Thursday, August 11, 2016

Writers Are About Words (and That Makes Me Think) by Karla Stover




    
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Every once in a while I give pause over something—generally something trite, for example, the word, “nonplussed.”  Its original Latin definition was “no more or no further.” The meaning then changed to, a state of bewilderment and now means unimpressed. That change isn’t what bothers me, though. What really gets me is that the “non” implies that a person can be “plussed” which they can’t because there’s no such word—or condition.
     Inchoate is another puzzler, though less so because it is possible to be “choate.” Oliver Wendell Holmes used the word, “choate” in 1878 but I wonder if anyone has used it since then.  Anyway, inchoate means either the beginning of something, or to begin something, and choate means whatever was begun is complete.  Mostly the word is used by lawyers.
     Which brings me to “short-shrift.” A “shrift” is a confession to a priest, a penance imposed, or absolution of sins after a confession; “short-shrift” means, little or no attention was given. I’ve never seen or heard the word, “shrift” used.
     The use of “real people” on some (dare I say) reality commercials insults me. “Real” as opposed to what? Is there such a thing as an unreal person? Is that what zombies, vampires or werewolves are? Of course, I know the advertisers mean the unreal people are those who are stars in their fields—athletes, actors, etc. The implication being they’re so far above the rest of us that they aren’t “real?” What are they, then? Inhabitants of Mount Olympus, home to the Gods? I have a hard enough time with male actors, as it is. Actor Paul Giamatti said it best. “Acting can be a really silly thing. It's like playing dress-up.” No “like” about it; acting is dressing up and pretending to be someone else.
     And one last interesting thing. When I belonged to Toast Masters, we counted the number of fillers people used in their talks—such as, er, um, and erm. A synonym to these is, “you know.” “You know” has invaded the English language. All four of them are mimetics—sounds of hesitation.
     Please, someone, make them go away.