Thursday, September 07, 2017

Words to annoy pedants with inconcise English


Ironic conflicting road signs
There are many ways English doesn't follow precise scientific style definitions.  Some English-speakers are annoyed by some of the inconsistencies and disorder of English words.  There are even some who take their annoyance out on others who don't see such a problem.  In this, there seems to be a movement of sorts that tries to bring some sort of hierarchical order to English words.  When people defy this attempt at order, they sometimes find themselves being attacked for their word choices.

I've talked about the phrase begs the question in a previous article.  Use of this phrase will trigger attacks by pedants.  There are specific words that elicit similar literary venom.  At the top of the list is ironical.

Ironical irony


There are many people that sincerely believe ironical is not a word, and that only ironic should be used in cases where irony is an adjective.  They will actually make fun of people that use the word ironical correctly.  I've used the term myself in an ironic sense, only to trigger people who don't understand the irony of being opposed to the use of the word ironical, and the double-irony that ironical is actually a real word, and the triple-irony that I used the word to make fun of something else (namely, being pedantic).

There was an episode on Seinfeld, where the character Seinfeld confidently declares there is no such word ironical.  I don't know if this started the hatred of the word, but it certainly popularized that hatred.

Another ironic fact about ironical is that it actually has a more concise definition than ironic.  Ironic has three distinct definitions, where ironical has two related definitions.

The word irony itself is also the subject to derision.  The definition of irony includes something being incongruous.  Yet, using irony in this manner can trigger pendants into criticising you.

Number game


Another example of people trying to bring order to disorder of the English language lies in the alternative terms for numbers.  Namely, couple, few, dozen, etc.  But, that's not good enough for some.  In some schools, kids are taught that there is a concise progression to these terms, where couple = 2, several = 3 and few = 4.

If you look up several in the dictionary, you'll if a variety of definitions that can vary between dictionaries.  Some dictionaries say that several means "more than 2 or 3", while others say it means "more than a few".  However, in all cases, several represents an "indefinitely small number".

If you look up few in the dictionary, you'll find that few doesn't actually represent any particular number at all in most definitions.  It doesn't mean "3 or 4" or just "4".  It simply means an "indefinitely small number", similar to several.

I've even heard some claim that the word some has a defined number of 2 or more, when in fact, some can refer to any number, large or small, including 1 or 1,000,000.

Orientation


Another word I've seen trigger people is orientate.  Orientate and orient both mean the same thing as verbs in most cases.  But, orient is also a noun.  Some people prefer to say orientate to identify the word as a verb since orientate has no noun meaning.  In other words, it's actually more concise to use the word orientate when talking about taking an action that will change the orientation of a thing.

Inflamed much?


Is it wrong to use the word inflammable when flammable means exactly the same thing?  Well, they both have the same definition, but for different reasons.  Root word for flammable is flame.  Flame is a noun.  However, inflame is the root word of inflammable.  Inflame is a verb.  And, inflammation is a noun with a completely different meaning than flame.  The word flammation is obsolete.  It meant to cause something to be set on fire.  What's the other word for that?  Oh, that's right, inflame.  So, technically, flammable should be the word we stop using if we were to choose between it and inflammable.  I wonder who would be inflamed by that?

What are some other words that bug someone you know?



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