As a writer and editor, I tend to be a tad picky about words. I’m not even referring to grammar here. Yes, I cringe when people say, “I feel badly.” Unless you are trying to say that you are somewhat numb, in other words, you are bad at the act of feeling, you don’t feel badly. You feel bad. That’s a whole other story, though. I’m talking about the meanings of certain words in a larger sense. I am irritated beyond reason by the misuse of certain words, but I am able to let the erroneous use of other words roll of my back (or I can at least grit my teeth and muddle through). My own inconsistency on this matter even bothers me, but I suppose it’s a lot like having pet peeves of any other kind. Automated phone menus drive a lot of people cray, but unless I am in danger of getting stuck in a seemingly endless menu loop* (which has happened once or twice), I often prefer dealing with a machine, at least initially. On the other hand, I despise marketing and charity phone calls so much that, no only am I on the Do Not Call List, but I rarely answer my land line outside of my work hours anymore. Most nonwork calls go to my cell phone anyway. If I happen to miss an important call, I trust that the caller will leave a message. Barring any strange technological glitches, I will get the message and return the call if necessary. I’m starting to sound like I don’t like talking to people, which isn’t true. I’m just selective about who I want to speak to and when.
But I digress. This post is about misuse of words. Really, it is!
I have all but given up the fight on random. In fact, I find myself saying things like, “I ate such random things for lunch today,” when I mean that I ate a hodgepodge of things that one might not expect to find on the same plate. If I truly picked things to eat at random, I would likely be very ill or dead. However, the use of random in this manner has become so common that I have stopped actively fighting it. I die inside a little bit when I catch myself slipping on this, but that doesn’t mean I don’t go around randomly using random. There are words I am still fighting for, though…for now.
- Literally: A recent comic made me think for a second, that I should give up the fight for proper use of this word, but then I came to my senses. I will not literally fight to the death for proper use of literally, but I will fight!
- Wherefore: This is not one I come across frequently, but nevertheless I am continually annoyed by the misinterpretation (not so much misuse) of this word, usually in reference to Romeo and Juliet. Just about everyone knows the balcony scene in the play in which Juliet says “Wherefore art thou Romeo?” This scene has been quoted by many and used in countless advertisements over the years. Most recently in a radio ad (for what, I cannot recall), a high school girl reads from Romeo and Juliet, “Wherefore art thou Romeo?” and then pauses her reading to interject, “He’s not in my high school!” Face, meet palm. Wherefore does not mean where. Wherefore means why. Juliet is not wondering where her beloved is, but rather wondering why, if she was going to fall in love, did it have to be Romeo (a Montague and sworn enemy of her family) she fell for. Why are you Romeo? Curses to all the literature teachers who taught this play and did not stress the proper interpretation of this particular line! And thanks to Mr. Chesney for not being one of those teachers!
- 12 a.m. or 12 p.m.: No. No. No. It’s either 12 noon or 12 midnight, or it’s wrong (not to mention a recipe for confusion).
- Ironic: Yes, I know I’m not alone on this. Dave Eggers, for one, has ranted about misuse of ironic. Ironic does not mean coincidental, merely out of the ordinary, or annoying. Rain on your wedding day is not ironic. Writing a song called “Ironic” in that contains no examples of irony, that‘s ironic.
- Vagina: One might not think this word would come up too often in everyday life, but lately, I have noticed rampant misuse of vagina. Here’s one example in which an airline passenger complains of an inappropriate search by a TSA agent, saying, “I didn’t really expect her to touch my vagina through my pants.” I don’t mean to make light of this passenger’s feeling of being violated, but let’s please agree the TSA agent did NOT touch this woman’s vagina through her pants. A vagina is a muscular canal, not an external structure. If someone can touch your vagina through your pants, you might want to think about going shopping or visiting a tailor because your pants have some serious fit issues. More likely, you are using the term vagina incorrectly in a way that is analogous to saying that you put lipstick on your esophagus. I’m not sure whether people are unfamiliar with the term vulva or are simply uncomfortable saying it. I do understand a hesitancy to use some of the other, more colorful, terms for vulva, but there are ways to be correct without being vulgar. Lady bits will suffice in most situations.
* I originally wrote this as “an endless menu loop,” but I revised it because, since I am no longer stuck in the loop, it was not actually endless. I can be a bit strict with myself about such things…not that I don’t ever use metaphors or hyperbole. In fact, I use hyperbole a billion times a week.