Our Flabby Language IV

Picking up from last week: From Naked/Nude through Rollout/Runup:

  • Naked/Nude Pictures/Photographs. Are there any other kind? (I hereby pardon the late Rodney Dangerfield posthumously on this one, on grounds of comedic license and timing. “I was tired one night and I went to the bar to have a few drinks. The bartender asked me, ‘What’ll you have?’ I said, ‘Surprise me.’ He showed me a naked picture of my wife.”) The rest o’ yez—in the wagon!
  • Not far enough! Remember when the introductory phrase “as far as” never left home without the object of reference and “is concerned,” or the colloquial “goes”? These days, the hapless object that follows AFA is abandoned somewhere on the space-time continuum.
  • Oh, Balls. Today, “global” means everything but the state of being round. (“International,” “multinational,” and “worldwide” must be in the Federal Adjective Protection Program.) Last Election Day a woman whined about having to wait in line to vote. She gave her occupation as a “global resources allocator.” No wonder—she either had lots of places to be, or her rotundity affected her self-esteem.
  • Overtop. Yet more damage from Katrina/Rita—as in, “the Mississippi River is threatening to overtop the levees.” Sure hope I don’t overgo my credit card limit, Cooter. (Don’t mistake this for lack of respect for engineers. My old man was one and they’re entitled to their shorthand. We have an understanding—they build bridges and dams; English majors construct sentences and paragraphs.)
  • Pity! Lately, it seems “pitiable” is the all-purpose adjectival form. It means a lamentable or wretched person or thing. “Pitiful” is he who or that which excites pity or contempt. “Piteous” denotes evidence of suffering and misery, evoking pity. Take pity; pick the one that fits.
  • PosCompSuper. Does anybody understand the three degrees of separation in adjectives and adverbs anymore? As in:
  • “I have many woodpecker scalps.” (This be positive—one, only.)
  • “I have more woodpecker scalps than Hob.” (This be comparative—Hob and me; two, only.)
  • “I have the most woodpecker scalps in the gang.” (This be superlative—One above many, but at least three.)

Seriously, in this context it’s as easy as one-two-three. Maybe it’s the polysyllabic modifiers and the combination forms that lose folks—i.e., “happy,” “happier,” “happiest”—but they shouldn’t, since it’s only the irregulars (see above) that must be learned by rote. (In childhood, one of my younger siblings came up with the all-time champion: “morther worser.” Now, that’s seriously bad! We did outgrow its usage—except as a reunion weapon of torture.) There’s a serviceable summary of the whole shootin’ match here; if you require a higher level of entertainment to get it, get it here.


  • [Preposition] you and I/he/she/they.” Jimmy Breslin devoted an entire essay to this point, the upshot of which is anyone who says “between you and I” didn’t have the Sisters of Immaculate Usage in grammar school and consequently is not worth consorting with. All I can add is, subject equals first person and object or prepositional phrase equals third person. “Among you, me, and us, she, they, and I saw him, her, and them.” In cases of simple confusion or brain cramps, drop one or more and repeat to yourself before uttering, as in “Should [you and] her go to the store?” Whoever is listening will be grateful. Promise.
  • Presumptive.” As in, “…presumptive Democrat[ic] nominee John Kerry…” John Kerry may have been and may yet be presumptive, but it was the media who presumed—well in advance of any conclusive balloting, and presumably for our benefit—that he would be the nominee. (Maybe they used the former on purpose, so it’d be harder for us to trace the presumption back to them, their rank speculation, and their insufferable polls.) While we’re on the subject, the process is “democratic” on a bipartisan basis and the non-Democrat people are “Republican.” Why, then, do the GOP’s party and process remain “Republican” while the other side’s are referred to as “Democratic?”
  • Preventative.” If being imitive is the sincerest form of flattery, this usage is very inventative. (I know; like the huffy NPR researcher who responded to my e-mail, you can produce a dictionary entry in support of either. It’s a slippery slope, is my point. “Flammable” and “inflammable” are interchangeable, too; take pity on the poor, unsuspecting English language learner who’s used to dependabable language rules!)
  • Proactive.” Let’s play a little game, Johnny. Quick—what’s the antonym of this word? “Antiactive?” How about “Inactive?” What say we drop the feckless pursuit of faux importance and just stick with “active?”
  • Psych! “Psychic” means either the weird lady with the crystal ball or that which is mystical or paranormal—mostly, though, it’s become a gross substitute for “psychological.” While we’re here, “psychoanalyst” and “psychotherapist” are not synonyms; they keep both schools of attic disorders (Freud versus whomever) and practitioners (psychiatrists—M.D.s—versus psychologists—Ph.D.s or under) from crashing into one another. Check those labels against the fine print on the diploma; negotiate your hourly rate accordingly.
  • Purposely/Purposefully. Doing something on purpose is not the same as doing it purposefully. Think “I meant to” versus “I was super-motivated, Dude.”
  • Random inflation. Nouns and modifiers on steroids. “Atmosphere” has grown into “atmospherics;” “normal” has swollen to “normalcy;” “reason” is now “rationality,” and “dependence” has become “dependency.” (Ditto “competence” into “competency” and “residence” into “residency.”) “Delusional” is being elbowed aside by “delusionary.” To me, “amalgamation” is the act of throwing things together to make an amalgam, not a free substitute for that noun itself. How about “pretension” for “pretense,” wherein affectation or attitude becomes the state just before nervousness? Add these to the hod: “triumphalism” (for triumph); “incentivization” (for incentive). In the predicate nominative arena: “fantastical” (for fantastic); and “historical” (for historic). World War II was “historic,” and it had “historical” significance. See? As far as I’m concerned, “fantastical” is critical praise for a hillbilly staging of The Fantasticks. Here’s a winner: “fraudulence” (for fraud); this, from a venerated Los Angeles Times pundit. (“Others, maybe; not by me!” he hastened to add.) Sounds like a medical phrase for false farting to me.
  • Rollout“/”run-up.” More corporate-speak and screenplay journalese. Our new Code of Ethics rollout will be Friday; make sure to ship six pallets to Keokuk right away.” “In the run-up to the Iraq war…” “March-up,” maybe? These nouns should be left in American football (two words) and in athletics (that’s the international term for track and field—we wouldn’t want to bruise the egos of lesser but more celebrated American jocks) where they belong. Nouns do always sound better when they double as active verbs, don’t they? Yeah? Well, I didn’t get to vote on that.

Next Week: Rumspeak through Sufferin’Suffixes.

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