Our Flabby Language III

Picking up from last week: Holy Macro! through Muscular:

  • Holy Macro! And Micro-management. I’ve heard three recent NPR reports that are a puzzlement. The first was about buying songs downloaded from the Internet and the second profiled a Tahitian choir; respectively, they featured the words “micropayment” (i.e., less than a dollar) and “microtonal” (i.e.—Uh, I have no idea). In the second instance, the reference was apparently to the choral segments where the harmonies would cease and a single voice would sing an extended, unvarying note. The projection and volume may have softened, but that wasn’t clear from the broadcast. Overall, Melissa Block referred to the choir’s output as “big sound.” The latest was an exposition of “microhistories”—explained as chronicles of one thing only, like Salt: A World History by Mark Kurlansky. (Not to be confused with “History of Salt,” the pretty good propaganda page on the Salt Institute’s web site.) Help me out here; does this appellation mean that the volume is uncharacteristically small, or that the guy cut corners and served up something incomplete? (“At some point, Columbus sailed the ocean blue; you’re gonna have to come up with the date from some other source.”) This jargonistic shorthand may impress somebody, but what’s the point if it swerves understanding? All I got out of them was images of tiny hands and currency, Munchkin voices on helium, and half a boat. Final point: “macro” and “micro” have limited utility as prefixes; anyone who uses them as nouns or stand-alone modifiers should be flogged with really, really macro whips.
  • Hurry, Sundown! Does any circumstance or insight arrive any earlier than “at the end of the day?” How would you know?
  • Instinctual. Where in Hell did this one come from? I have to admit, it’s distinctual.
  • Irregardless.” Uh-uh. Nope. Sorry.
  • Islamist. What in the name of all that is holy is this supposed to mean? Are “Coalition of the Willing” troops who aren’t Jewish “Christists?” (As matters have developed, “Crusaders” is probably apt.) Was Timothy McVeigh a “Christian” terrorist bomber? Instead of slandering a perfectly good religion and the vast majority of its believers who understand that it decries violence, why don’t we just call everyone in the region who doesn’t resemble or agree with us “wogs” or “infidels,” like our imperial forebears, and have done with it?


  • “Jiggers—it’s ‘ness!” For wholesale invention, aural assault, and brain-scrambling effect, this category has no equal. What you do is, take one or more words that are modifiers, add the suffix “ness,” and—Presto!—a new categorical noun. Some of the more dizzying, from my collection: “hurriedness;” “notallrightedness;” “upanddownedness.” Foolishness.
  • Less/Fewer. See amount/number; same deal. People, calories, and grocery items come in distinct units; hence, they are “fewer” in number. That which is voluminous or amorphous is “less” – including functions or sums of measures or units, such as dollars, feet, percent, etc. “These days, it is less likely that the number of people in the ’15 Items or Fewer’ line at checkout will have fewer than 20, let alone 15.”
  • “Lie/Lay.” Okay—this is easy; I remember this one verbatim. “To ‘lie’ is to rest or recline; to ‘lay’ is to put or place.” Even if she can’t, a hen may want to lie down to rest after she lays her eggs. (Come, let us conjugate together: “lie-lay-lain; lay-laid-laid.” Can’t stop! Amo-amas-amat; amamus-amantis-amant!” Whew! Kids, that was an archaic reference to learning a dead language that is useful for understanding the roots of Romance language words… Oh, never mind.)
  • Lose/Loose. The first means to misplace; the second is an antonym of “tight.” (“Is your chapeau too tight, Toulouse, or too loose? You didn’t lose it, did you? Alors!”) You do not “loose” weight—unless, I guess, you’re busy performing liposuction on someone. (I apologize sincerely for leaving you that image.)
  • Make me sick! Come indoors – here’s one I have trouble with. According to the Oxford English Dictionary online, “nauseated” means “easily nauseated or disgusted.” “Nauseous,” on the other hand, is defined as “affected with [or] causing nausea.” But here’s a usage note from Bartleby.com, verbatim:

“Traditional critics have insisted that nauseous is properly used only to mean “causing nausea” and that it is incorrect to use it to mean “affected with nausea,” as in Roller coasters make me nauseous. In this example, nauseated is preferred by 72 percent of the Usage Panel. Curiously, though, 88 percent of the Panelists prefer using nauseating in the sentence The children looked a little green from too many candy apples and nauseating (not nauseous) rides. Since there is a lot of evidence to show that nauseous is widely used to mean “feeling sick,” it appears that people use nauseous mainly in the sense in which it is considered incorrect. In its “correct” sense it is being supplanted by nauseating.”

I say again – ain’t English wonderful? (See awesome.)

  • Make sure. Patent, valueless sentence inflation. “Our job is to make sure that the kumquat import tariff is equitable.” The implication is vigilance without real responsibility. “We’re watchin’ to make sure that whoever is required to do something about that there tariff does what’s required—whatever that is.” (I’m old-fashioned in this regard, anyway—for me, when used correctly the phrase is “make certain.”) Especially powerful when married to “We need to.” (Every wage slave knows what that means. When the pointy-haired boss says, “We need to…” it means, “You’re stayin’ late, Dilbert.”) “We need to make sure that…” Gosh. Dripping with apparent and urgent authority, without a shred of accountability. Akin to disarming a bomb by jabbing at the air with a stick—a block away.
  • “Mister/Madam Chair.” Next door to PC lives GN—Gender Neutrality. Why? People are not furniture and furniture don’t run meetings. What’s wrong with “Mister Chairman” and “Madam Chairwoman?”
  • Morph me, man.” A corruption of metamorphose, this really needs to be altered. If you’re looking for a truly dressy word, try the original, or perhaps “transmogrify.” Semiformal is “transform;” for casual Fridays, may we suggest “change?” If you’re trying to excite the ol’ synapses, how about “contort” or “distort?”
  • Muscular.” Have you noticed that this adjective—which is as powerful in pronunciation as in definition—is being used in every but its true, physiological sense? Everything from attitude to speech has become “muscular.” Aaagghhhh. (See also robust.)

Next Week: Naked/Nude through Rollout/Runup

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