Words Forgotten and Words Mangled
The folk at the Merriam Webster Dictionary asked a sample group of some size and definition to come up with words they had heard as a child that seemed to have disappeared from ordinary conversation. Ah Hah! I thought. Finally! A chance to recover perfectly good words from the slag heap of time.
I enjoyed reading the list, but the words presented elicit nostalgia rather than the satisfying endorsement of usage Snoots find so endearing.
Their list? Dungarees, Hootenanny, Britches, Gallivant, Ice Box — fading perhaps, but recognizable for the most part. Dungarees are a variety of britches now called denims or jeans. Hootenanny is still used at folk festivals to indicate informal jammimg in the folk mode.
They also trotted out” Ten Words You Can’t Live Without.” It turns out that you probably can as none are unlikely to be of much use in most circumstance:. Pulchritudinous (having beauty), Omphaolpskepis (considering your navel when meditating), Trichotillomania ( compulsive pulling out of one’s hair), Myrmecophilious (close relationship with or fondness for ants), Psychotomimetic (anything that brings on psychotic behavior), Polyphiloprogenerative (spawning many, many offspring), Tirgiversation (evading the truth), Consanguineous (descended from the same ancestor), and Milquetoast(an extremely timid person).
No, I’m interested in past participles in the present perfect tense, those that describe in the present moment actions that have already happened. William Safire actually wrote about issues such as this in the New York Times/ . Here’s his elegant explanation:
“For the irregular verbs shrink and sink, the simple past tense is “He shrank the material and sank the boat.” The past participle is the form of the verb used in the present perfect tense, which shows action completed at the time of speaking: “He has shrunk and has sunk.” Thus, the natural progression is shrink-shrank-shrunk, sink-sank-sunk.
At an embarrassing moment for the prosecution in the O. J. Simpson trial, Christopher Darden gulped, “The gloves appear to have shrank somewhat.” Incorrect; the past participle is shrunk or shrunken.”
I sneak out every day. I have sneaked (not snuck) out every night as well.
I have drunk (not drank) all the punch in the bowl.
I have dived (not dove) into a rain barrel.
I have got (not gotten) an A in every course this year.
I have swum (not swimmed) that lake until I was ready to grow gills.
Some verbs offer more than one correct form of the past participle. It is equally correct to say, “ I have woken at six throughout the holiday,” as it is to say, “I have awakened at six throughout the holiday.” “ I have pleaded that case/ I have pled that case.” “ I have proven that problem/ I have proved that problem.” “I have shaved every cat in the store/ I have shorn every cat in the store.”
Others include slink/ slunk, sped/ speeded, spit/ spat, strewn/ strewed, striven/ strived, sweat/ sweated, swollen/ swelled, trodden/ trod, woven/ weaved.
Here’s a tip to know and trade: The stockings were hung by the chimney with care/ Santa was hanged when he dropped from the air.
Now, on to egregious errors in choice of word. These are commonly heard words used in the wrong context or with the wrong meaning.
I was nauseous when we drove to Duluth. Since nauseous actually mans causing a state of nausea, the speaker is intimating that he/she is a toxin of some sort, a carrier of disease on the way to Duluth. The careful speaker will say, “I was nauseated by the fumes that crept into the car on our way to Duluth.
The conversation about aliens left me completely disinterested in all other Science Fiction. Disinterested means having having no conflict of interests, impartial, neutral by virtue of having no personal (or financial) connection to the event. If the speaker means she has no interest, she is uninterested.
I was bemused by the very funny comedian. The speaker intends to declare amusement but uses a word that means a state of confusion or bewilderment.
That story is so cliche. Cliche is a noun, not an adjective. the adjectival form of the word is cliched.
“I was delighted that the teacher finally honed in on the real subject.” To hone is to sharpen. Getting greater focus is to home in on a subject.
“It was ironic that it rained on our wedding day” Inconvenient or even coincidental, sure, but not irony. Irony conveys a meaning that is the opposite of its literal meaning.
He was literally destroyed by that report. Hmmmm. Not unless the sentient report tracked him down and carried out unspeakable acts of unkindness that forced the subject into financial and personal ruin. Literal does not mean figurative.
OK, a few parting shots.
Verbal does not mean oral. Things put into words are verbal. Oral describes things that come out of or go into your mouth. You do not take medicine verbally.
And that leads us to… Feelings, whoa, whoa, Feelings …
A careless driver can have both sympathy and empathy for the rabbit twitching on the side of the road. If you can feel the rabbit’s pain, you are empathetic. If you regret the rabbit’s pain, you are sympathetic.
The rabbit’s passing, however young the rabbit, charming the rabbit, attractive the rabbit, is not tragic. The course of the rabbit’s life has been essentially unchanged throughout — until the point of impact. Too bad / so sad, but not tragic. Had this hypothetical rabbit had a sudden, soul altering set of insights that had only recently brought significant change, yes, the untimely death might be considered mildly tragic. Rome and Juliet? Tragic. Kardashian weight gain? You know.
Can we talk? I know the difference but no longer care about fewer and less, among and between. Am I a backsliding Snoot? Now, that would be tragic.