harm·less drudg·ery

Dear Language Peever:

Welcome to harm•less drudg•ery! You are here because you googled something like “literally killed English” or “different than is wrong” or “irregardless not a word.” Allow me to introduce myself: I’m that lady from the dictionary that made that stupid video about “irregardless.” Behold: I am a dread descriptivist.

Before you stomp off in a fit of pique, hear me out (if only because I used the right “pique”). Many people assume you and I are on different sides of the Great Grammar Debate–in fact, you probably assume this–but we have much in common. We are both carbon-based life forms with an Internet connection, and we both care deeply about language. And I know that you, a would-be prescriptivist, are sick of defending proper English to the hoi polloi and us hippie-dippy no-rulez descriptivists. I know this because this hippie-dippy descriptivist is pretty damn tired of having…

View original post 1,917 more words

Advertisements

Satyriasis

June 23, 2012

noun /ˌsatəˈrīəsis/ 

Uncontrollable or excessive sexual desire in a man. ‘Nymphomaniac’ for woman. 

 

A word that I came across in that famous David Foster Wallace piece about John Updike (where he says of Updike’s male protagonists: they are all very similar; solipsistic, narcissistic and ‘though always heterosexual to the point of satyriasis, they do not love woman.’) I kept this in mind as I read (and, on the whole, enjoyed) ‘Trust Me’ a collection by Mr Updike. I would have to say that I agree with DFW. 

Also recently watched ‘Shame’ the Steve Mcqueen movie, in which Michael Fassbender plays a pretty spectacularly affected sex addict. The word seemed appropriate.

Bardo

June 10, 2012

noun /ˈbärˌdō/

bardos, plural

1. A state of existence between death and rebirth in Tibetan Buddhism, varying in length according to a persons conduct in life and manner of, or age at, death.

2. An indeterminate, transitional state.

Creeping Jesus

July 19, 2011

I heard this today when a woman at my work was describing an incident where she was getting changed and Kenny (our KP) barged into the changing room and caught her in a state of undress. I do not think that there was anything in Kenny’s head as he entered other than changing and leaving, and perhaps I do him a sid-service with my choice of the word ‘barging’ but it caught me as a strange thing to say, ‘what does Jesus have to do with it?”

It is, it transpires, an interesting, though ultimately archaic and confused, phrase. It is what they call a Hiberno-English phrase, which really means (in this case) a phrase that was used in Scotland to describe something pertaining, loosely, to Ireland. A Creeping Jesus is understood to be someone prone to making unnecessary and overt gestures of religiosity. A Roman Catholic who makes a point of visiting all four points of the cross in a church only for the benefit of the people watching him. It’s specificity has loosened over time and has come to mean purely someone acting in a hypocritical way, related to religion or not.

Another string added to this phrases bow is it’s use by William Blake. In ‘The Everlasting Gospel’:

“If he had been Antichrist, Creeping Jesus,

He’d have done anything to please us”

 

It is similar in use to that which I outlines originally (in that in talks about someone disparagingly using their religious beliefs) but also has a literal reference; in that he is talking about Jesus specifically (or more correctly his imagined anti-christ.) He says: if he were not Jesus and rather the devil, he would have no need to challenge or human nature and established social order so.

 

I think that’s what he means anyway, but it seems a self-negating argument: as ‘good’ is subjective and in instructing us to act in a certain way, how do we know that he was not pulling us away from salvation.

Debouch.

July 19, 2011

This is a French word (never!!). It means to issue forth, or to flow out from a narrow, confined space into a bigger area. It has specific military connotations meaning to march out into open ground and also is used to describe natural shit like rivers. It’s the kinda word James Fennimore Cooper used in fact it is perfectly suited to his use of language as it marries the world of nature with the world of warfare. A largely pointless word but one that I like as it lends itself so easily to a French accent that you hardly have to even try.

Gerund

June 20, 2011

I think perhaps it is a sign that I am studying too much grammar when I begin to question whether the Nas lyric: “flip like an acrobatic” is an example of a gerund…?!

Contretemps

May 29, 2011

An unexpected event which throws everything into confusion.

The word has been adopted into common usage, originally it was a fencing term meaning an ill timed pass or attack. It’s notable how the words original meaning suggests something happening in the act of attacking, whereas the modern meaning implies an event that is outwith the control of the subject. It shifted from a active-verb to a noun.

 

To me this word falls into a category of words that cannot be used in regular conversation without an explanation preceding/succeeding it’s use. It’s sounds nice which is why I like it, it seems to me to be the opposite of a word like kismet. It’s interesting to look at how uncommon words which mean a sudden downturn in fortunes are, are how rife the opposite of these words are.

Teratology

May 18, 2011

The study of abnormalities of physiological development, birth defects being the most common.

A word I first came across in ‘Infinite Jest’ by David Foster Wallace and one that has stuck with me so that I’m pretty sure I can quote the phrase from the book verbatim: “the city seemed indistinct seen through the low, teratogenic cloud.”

I like the way it sounds.

Methusaleh

May 17, 2011

The oldest man mentioned in the bible. Apparently lived to the age of 969, which is still considered to be a literal age of a real life by…well, Christians I suppose. An impossibly long time for a human to have lived, if you take the story literally and a confusing story with very little allegorical meaning, if you read it symbolically.

Incidentally according to wikiwiki (albeit un-cited):  ‘God delayed the Flood specifically because of the seven days of mourning in honor of the righteous Methuselah’  which seems like a ridiculous thing for anyone to have known..like, the rescheduling of the flood.

Has come to be used (in the true tradition of biblical words) to describe the unusual attributes ascribed to the character: to describe someone/something with a relatively long life.

A good phrase to use if your hungover: “Yo, I feel like I’m making Methusaleh look good.” ie. I look/feel like shit. Also handy if you see somebody trying to get on with an older chick: “Ayyyy, leave Methusaleh alone, kid. She tired!!”

Crepuscular

May 14, 2011

The word means ‘of, resembling, or relating to twilight’. It comes from the latin crepusculum meaning twilight, and is used primarily to describe animals active at this time of day.

It has also come to be used to describe a certain effect of atmospheric rays (which some may know by other names like sunburst or Jacob’s Ladder) due to the propensity of these rays to appear in the twilight or early dawn.

I like it because it is quite a disgusting word, but what it describes is pretty awesome (not in the teenage skateboarder meaning of the word). I also like using words like ‘propensity’ to describe inanimate things, as it implies that they have a choice (or a preference).