Showing posts with label Language. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Language. Show all posts

Friday, December 25, 2020

Do And Die, not Do or Die - common misquote

The poem by Lord Alfred Tennyson called The Charge of the Light Brigade is often misquoted.  Lines 14 and 15 are commonly verbalize as "Ours is not to ask why, but to do or die", or something similar.  The key here is that a choice is present; "do or die".  In other words, we follow our orders or be will held accountable.  Or perhaps, do or die trying.

However, within the actual poem (below), such a choice never is present.  The lines are actually "Theirs not to reason why, theirs but to do and die".  The soldiers of the poem never question their order, even though the order is clearly erroneous.  For these soldiers, these six hundred brigaders, a choice is never even in their thoughts.  They would ride headlong into cannon fire, being cut to pieces, while knowing there was no hope of success nor life afterwards.  

When one applies this poem to one's own situation, the phrase "do and die" is far more powerful, potent and critical.  No choice is available, even though the required action surely leads to failure.  In this regard, one might be unintentionally critiquing their orders as folly.

Of course, the poem is poetic. Though the poem does mention some survivors, it romanticizes the sacrifice of the brigade on the whole.  In reality, many of the soldiers survived.  Further, history has characterised the order to charge as a misunderstanding or miscommunication.  However, the order being a mistake of some sort is not undermined by the fact that some brigaders survived.  The Light Brigade was decimated in their charge of the cannons, and that decimation was obviously inevitable. 

The Charge of the Light Brigade

Half a league, half a league,
Half a league onward,
All in the valley of Death
   Rode the six hundred.
“Forward, the Light Brigade!
Charge for the guns!” he said.
Into the valley of Death
   Rode the six hundred.

“Forward, the Light Brigade!”
Was there a man dismayed?
Not though the soldier knew
   Someone had blundered.
   Theirs not to make reply,
   Theirs not to reason why,
   Theirs but to do and die.
   Into the valley of Death
   Rode the six hundred.

Cannon to right of them,
Cannon to left of them,
Cannon in front of them
   Volleyed and thundered;
Stormed at with shot and shell,
Boldly they rode and well,
Into the jaws of Death,
Into the mouth of hell
   Rode the six hundred.

Flashed all their sabres bare,
Flashed as they turned in air
Sabring the gunners there,
Charging an army, while
   All the world wondered.
Plunged in the battery-smoke
Right through the line they broke;
Cossack and Russian
Reeled from the sabre stroke
   Shattered and sundered.
Then they rode back, but not
   Not the six hundred.

Cannon to right of them,
Cannon to left of them,
Cannon behind them
   Volleyed and thundered;
Stormed at with shot and shell,
While horse and hero fell.
They that had fought so well
Came through the jaws of Death,
Back from the mouth of hell,
All that was left of them,
   Left of six hundred.

When can their glory fade?
O the wild charge they made!
   All the world wondered.
Honour the charge they made!
Honour the Light Brigade,
   Noble six hundred!

Thursday, July 04, 2019

Ironical is a real word! Didn't know that? Yeah, you aren't alone.



[ ahy-ron-ik ]

adjective; from 1620's

  1. using words to convey a meaning that is the opposite of its literal meaning; containing or exemplifying irony
  2. of, relating to, or tending to use irony or mockery; ironical
  3. coincidental; unexpected


[ ahy-ron-i-kuhl ]

adjective; first recorded in 1570's

  1. pertaining to, of the nature of, exhibiting, or characterized by irony or mockery
  2. using or prone to irony

Saturday, December 01, 2018

Plural of the word "Octopus"? "Octopodes" of course! Well, kinda.

via Instagram

Plural of the word "Octopus"? "Octopodes" of course! Well, kinda. Most people just say "Octopuses" and some others say "Octopi". Apparently, "Octopus" isof Greek origin, so use of "i" is supposedly incorrect, but "-odes" is correct. In English, we just add "-es" like everything else that ends in "-s". So, "Octopuses" it is!!!

Cacti, Cactuses and Cactus are all correct as plural for the word "Cactus". Same is not true for the word "Octopus".

via Instagram

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, just because others don't see a problem.  In this, there is movement that tries to bring hierarchical order to English.  When people defy this attempt for order, they can 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 find 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.


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?

Wednesday, March 08, 2017

Is it really Frankenstein's Monster?

Frankenstein comicIs the term really "Frankenstein's Monster" rather than just "Frankenstein" when talking about the monster?  How often has the term "Frankenstein's Monster" really appeared anywhere?   Why is there confusion about the monster's name?  Well, that's because he isn't actually given a proper name in the original story by Mary Shelley.

Without much context, a quick search on Google ngram reveals that the term "Frankenstein's Monster" does indeed show up in literature.  However, going back to 1800 finds that the term really didn't get started until well after 1870. Beyond that, the term wasn't really in use until the 1960's. Just for reference, the Frankenstein book was originally published in 1818.

So, what do we get when we compare the usage of the term "Frankenstein's Monster" with usage of just the name "Frankenstein"?

Well, usage of "Frankenstein" does occur well before 1818.  That makes sense since it is a real surname.  However, taking pre-1818 use of the name as noise, there is still substantial use of the term "Frankenstein" from 1818 and on.  "Frankenstein" appears so often that it literally relegates the use of "Frankenstein's Monster" to well below that of background noise.  Usage of "Frankenstein's Monster" is less than a blip, even nowadays.

Beyond that, is the distinction between the mad scientist and his monster really all that important, namewise?  If we count the monster as the scientist's child in a manner of speaking, the monster would carry the scientist's surname anyway.  Both the monster and the scientist carry the name "Frankenstein".  Maybe instead of trying to impose a ill-accepted term like "Frankenstein's Monster", we simply use the term "Dr. Frankenstein" for the mad scientist and "Frankenstein" for the monster.

"Dr. Frankenstein" appears orders-of-magnitude more often than "Frankenstein's Monster".  And, it's a bit more of a blip when compared to just "Frankenstein".