri May 12, 02:42:00 PM MDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, a woman once told me she was celibate. Come to find out, this meant she would sell a bit, and give the rest away.

Seems to me that American Society has much less emphasis on "proper" English than it used to.

Many border schools are only allowed to fail a student one time. We have a bunch of kids, graduating school, who can't even speak'n d' English. They're alright as long as they can sign their names on the welfare checks.

Fri May 12, 09:31:00 PM MDT  
Blogger Tillerman said...

I hate it when people misuse "decimate".

Sat May 13, 07:02:00 PM MDT  
Anonymous pL said...

God Blesst the Malapropism!

Tue May 16, 05:02:00 PM MDT  

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