Thursday, April 26, 2012

It’s No Wonder People Get Confused


Homonyms (also called homophones) are words that sound alike but have different meanings, such as their/there/they’re. These kinds of words can be confusing.  Sometimes people honestly don’t know the difference between sound-alike words. Sometimes they do know the difference, but the brain makes its own substitution between cranium and keyboard and the wrong word ends up on the screen.

Recently, I’ve been contemplating another cause of homonyms gone awry: advertising.

Dodge is currently running an ad for its Ram trucks with the tagline:
Test Our Metal
It’s a play on words, of course. “Mettle” refers to the stuff one is made of, the qualities and character of a person. “Metal” is steel and iron and so forth.

Dodge’s tagline is clever and memorable and appropriate to their product. But the downside of wordplay in mass media is that misused words and turns of phrase, repeated often enough, will eventually make their way into common usage even if that usage is incorrect. Think of Thomas Hardy’s “Far from the Madding Crowd” and how it's often misstated as “far from the maddening crowd.” Or how people say, “I could care less” when they really mean “I couldn’t care less.”

Always choose your words wisely. The results could affect language for years to come.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Addled Adages

One of my favorite blogs to peruse is Sleep Talkin' Man, written by a woman whose mild-mannered husband leads a very interesting nightlife populated with vampire penguins and other equally odd characters.

(Please be forewarned that STM (as he's fondly referred to) can get quite vulgar, so if you're easily offended then you might want to skip reading that blog. For me, the bizarre things STM comes up with are too fascinating, so I overlook the occasional vulgarity and focus on the frequent hilarity.)

Adam (aka STM) is British and his wife, Karen, is American, so there are occasional discussions about adages that are different between the cultures. Here's an exchange about using Google that was posted a few days ago:

ADAM:There's a lot of wacko people who write some really weird stuff.
KAREN:Yeah. That's why you take it all with a grain of salt, but you—
ADAM:Pinch.
KAREN:I think we say "grain."
ADAM:It's a pinch of salt.
KAREN:We say "grain." Does that mean that every time here I've said the expression "grain of salt," somebody thought I had it wrong?
ADAM:Yes. And as typical English people, we wouldn't correct you.
KAREN:You correct me.
ADAM:I'm married to you. I don't want you to embarrass me.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

An Outsider’s View

If you’ve followed my blog for any length of time, or even just perused a few posts, then you likely know my opinions about people who spout off in the Comments section of just about any online story.

Thus I was pleasantly surprised by the well written and thoughtful comments following this New York Times online story about actor Peter Dinklage, winner of an Emmy and a Golden Globe for his portrayal of Tyrion Lannister in Game of Thrones. The story illustrates the arc of Dinklage’s career, from starving artist to successful actor, and discusses his refusal to play elves or leprechauns. It’s a good story about an interesting person, and, for the most part, the commenters maintained civility, even when disagreeing with points in the article or with each other.

I was even more pleased to read the following observation about American work ethics from someone in India:
“…There is only one country in this world where sheer merit, talent and hard work are still very very likely to be rewarded in one's lifetime, and that's something Americans are and should continue to be proud of.”