Monday, March 9, 2009

Crazy English

First, thanks, Theresa, for Write or Die. It helped me get my quota done. :)

I'm theoretically on vacation, which means that I feel guilty when I work, and guilty when I don't work. The 21st Century is just that way.

But anyway, I bought some "seeded rye bread" and got to thinking about words that could logically mean different things. Like does "seeded" mean "with seeds" or "without seeds?" You know, "weeded" means without weeds, and "pitted" means without pits. But when a lawn is seeded, it means that it's got seeds. (The bread did have some seeds, but not many.)

Long ago, I worked on the history of a state's newspapers (it actually was pretty interesting), and we had to come up with a stylesheet for frequency of publication. Here are how newspapers described themselves:

Tri-weekly
Bi-monthly
Semi-weekly
Semi-monthly
Tri-monthly
Bi-weekly

Bi-weekly was used to mean that the newspaper was published twice a week. Or maybe it meant every two weeks. We decided to use bi-weekly" (two-week) to mean every two weeks, but then "tri-weekly" always meant three times a week, so.... (And don't even get me started on the whole hyphen issue-- several staff meetings held about that.)

We'd actually see all of those to mean every X weeks or X times a week/month, with no rhyme or reason.

I of course decided to punt, and said I would use "twice-weekly" and "thrice-weekly" and "every two months," etc., so that (I hoped) it would be clear, and you know, one man (or woman) can make a democracy, as someone once maybe said, and everyone meekly followed me (for the first and last time so far :).

So how would you use that? And what are some other examples of that sort of word-confusion? I remember when "inflammable" meant something you shouldn't light on fire because it was flammable. :)

Alicia

14 comments:

green_knight said...

These Americans are crazy. If you used the word 'fortnight' the confusion would never have happened...

I think the most confusing term is tabling a motion, but that's a US/British thing - same phrase, opposite meanings.

Murphy said...

green knight: ‘these Americans are crazy’, eh? Well, I would like to take exception here (cause I’m one of them) but darn, I happen to agree with you over the word 'fortnight'. Such a dilemma! I know, as I read your comment I will simple do as I do when I travel to Europe. I’ll pretend I’m Canadian and then agreeing with you will make sense, right....or should I say, eh?:)

As for Alicia’s question, what about 'Cleave' - could mean separate or adhere. 'Handicap' - advantage or disadvantage or 'sanction' - approve or boycott?

Edittorrent said...

Cleave is a good one!

GK, I didn't know "tabling a motion" had two meanings.
I also recently found out that there are two interpretations of "begging the question".

Fortnightly?

But then what if you published twice a week? Twice-weekly, I guess.
Alicia

Adrian said...

If you're on a long car trip, you can tell the driver "I need to stop" or "I need to go". They mean the same thing.

Murphy said...

Here's me blushing (insert pink cheeks here) I missed the irony first time around with English, itself -- meaning language or people. Certainly can't do that with American!

What about wind, tear, rerun or object?

Fortnightly? It could work. Hey, I'm still pulling for 'closen'.:D

Jolie said...

My boss just asked me ("the office English major") yesterday about how "bi-weekly" should be used. I hated not having a clear answer for him. I just told him to abandon that word altogether and say "twice a week" or "every two weeks."

Edittorrent said...

Jolie, that's what I say. If we're not sure, the reader won't be sure either.
Alicia

em said...

How about half of a fortnight? or twice in a fortnight? And what are the two interpretations of 'begging the question'? Did I miss something. What's 'closen'?

Cathy in AK said...

Does the fact you drive on a parkway and park on a driveway fall into this category?

Edittorrent said...

Cathy, that is really true. :)
Alicia

Murphy said...

'Closen' is an 'Aliciaism'. Unlike like 'fortnightly' which is actually a word.:P

And another word regarding the original subject of this post. What about prone?

Edittorrent said...

Murphy, do you mean "he is lying prone on the ground," and "he is prone to bad judgements?"

Alicia

Murphy said...

Yup, that's me straying from the topic slightly as I am 'prone' to hop on your blog when I can't seem to put my nose to the grindstone. So, sorry, kind of making it up as I go along. I didn't think anyone was paying attention:) If you hadn’t asked though, I was going to mention the word‘irregardless’. What’s up with people who use that word? And what does it mean exactly. That one is without -without regard? Man, I have to get back to work. YIKES!!! I think #queryfail has corrupted me.:(

Edittorrent said...

I remember some anchorman shamefacedly reading a not-fan letter taking him to task for saying, "Irregardless..."

I think it's a lot like "I could care less,"-- the opposite of what the real term is.
Alicia