My Royal Court

27 June 2011

The Ludicrousness of Linguistics (part 1)

It’s quite well known that I am referred to as a bit of a word nerd.  Yes, I do devote myself to all things related to language.  Yes, I've made peace with that moniker.  On an everyday basis I try to comprehend how it is that certain phrases, words, et al. become ingrained in our culture.  That said, this is the first in a series (understand this may be a considerably vast amount of posts) of questions for you to ponder.  I know I do. 

First up, and I’m certain you’ve heard this one.  Why is that we drive on something called a parkway, but we park in a driveway?  Does this make sense?  Not in the least.  

I posed my lack of understanding for this cliche to many of you during the spring semester.  How did the verb phrase boils down to come into existence?  The word boil is a verb and when something boils, such as water, don’t the bubbles rise as does the temperature? 

Do retail establishments really believe you’ll stop in and buy something if you‘re given a free gift?  Isn’t this a bit redundant?!  A gift is always free.  

Here’s a word I use often during the course of a semester – discombobulated.    Discombobulate is a transitive verb that means to confuse.  Dis is typically used as a prefix and, while it has various uses, one meaning it has is as the opposite of something.  So, if I’m not confused in any way, does this mean I’m combobulated?!

16 June 2011

Leaves a Sour Taste

While listening to one of those 24-hour, late-breaking, cable news channels this morning, I heard the newscaster convey the story of a young woman on trial for murder.  As I was not fully vested in the story, I listened with one ear, but this proved enough to detect a slight faux pas.   He noted that the perpetrator of this alleged crime had a “dour expression” on her face as she was being led into the courtroom.  This was not an incorrect word choice here as this fits.  It was his elocution.    

The word dour can function as an adjective, adverb, or noun.  The first use dates to the 14th century and became widespread in 16th and 17th century New England oftentimes describing the Puritan advocates.   An exultant bunch?  I would presume not.  Life must have been demanding then for such a dismal word often used to describe them. 

In the above-noted phrase, dour is functioning as an adjective meaning gloomy, grim, or stern.  True, one certainly could display this when on trial.  However, in the traditional sense, the word when pronounced does not rhyme with sour.  We are not talking lemons here.  Rather, the pronunciation is closer in rhyme with the word tour. 

If you’re going to use a word this archaic, take it old school and express it in original form.  Your listener may cheer you for it. 
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