Category Archives: Words and phrases

Two Stories of Linguistic Foolery

by Categorized: Politix, Words and phrases Date:

McCarthy Cohn
My day began with an annoying email, and I was not yet fully caffeinated.

Someone named Jim Macdonald wrote to “correct” the headline and perhaps other usages in today’s column.  He wrote

It’s the “Democrat” machine, not Democratic.

I am familiar with this particular form of silliness. Limbaugh does it a lot. I was not familiar with the allegation that Tailgunner Joe McCarthy invented it. The whole idea is not to let Democrats use the word “Democratic” about themselves. I tried to explain to Mr. Macdonald why this was a time-wasting argument, and he wrote back.

Since this is a republic, not a democracy, why do you want to call Democrats, democratic?    Democrat is a party, democratic is a word.
They want us to believe that they are more governmental and generic.

Sigh. Let me try again. Mr. Macdonald does not know what proper nouns and adjectives are. I considered illustrating this with his own name. Let us imagine that I believed the only proper rendering of his name was MacDonald. I would still have no right to render his name as I saw fit. His name is a proper name. It can’t be tampered with. Similarly, Democratic National Convention, Democratic Party, Democratic Town Committee are all proper names. One cannot (reasonably) change them to suit one’s purposes. The distinction, Mr. Macdonald, is not between “Democratic” and “Democrat” but between “Democratic” and “democratic.”

Also, “Democrat” is not really a viable adjective. The only reason to use it that way is to score points. Which is fine. But then don’t tell me I’ve erred by not adopting your practice.

A useful parallel might be “catholic” and “Catholic.” The first is a word with a meaning. The second is a proper noun and/or adjective. Even if I think the Roman Catholic church is not catholic, I am not not allowed to start calling it something else or twisting its form around to better suit my truth.

———————

To prove I am nonpartisan about these matters, let me point out a faulty usage from a Democrat. The state Democratic Central Committee sent out a stupid email to rally the troops. It’s so bad that I’m going to need a separate post  to try and convict it, but one infelicitous line clanked against the (symbolic and cymbalic) eardrums. “[Trump’s] brand has risen him to the top of the polls …”

The writer — allegedly state chairman Nick Balletto but actually some tin-eared minion — has missed the rise/raise distinction. Or does not know how to conjugate “raise.” The zombies have risen from the dead, but Trump’s brand has raised him to the top of the polls, not that I would willingly write that particular sentence. Perhaps: “Trump’s steady expulsion of hot air has had the peculiar effect of making him rise in the polls.”

I hope this helps.

 

I Surface You; You Surface Me

by Categorized: Words and phrases Date:

I like where I work. I work at Connecticut Public Radio (WNPR). It’s pretty easy to go on the air — as we’ve been doing this week — and ask people to pledge money, because we do good stuff, stuff I firmly believe in.

Today I got on the elevator and noticed, posted on the wall, this mission statement for our whole company, CPBN.

CPBN Vision and Promise

VISION: To be the world’s bravest public media organization, exploring territory in ways no one else can, and empowering our audience to make our world a more extraordinary place to live.

DEAR AUDIENCE, WE PROMISE TO:

— Create a safe space for exploring hard topics.

— Surface all sides of an issue without judgment.

— Give Connecticut a voice.

— Explore our shared curiosities.

— Connect, grow, and learn with you.

— Make you laugh, cheer, and reflect.

OK, my heart sank a little. (But then it surfaced?) The ideas are nice. I can (more than) live with all  but one of those sentiments. The first sentence would have benefited from some copy editing. For example, the double use of the pronoun “our” creates unnecessary confusion. “Our audience” is CPBN’s audience. But “our world” is presumably everybody’s world, right? We’re not asking our audience to make things extraordinary just for us, I hope. Whatever. I’m not upset about that.

I am upset about the word “surface.” What, in that context, can it possibly mean? “Surface,” used as a transitive verb, has a small set of meanings, all of them having to do with putting a new surface on something, like a road. In that sense, surfacing something inevitably involves changing its exterior, either by adding a new coat or perhaps by polishing. There is something “Dr. Maxmilian” does in his Dubai tooth clinic, but I doubt you’d want it done to you. The transitive sense of “surface” seems completely at odds with all that follows. How can you present “all sides of an issue without judgment” if you’re polishing and sanding and pouring some new asphalt on it?

The other possibility is that this is some attempt to play around with intransitive meanings of “surface” — possibly in the sense of “bring to the surface.” If so, it’s a non-standard use of the word. It’s unnecessarily confusing. Why would the world’s bravest public media organization want a confusing word in its mission statement?

I smell a consultant. They can’t charge you $100,000 an hour (or whatever they charge) just to come up with “present all sides of each issue without judgment.” No. They have to use “surface” in manner that implies a acquaintance with special idioms of the business world.

Of course, it’s also not our mission. We’re not supposed to present all sides of, say, the vaccination issue without judgment. That wouldn’t be very brave.

 

Porcupines & Bushels

by Categorized: Deep thoughts, Politix, Words and phrases Date:

No. This was not the working title for “Polka Dots and Moonbeams.” That I know of.

The other day, the Porcupine, in explaining his own general lack of reticence, invoked Scripture thusly.

“Listen: I’ve never hidden my candle under a basket,” Malloy said last week.

Today being Easter, I thought it might be interesting to take a look at the way that phrase has come down to us. Especially the last word. Also, there’s a nifty tie-in the “Wolf Hall” which kicks off tonight on PBS. We read it in the KJV as:

“Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid.  Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house.”  (Matthew 5:14-15)

Like many before him, the Porcupine has assumed that a bushel is a basket. But to a person in the age of “Wolf Hall” and the KJV  it would more likely be an 8-gallon bucket.  It makes more sense that way. A candle under a basket is a fire hazard, and the light would seep through.

Bucket (PSF).jpg
Bucket (PSF)” by Pearson Scott Foresman – Archives of Pearson Scott Foresman, donated to the Wikimedia Foundation. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Now, who chose “bushel?” This is where it gets very interesting and all up in Wolf Hall. You have probably never heard of William Tyndale even though you use his jams  every day, especially if you are celebrating “Passover” right now or complaining that in this “moment in time,” Calipari is kind of a “scapegoat.” Check out the “impact on the English language” here.  It’s breathtaking.

Tyndale is a big deal in the world of “Wolf Hall.” Note this review.

[Thomas] More’s admirers have glossed over his crusade against Protestantism, which led to the torture and burning of men who distributed Tyndale’s English New Testament. Wolf Hall brings this back into the open, a reminder that religious steadfastness is not necessarily a virtue or flexibility the Mark of Evil.

So there you go.  If I end with “Godspell” will that wreck the mood? They rhyme “bushel” with “crucial.”

Well That Clears THAT Up

by Categorized: Politix, Words and phrases Date:

Statement By OPM Secretary Ben Barnes –

OPM has informed the legislature’s Office of Fiscal Analysis of a potential discrepancy in its calculation of the expenditure cap growth rate for FY 2016. The growth rate that was included in the Governor’s budget proposal, 2.98%, was inadvertently calculated using personal income data beginning with the fourth calendar quarter of 2008 and ending with the third calendar quarter of 2014. The usual practice of OFA in calculating these growth rates is to use a range beginning with the third quarter personal income data in the relevant years. The statute is silent as to the exact data to use.

The discrepancy occurred when data was pulled from an outside vendor in January, 2015. A feature of this new vendor’s reporting system resulted in a one-quarter shift which was not recognized by OPM until after the Governor’s budget had been prepared and submitted.

Calculation of the expenditure cap using the 3rd quarter data would result in an expenditure cap growth rate of 2.58%, which would then result in a spending cap approximately $60 million lower than the cap presented in the Governor’s budget for FY 2016. The magnitude of this change is due in part to the fact that the quarters in question occurred in the midst of the the Great Recession, thereby leading to a lower rate of growth than in the period shifted one quarter later. Using the revised data, the Governor’s budget would be below the cap by $80 million in FY 2017.

On behalf of the agency, I personally apologize for this discrepancy, and commit to working with OFA and the legislature to identify the adjustments necessary to ensure compliance with the expenditure cap.

confusedBen Barnes

Secretary of the Office of Policy and Management

Effortless

by Categorized: Words and phrases Date:

One of the most felicitous word choices of the year in this article:

Dr. Simons began his advances to Annarita Di Lorenzo, the Italian researcher, 18 years his junior, on Feb. 12, 2010, by slipping her a handwritten love letter in effortful Italian.

Oh. That effortful. It says so much.

 

Hole Foods

by Categorized: Words and phrases Date:

Wormhole, buttonhole, pigeonhole, cornhole.

So many holes.

Buttonhole is not the same as pigeonhole.

Ideologically, Hopkins-Cavanagh is hard to buttonhole. She was once a registered Libertarian. And when she ran unsuccessfully for mayor of New London in 2011, she was on the ballot as an unaffiliated candidate who had asked Connecticut’s Green Party for its support. She won 96 votes out of about 4,400 in that election.

No. She would be hard to buttonhole if lobbyists could not easily draw her aside.

Grammar Watch

by Categorized: Words and phrases Date:

We’re doing a show episode on grammar next Tuesday. 

Here we have a “fatal” example of a misplaced modifier.  I’m fairly certain the judge didn’t do any of those horrible things. (h/t R.R. Cooper)

Hartford Man Sentenced To 50 Years for Murder

The Hartford Courant

6:47 p.m. EST, February 27, 2014

HARTFORD — A year to the day after he wrapped his fingers around Krichindath Sawarie’s neck and strangled her, then slit her throat and stabbed her to make sure she was dead, a Hartford Superior Court judge sentenced Robert White to 50 years in prison.

Broccoli is an inflorescence

by Categorized: Uncategorized, Words and phrases Date:

A beautiful new (to me) word:

These plants, Brassica oleracea, or wild cabbage, were likely used as a food from Neolithic times. It is the parent and ancestor to a large number of cultivated offspring that are divided into seven or eight groups representing different plant forms. For example, the Capitata Group encompasses the common heading cabbages like savoy, green, red or spring greens varieties, with a terminal bud, botanically speaking. The Acephala Group includes most of the common leafy types like kale and collards, while kohlrabi is a swollen stem of the Gongylodes Group. Additionally cauliflower, Brussels sprouts and Tronchuda (Portuguese kale) each represent a different group. Broccoli is in the Italica Group, which, like cauliflower, is an inflorescence (flower cluster), yet the tissue has a number of single flower buds rather than being condensed into a solid head as it is in cauliflower. Altogether the plants of Brassica oleracea represent thousands of varieties, yet only one species.