Wednesday, February 7, 2007

Say it, don't splay it

Talking to people about their problems makes for frequent miscues of speech and grammar, a habit stemming from something no more profound than that most of us don't know how to talk about ourselves and our personal problems to another human being. Hence, we come to the habit of trying to sound clinical, distanced, as if we have some clear grasp on what's the matter with our inner lives or internal organs. Either way, it makes for low grade comedy, and it is struggle not to laugh out loud or lecture someone on sloppy usage. I want to keep the friends and acquaintances I have.

One of the most egregious uses I can think is the promiscuous use of "potentiality" when the simpler, punchier, less ambiguous "potential" would do a better job. There's a confusion of the number of syllables in a word with the precision of expression; the more trills the tongue has to
glide over, the clearer the communication.

Another coinage that sends static crackling through my ear is the frequent use of the bizarre formation "uncomfortability". Again, there's that self-concious nervousness that mistakes terms with centipede rhythms to be superior to more succinct words, but this instance is further problematized,(that is to say made more confusing) by an unintended, unEmpsonesque ambiguity. Are we to think the speaker is in a state of "discomfort", which is what one arrives at through context, or is he addressing his ability to be uncomfortability at will?

The literary possibilities are rich, but this is of no aid to someone who needs to make it clear that he needs an aspirin, a therapist, or a
licensed saw bones to alleviate the particular disorder, physical or psychic.

It's not that I object to multisyllabic words in everyday use, since one needs certain words to convey more elaborate ideas, but I do require that
the words exist, in the dictionary if not in nature.


  1. Amen brother. Also, the chronic misuse of "less" and "fewer", while they might be relatively interchangeable, DRIVES ME CRAZY. As in "Ten Items or Less". Further proof of the degradation of American "culture".

  2. I used to bite my tongue when someone would express their lack of interest in something as their being "disinterested". We smart people know that the term means that one is appraising a subject with no foregone conclusions, not that one is bored out of their skull, but what is worrisome is that other smart guys and gals , such as doctors, lawyers, booksellers, will sing the wrong notes every chance they get. They ought to know better, but there you go.

  3. Anonymous5:04 PM PST

    methinks yer just theoreticizing!

    i get physically ill when someone tells me something is "incredulous," instead of "incredible."

  4. That reminds of the bit comedian
    Norm Crosby used when he used to say "I resemble that remark" at a wisecrack a friend made at his expense.


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