Showing 1 - 6 of 6 posts found matching keyword: dictionary

Today's seasonal grammar lesson: The word 'tis means the same as the word it's. Both are contractions of it is, and in both cases the apostrophe replaces a missing letter i.

When they both first appeared around the 16th century, 'tis meant the same thing it does today, but it's was originally used as the possessive form of the gender-neutral third person singular it. After it's gradually became its (for unclear reasons), it's replaced 'tis (for unclear reasons). Now, if you erroneously type it's when you mean its, someone will snidely correct you in your comments section.

While we're on the subject, 'twas means it was and 'twere means it were, neither of which anyone ever contracts anymore, but I'm starting to think we all should. On the other hand, I think it wise to let 'tbe remain an unwhispered word.

Interestingly, both 'tis and 'twas appear with appropriate apostrophes and modern definitions in the 1806 first edition of Noah Webster's Compendius [a. ſort, brief, conciſe, ſummary] Dictionary. Comparatively, it, its, and it's are entirely omitted. (At least *I* think that's interesting.)

By the way, the only time you can get away with dropping the apostrophe from 'tis and 'twas is if you're playing Scrabble®, but that's because The Official SCRABBLE Players Dictionary© recognizes tis as the "the seventh tone of the diatonic musical scale" and twas as meaning "two." Sorry, Scrabblers, but twere is still not a legally recognized play.

Comments (0) | Leave a Comment | Tags: dictionary grammar made news this week by defining "supposably" to mean "as may be assumed, imagined, or supposed." That's the same definition typically ascribed to "supposedly" ("according to what is accepted or believed"). There was a time in my life I would have been bent out of shape about this.

Where I come from, "supposably" is not a word. At least, it's not that word. According to my trusty Websters New Twentieth Century Dictionary of the English Language Unabridged (2nd Edition), "supposably" should mean "in a supposable manner." However, it has been used as a mispronunciation of "supposedly" for so long that some 21st-century lexicographers have finally thrown up their hands in defeat.

I have a personal connection to this word because my father has always uses supposably when he means supposedly. In his case, I think he does it because it bothers me. Dad's a real tease that way. (See? It's not my fault. I have been trained to be argumentative by a parent who thinks its fun to fly red flags in front of bulls!)

The reason I'm not a raving basket case over this new definition is because A) I've been reading a lot lately about the bizarre and often counter-intuitive developmental history of the English language, and B) the world is in such a state that if I let myself get worked up over words these days then I'm really going to need to start drinking. The meanings of English words have been meandering for centuries and will continue to do so for so long as someone is still speaking the language. I need to remember that the important part of language is understanding one another, not clinging to arbitrary rules of pronunciation.

That said, I will continue not using "supposably" in my own writing. Even in the 21st-century, a man's got to stand for something.

Comments (0) | Leave a Comment | Tags: dad dictionary family grammar rant supposably walter

It seems that everywhere I turn these days, I'm hearing more and more of my current least-favorite word: "unbelievable."

Once upon a time, impressive feats of athleticism were "unbelievable." Then Internet service for $29.95 a month became "unbelievable." Now discovering that a forty-ton airplane won't stay airborne unless someone is really paying attention is "unbelievable."

To those of you who sprinkle the word into your daily lives, I do not think it means what you think it means. Merriam Webster describes "unbelievable" to mean "too improbable for belief." The definition includes vampires or peace in the Middle East but not delicious doughnuts or a coach's decision to pass instead of run.

There really aren't that many things we come across in the physical universe that are unbelievable. Infinity? God? That Kim Kardashian makes $28 million per year? Those are unbelievable.

If you literally are incapable of believing the things your eyes are showing you, it's not that those things can't be imagined, it's that you have no imagination. Personally, that is something I find pretty unbelievable.

Comments (0) | Leave a Comment | Tags: dictionary grammar rant unbelievable walter

The 2012 New Oxford American Dictionary Word of the Year is "gif." That's right, "gif," as in the acronym for Graphics Interchange Format, a digital image format introduced to the world by CompuServe in 1987 and largely replaced in the 21st century by the patent-free Portable Network Graphics ("png") format. "Gif," pronounced either as "gift" without the "g" or as the peanut butter brand Jif, depending largely on what side of the Atlantic Ocean you're on, has finally climbed to the top of the logophile heap, and all it took was changing into a verb.

I'm not one to doubt the wisdom of the editors of the New Oxford American Dictionary, but I can't say that I've heard the word "gif" used as a verb yet. The archaic gif, unloved and abandoned by digital imagery professionals, now survives thanks to amateurs who have found that it makes a handy universal format for animating and sharing brief clips of children being attacked by animals and adults earning Darwin Awards. If anything, it's not "gif" that should be awarded, but "ISP," for finally building the Internet's tubes large enough to support the ridiculously bloated size of animated gifs.

Ultimately, I have to guess that if a 25-year old word is the Word of the Year, it must have been a slow year for words. Seeing the hoopla that "gif" got, I thought I'd take a look back at past words honored by the New Oxford American Dictionary:

  1. gif
  2. squeezed middle
  3. refudiate
  4. unfriend
  5. hypermilling
  6. locavore
  7. carbon-neutral
  8. podcast

It's almost like looking into a time capsule! All of those are zeitgeist words. Who refudiates anymore? I guess that means that in a few years, we won't even remember that in 2012 we giffed.

Still crazy after all these years.

Yep, just like it all never happened....

Comments (0) | Leave a Comment | Tags: dictionary grammar refudiate trivia

The 2010 New Oxford American Dictionary Word of the Year is "refudiate," meaning "to reject." My spell-checker wants to change that word into "repudiate," which makes sense, since "refudiate" is nothing more than a typo in a Twitter feed back in July. We now have a new, completely unnecessary word in our dictionary. This bit of political genius/manipulation will now be bloating the reference aisles on our national bookshelves with as much bullshit as is typically reserved for the self-help section.

The enemy here is not, surprisingly, Palin. This bit of trivia may be lost to history, but Sarah Palin herself attempted to correct her initial typo to "refute," the word she presumably meant to Tweet. Rather than let Palin get away with her mistake on Twitter -- where grammar goes to die -- her followers and detractors forced her into owning the mistake as intentional in order to save political face. She's relatively innocent in this fiasco. Sure, she could be smarter and not send messages to the public realm without reviewing them for mistakes, but that's probably asking too much.

No, the enemy here is the New Oxford American Dictionary. Damn you, Oxford University Press dictionary editors. Throwing a political figure's mistaken and jumbled words words back at them is a tried and true political tactic with great lineage. ("Potatoe" and "misunderestimate" spring to mind.) Mudslinging may have a storied tradition in American politics, but let's not start treating the weapons used as anything other than what they are: mud. If Oxford University Press includes words like "refudiate" in their dictionary, all they are doing is dirtying their own reputation.

Therefore, I refudiate the inclusion of the word "refudiate" to my automated spell-checker's personal dictionary. It already has a hard enough time with the perfectly cromulent words that I've already added such as "truthiness," "unfriend," and "wriphe." I mean, come on, it's not like my hard drive has all the space in the world.

Comments (0) | Leave a Comment | Tags: dictionary grammar politics rant refudiate trivia

Facebook wins again: the 2009 New Oxford American Dictionary Word of the Year is "unfriend", a term that apparently defined "to remove someone as a 'friend' on a social networking site such as Facebook." Now in addition to promoting the decay of polite society, Facebook is ruining my language.

"Unfriend" was chosen over such universally accepted words as "netbook," "sexting," "tramp stamp," and "teabagger," which it turns out is now used with a complete lack of irony to describe participants in the Tea Party movement. (Let's just say that "teabagger" means something completely different where I come from.) This proves the voice of Facebook dominates that of the traditional mass media, at least within the offices of the New Oxford American Dictionary. And yes, Google assures me that the publisher of the NOAD, the Oxford University Press, does indeed have a Facebook page. Not that I'd go to Facebook to confirm it. Sure, that may be bad journalism, but I've got my principles.

Comments (0) | Leave a Comment | Tags: dictionary facebook grammar internet unfriend

To be continued...


Search by Date: