Monday, December 15, 2008

Yet Another Reason Why I Never Sleep Well

Although I once wrote, to one of the very few bloggers whose intellect I admire, that I now view the phrase "begging the question" as burnt flesh, meaning, of course, that its misuse is now so prevalent that reinstating its original -- and still correct -- meaning is no longer possible, I was still reeling this weekend from its misuse by two men who should know better when I found myself listening, on NPR, to a program about religion, a program which inspired me to go to Amazon and order -- two-day free shipping via one click! -- The Seven Storey Mountain, and when I heard the author being interviewed say that people liked Thomas Merton because he was "not pietistical," after I stopped swearing and regained control of my vehicle, I returned home and did some research and learned that the descriptivist bastards who now edit dictionaries have decided that "pietistical" is a perfectly splendid word, even though -- the existence of Pietism notwithstanding -- it means nothing more nor less than "pious," especially in the context of said interview, and even though, if one were able to make a legitimate distinction, "pietistic" would still be infinitely preferable, and as I wept bitter tears over the slow and agonizing death -- at the hands of, among many other culprits, suffix creep -- of the mother tongue, I thought to myself, "I will not be able to write about this in the blog unless I post a particularly salacious picture to go with it," so here, for your viewing enjoyment, is a picture that you are welcome to ogle if and only if you promise to refrain from misusing any form of "begs the question" for a period of no less than six months.

8 comments:

The Blackout Blog said...

Haha, I have a similar issue with "literally", which has basically been reduced to "figuratively". Not a fan.

The Neighbors Will Hear said...

I agree, BB. There's a special place in hell for people who help to make the common meaning of the word the opposite of its actual meaning. I think we need a name for this practice. A name other than "sheer idiocy," I mean. I suppose we could call it "lexical irony," but I want to imply that it's unintentional without having to call it "unintentional lexical irony." I think the term has promise, though.

I see lexical irony all the time. My least favorite example is "nonplussed." I've corrected bloggers who use it to mean "not bothered," and they've thanked me, only to misuse it again weeks later. What a world.

Anonymous said...

You know already that I'm a language nut about gerunds, but probably not how irritated I get about the abuse of relative pronouns. People that rather than people who, etc.. Funnier though is how democratic (small d) our language is. Slut was once on a par with chic. My English lover who used quite as a term of extreme opprobium was unconvinced by my plea that in southern Indiana quite was similar to very. He never understood yonder, and probably still does not, but thanks to whichever imaginary friends worhsiped, he did everything else very well, very memorably.

The Neighbors Will Hear said...

Anon, I had a writing professor in college who labored mightily to convince us that both "quite" and "rather" really meant the opposite of what we thought they meant. I'm not sure he entirely succeeded, but he did make me aware of more differences between American English and the Queen's English. Also, he caused me to drop "quite" almost entirely. I haven't been so successful with "rather."

Jason_M said...

Penultimate!

inebriated said...

ok i still dont know how exactly im suppose to use begging the question

tornwordo said...

(Scanning the bookshelf) .... You should pick up "The Unfolding of Language" by Deutscher. Then you'll realize that these "shifts" in word use and meaning are perfectly natural and unstoppable. Fascinating read. Perhaps one day "wicked" will only mean "excellent".

Father Tony of the Farmboyz said...

Even the tightest of definitions now allows for the misappropriation of that phrase. (I will admit that I read that sentence through three times immediately after producing it and decided not to take the time to substitute something like "teasing out" for begging.) Also, I'll simply invoke
Usus quam penes arbitrium est et ius et norma loquendi and run for cover.