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The Blogger Abides: Words and Phrases I've Misused

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Have you ever wondered what it's like to interview famous people who are intimidatingly awesome and/or rude? Have you asked yourself, "Do bloggers wear pants?" Have you mused aloud, "How can I write words, using a computing device, for small quantities of money?" I thought so. Read on for an excerpt from the book -- this is from Frequent Offenders, which is chapter seventy-seven (I'm not kidding) in
my new opus.

Frequent Offenders

Here’s a list of words and phrases that are problematic and/or commonly misused. I hope these explanations save you from embarrassing yourself someday.

Alot

“A lot” is two words. If you write “alot” you are either misspelling “allot” (synonym: allocate) or you’re about to get kicked out of Professional Writer Club. (See also: the Alot, Allie Brosh’s imaginary creature/)

Could Care Less

A lot of people say “I could care less” when they mean “I couldn’t care less.” Think about it. Think really hard. Then start saying “couldn’t,” unless you don’t care about sounding like a doofus. (Practical note: commenters will nail you on this one, and there is no defensible case for the “incorrect” form. So, really, this one is a slam-dunk.)

Baited Breath

Imagine my surprise when I wrote a sentence like, “I’ve been waiting for the new Neal Stephenson book with baited breath,” and commenters dryly informed me that the correct spelling is “bated.” Look it up. It’s “bated breath.” Who knew? (I didn’t.)

Moot

The word “moot” is deeply problematic: part of the world thinks it means “open to debate,” the rest of the world thinks it means “not worth debating.” There is no proper way around this, so I suggest you try to stop using this word, if you intend to write for a broad audience. I wrote a post about it entitled The Meaning of the Word “Moot” is Moot. People still argued with me.

Graduated High School

You graduated from high school. You did not “graduate high school.” (Or college. Or clown college. Or whatever.) Use the “from,” otherwise people will rip you a new one.

Needs Fixed

This colloquialism (omitting “to be” in the middle of a statement) is controversial because part of the English-speaking world thinks it’s perfectly fine vernacular (which could mean it’s part of using your voice), and the other half is baffled about why you’re omitting a seemingly crucial verb. I never encountered this construction until I moved to the west coast, though I gather it’s a regional thing in many places. Anyway, I’d suggest you include all relevant verbs in your writing to avoid confusion.

Tough Road to Hoe

A lot of idioms don’t seem to make sense, particularly if you (like me) never really heard them right, and just said what you thought you heard. It’s “a tough row to hoe,” not “a tough road to hoe.” Hoeing a row is something you do in a garden. With a hoe. It’s tough. You don’t hoe a road. I think maybe I thought it was “a tough road a-ho” for a while, which also seems to mean nothing (unless perhaps that’s short for “ahoy”), but maybe in some old-timey slang from my primitive brain it means something…anyway, pro tip: when using some seemingly nonsensical idiom in your writing, Google it first to figure it out what it really is and how to write it properly.

Sewing Confusion

Sowing is another garden idiom–you sow seeds into the ground. I’m not sure if this happens before or after hoeing the row. Probably after. Anyway, watch out for the easy misspelling here–“sow” is easily mistyped as “sew.”

Myriad Plethoras

The word “plethora” traditionally has a negative connotation–so you’d say something like, “I’m pretty sure she’s crazy because she owns a plethora of cats and also never wears shoes.” In modern usage it’s often used much like “myriad,” just meaning “a lot of something”–but some readers will freak out, because of its traditional use as “a problematically large number or amount of something.” Further, the word myriad actually has a positive connotation–so you’d say something like, “Myriad stars shone from above.” (Note: debate rages over the possible uses of the word myriad. In the example just now, I used it as an adjective. It may also be used as a noun, just like plethora: “A myriad of stars shone from above.”)

In short: myriad good, plethora bad (due to quantity).

Proffered and Preferred

To proffer is to offer; to prefer is to favor. It’s easy to mistype these or have auto-correct mess it up for you.

Literally the Best Tip Ever

The word “literally” roughly means “actually.” It has a convenient antonym: “figuratively.” So while I would literally pitch a baseball, I would figuratively pitch a fit. Somehow, these two terms get mixed up in people’s brains (and to be fair, this has been going on for centuries–the word “literally” is misused in Little Women). There are whole websites devoted to the misuse of these terms. In short, if you use the term “literally” solely for emphasis, you’re probably doing it wrong.

Hopefully I Hope

This is pedantic, but get used to it–pedants will comment on your blog posts. “I hope” means what you think it means. For example, “I hope it doesn’t rain today.” However, “hopefully” is an adverb. Thus, technically speaking, “Hopefully it won’t rain today” is nonsensical. A proper use of “hopefully” would be: “The boy gazed hopefully at the bag of Halloween candy in his mother’s hands.”

Technical note: because of overwhelming common usage, “hopefully” is arguably valid in its non-adverbial form; it occupies a similar linguistic space as terms like “interestingly,” “frankly,” and “unfortunately.” I freely misuse all of those terms, but for some reason, “hopefully” does bug me.

Different From/Than/To

There are some instances of “different than” in American English, and “different to” in British English. In general, however, the best and most common form is “different from.” For example: “Joe’s haircut was different from Steve’s.” In general, I always try to use “different from,” although such esteemed authorities as the Oxford Dictionary Online suggest that all forms are equally valid. Be aware that if you write for American pedants (I mean readers), “different to” will catch the most flak.

What Did I Leave Out?

I'll eventually have to "revise and expand" this thing to cash in on lucrative paperback sales. What would you add to this list?

Now the Hard Sell

The Blogger AbidesThe book is available now for Kindle. If you don't have a Kindle, consult my website for the answer to the oft-asked question I don't have a Kindle. How can I read this? (Short answer: on your phone, tablet, web browser, Mac, PC, or smart fridge.)
 
Pro tip: if you're an Amazon Prime member and have a Kindle, you can "borrow" the book for free from your Kindle. You should do that. There's also a free preview available for anyone -- grab that from the rightmost column of the Amazon page.

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The Proper Names of 17 Bodily Functions
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Ask an anatomist, and they’ll be able to tell you that your kneecap is really your patella. Your armpit is your axilla and the little groove above your top lip is your philtrum. The little flap of cartilage the covers the hole in your ear? That’s your tragus, named after the Greek word for a billy goat—because the tuft of hair that grows on it resembles a goat’s beard (apparently).

But if that’s what’s on the outside, what about what happens on the inside? Well, it turns out the English language has quite a rich collection of formal, medical, and old fashioned words for all of the reflexes and reactions that our bodies naturally carry out without a second thought from us. So the next time you’re stretching as you get out of bed, or you interrupt an important meeting with a ructus or a borborygmus, you’ll at least have the perfect word for it.

1. BORBORYGMI

Derived originally from an onomatopoeic Greek word, a borborygmus is a rumbling in the stomach or bowels. Borborygmi are produced as the contents of the intestines are pushed along by waves of muscle contractions called peristalsis, although trapped gas from digested food or swallowed air can also cause your borborygmi to become noisier than normal. Bonus fact: Queasy stomach rumbles were called wambles in Tudor English, and you’d be wamble-cropped if you weren’t feeling well.

2. CACHINNATION

A study in 2013 found that when people laugh, it's only because they've found something funny about 20 percent of the time. The rest of time, we use laughter as a means of signaling things like agreement, affection, ease, and nostalgia that we evolved long before communication through language was possible. And a fit of spontaneous, uproarious, unrestrained laughter is called cachinnation.

3. CICATRIZATION

Cicatrization is the formation of a cicatrix, or a scar. More generally, it refers to any of the healing and sealing processes that help a wound to mend, including the formation of a scab.

4. DEGLUTITION

Deglutition is the proper word for the action of swallowing. It’s an etymological cousin of words like glut, glutton, and gullet.

5. DIAPHORESIS

Sweating has been known by a whole host of (ironically quite beautiful) words in history, including the likes of resudation, sudorification, and diaphoresis, a 17th century word that literally means “to carry through.” Nowadays, "diaphoresis" is rarely encountered outside of purely medical contexts, where it’s used as an older or more formal name for excessive perspiration—a condition better known as hyperhidrosis.

6. ERUCTATION

As well as being another word for a volcanic eruption, eructation is the medical name for burping, while the burp itself is called a ructus. For what it’s worth, the Romans knew excessive or unstoppable belching as ructabundus (although sadly that word has yet to catch on in English).

7. FLATUS

So if a ructus is a burp, no prizes for guessing that a flatus goes the other way. Technically though, flatus is just the build up of gas in the stomach or bowels, not the actual expulsion of it. For that, why not try using an old Tudor English word for a fart—ventosity.

8. HORRIPILATION

Horripilation literally means “bristled hairs,” and is the proper name for what you probably know as gooseflesh or goose bumps. Another name for the same thing is piloerection, although that also includes the phenomenon of animals raising their hair or fur (or, in the case of porcupines, their quills) when they’re stressed or under attack.

9. LACHRYMATION

Lachrymation is the proper name for shedding tears, which are produced in the lachrymal glands above the outer edges of the eyes and are stored in a lachrymal sac on either side of the bridge of the nose. And if you want to get really technical, there are three different types of tears: basal tears, which are constantly produced to keep the surface of the eyes moist; reflex tears, which are the extra tears produced when something enters or irritates the eye; and psychic tears, which are those produced as a response to a mental or emotional stimulus.

10. MASTICATION

Mastication is the proper name for chewing. Etymologically, it’s descended from a Greek word literally meaning “to gnash your teeth,” and is related both to mandible and papier-mâché (which is literally “chewed paper” in French).

11. NICTITATION

Nictitation is the proper name for blinking or winking, and comes from an old pre-Latin word meaning “to incline or bend together,” just as the eyelids do. That twitching muscle in your eyelid after you’ve strained your eyes? That’s a blepharospasm.

12. OBDORMITION

Obdormition is the proper name for sleeping, but it’s usually only used in reference to the feeling of numbness, caused by pressure on a nerve, when a limb or muscle “falls asleep.” Pins and needles, incidentally, is properly called paraesthesia.

13. PANDICULATION

Pandiculation is essentially a catchall term for all those things you do when you’re tired or just waking up, like yawning, stretching your arms and legs, and cracking your joints. Monday morning, in other words.

14. RHINORRHOEA

When your nose runs, that’s rhinorrhoea. Except when you’re having a nosebleed, which is called epistaxis.

15. SINGULTUS

In Latin, singultus was speech interrupted by sobbing, or an inability to speak caused by crying. Based on this, English borrowed the word singult in the 16th century for a single sob, while in the sense of something spasmodically interrupting your speech, and singultus came to be used as a more formal name for hiccups.

16. STERNUTATION

A sneeze or a sneezing fit is properly called a sternutation. Anything described as sternutatory causes sneezing.

17. TUSSICATION

Tussis is the Latin word for “cough.” It’s the origin of both tussication, a formal word for coughing, and pertussis, the medical name for whooping cough.

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Ernest Hemingway’s Guide to Life, In 20 Quotes
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Though he made his living as a writer, Ernest Hemingway was just as famous for his lust for adventure. Whether he was running with the bulls in Pamplona, fishing for marlin in Bimini, throwing back rum cocktails in Havana, or hanging out with his six-toed cats in Key West, the Nobel and Pulitzer Prize-winning author never did anything halfway. And he used his adventures as fodder for the unparalleled collection of novels, short stories, and nonfiction books he left behind, The Sun Also Rises, A Farewell to Arms, Death in the Afternoon, For Whom the Bell Tolls, and The Old Man and the Sea among them.

On what would be his 118th birthday—he was born in Oak Park, Illinois on July 21, 1899—here are 20 memorable quotes that offer a keen perspective into Hemingway’s way of life.

ON THE IMPORTANCE OF LISTENING

"I like to listen. I have learned a great deal from listening carefully. Most people never listen."

ON TRUST

"The best way to find out if you can trust somebody is to trust them."

ON DECIDING WHAT TO WRITE ABOUT

"I never had to choose a subject—my subject rather chose me."

ON TRAVEL

"Never go on trips with anyone you do not love."

Ernest Hemingway Photograph Collection, John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston. [1], Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

ON THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN INTELLIGENCE AND HAPPINESS

"Happiness in intelligent people is the rarest thing I know."

ON TRUTH

"There's no one thing that is true. They're all true."

ON THE DOWNSIDE OF PEOPLE

"The only thing that could spoil a day was people. People were always the limiters of happiness, except for the very few that were as good as spring itself."

ON SUFFERING FOR YOUR ART

"There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed."

ON TAKING ACTION

"Never mistake motion for action."

ON GETTING WORDS OUT

"I wake up in the morning and my mind starts making sentences, and I have to get rid of them fast—talk them or write them down."

Photograph by Mary Hemingway, in the Ernest Hemingway Photograph Collection, John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston., Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

ON THE BENEFITS OF SLEEP

"I love sleep. My life has the tendency to fall apart when I'm awake, you know?"

ON FINDING STRENGTH 

"The world breaks everyone, and afterward, some are strong at the broken places."

ON THE TRUE NATURE OF WICKEDNESS

"All things truly wicked start from innocence."

ON WRITING WHAT YOU KNOW

"If a writer knows enough about what he is writing about, he may omit things that he knows. The dignity of movement of an iceberg is due to only one ninth of it being above water."

ON THE DEFINITION OF COURAGE

"Courage is grace under pressure."

ON THE PAINFULNESS OF BEING FUNNY

"A man's got to take a lot of punishment to write a really funny book."

By Ernest Hemingway Photograph Collection, John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston. - JFK Library, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

ON KEEPING PROMISES

"Always do sober what you said you'd do drunk. That will teach you to keep your mouth shut."

ON GOOD VS. EVIL

"About morals, I know only that what is moral is what you feel good after and what is immoral is what you feel bad after."

ON REACHING FOR THE UNATTAINABLE

"For a true writer, each book should be a new beginning where he tries again for something that is beyond attainment. He should always try for something that has never been done or that others have tried and failed. Then sometimes, with great luck, he will succeed."

ON HAPPY ENDINGS

"There is no lonelier man in death, except the suicide, than that man who has lived many years with a good wife and then outlived her. If two people love each other there can be no happy end to it."

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