Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary site has a tool that you can use to find out which words were first used in print in the year you were born. Of course, you can use it to find out which words were first used in print in any year you choose. It doesn’t have to be your birth year. It could be the birth year of your cat, for all they care. Let’s try 1905, the year Albert Einstein published his paper on the photoelectric effect. He got the Nobel prize in Physics for that in 1921. One of the words for 1905 is pinspotter, which is another word for pinsetter — an employee or a mechanical device that spots pins in a bowling alley. I was a pinsetter in my youth. Small world, eh?
Let’s try another year. How about 1955, when the world population was 2,755,823,000? Also the year Albert Einstein died, sadly. And the word is: weirdo — a person who is extraordinarily strange or eccentric. I don’t think I’m a person who is extraordinarily strange or eccentric, but I might qualify as a quasi-weirdo.
One more. Let’s go with 2005, when the first ever YouTube video was uploaded. The word: sexting — the sending of sexually explicit messages or images by cell phone. Not something I’ve ever done. Count yourself lucky.
Go ahead. Go to the site and try some years. The time you waste will be your own.
PS That YouTube video from 2005? It was called Me at the Zoo. Eighteen seconds of transcendental wisdom.
I wasn’t sure how to kick off this post, so I’ve been skirting the problem. Now I’ve decided to stop beating around the bush and take the bull by the horns. The objective is to get to the bottom of things without going over the top. I hope I don’t get run down trying to run down the rundown so I can run it up the flagpole and run it by you.
An idiom, according to my Concise Oxford Dictionary, Eighth edition 1990, is “a group of words established by usage and having a meaning not deducible from those of the individual words.” In other words, a phrase that doesn’t make sense in its current usage. Their examples are, “over the moon” and “see the light.” An idiom is also “a form of expression peculiar to a language, person or group of people.” So to speak in the idiom is to use forms of speech that are particular to the speaker’s in-group. Idioms are the bane of anyone trying to learn a language. Imagine trying to learn English and someone says, “Here, let me show you the ropes.” Yes, “idiom” does come from the same place as “idiot.”
I have to admit that would be a tough row to hoe. Maybe I should have left well enough alone, but the cat’s out of the bag now, so it’s a little late to close the barn door. The horses have flown the coop. Wait, is that a mixed idiom? Was I champing at the bit in my teeth, causing me to overshoot the mark? That can’t be helped, I’m afraid. Any attempt at tamping this down is a day late and a dollar short. We’ve rounded the last turn. We’re on the final stretch. There’s no turning back because we’re down to the short strokes. The die is cast and our fate has been cast to the wind. This post is done and it’s time to play the last post for it.
I imagine this conversation in front of a restaurant where two people have just had lunch and they’re getting on with the rest of the workday:
Person One, handing Person Two a file folder: “Bring this to the office. I’m going to meet a client.”
Person Two: “Do you mean you want me to bring it to you at the office when I come in tomorrow?”
Person One: “No. I want you to bring it to the office now.”
Person Two is confused because Person One is goint to meet a client and won’t be at the office to bring it to. Then their face lights up as they get it. “Oh! You mean TAKE it to the office.”
Person One, frowning: “That’s what I said.”
Some English language users use the word “bring” where the rest of us would use the word “take.” Most of us speak with the sense that things are brought here and taken there. “Please bring the coffee here, to this table.” “Please take the coffee there, to that table.” But some people use “bring” in both cases. (Is anyone else beginning to think that “bring” sounds funny?) To us, that usage just sounds wrong, while to them it’s perfectly natural. I’ll bet they can’t even see why it would be a problem. The truth is, I can see their reasoning. When they are taking the coffee to that table, they are going there and bringing the coffee with them. When looked at in that light, from the point of view of the destination rather than from where the statement is made, the concept of bringing becomes synonymous with taking. Therefore, the people making that mistake have no compelling reason to change, nor to even see that anything is wrong.
Don’t touch those wires! Photo credit: NOAA – Public domain
New Word of the Day – Bombogenesis
Today’s new word of the day — a form of neologism* — is bombogenesis. According to the Merriam-Webster online dictionary, bombogenesis is a noun meaning the development and intensification of a major storm. It comes from the recent tendency to describe a major storm as a “snow bomb” or “weather bomb.” Lisa Suhey has written an article for the Christian Science Monitor that explains the term bombogenesis and a few others, including blizzard. The weather service has been using bombogenesis for a while, and they even have specific criteria for it, including “when a storm’s area of lowest surface pressure experiences a rapid drop of more than 24 millibars in 24 hours.” Her article also clarifies what makes a blizzard, and it’s not just a lot of snow. To qualify as a blizzard, in addition to a lot of snow, there must be wind-driven snow that reduces visibility to zero for more than three houfs, with wind greater than 35 MPH (56 KPH.)
*I differentiated “new word” from “neologism” because to get into my New Word of the Day series, the word must be in a dictionary as a new word, while a neologism isn’t necessarily in a dictionary yet. It might have just been invented by a witty punster or a schizophrenic.
Has any of my readers ever lived through a snow bomb?
I used to think that “different than” was bad. As in, “Reading a book is different than watching a movie.” But now it seems almost like an old friend. I think it’s been used in the place of “different from” for so long that the language has begun to accept it. And there’s almost a rationale for it. If you can have “bigger than” and “smaller than” and “older than” and “colder than,” then why can’t you have “different than?” After all, those other phrases imply a “difference,” don’t they?
Okay, I admit it: it still annoys me. I don’t think people would make the same mistake with “similar,” the antonym of “different.” I doubt if anyone would say, “Reading a book is similar than reading a magazine.” They would say that it’s “similar to.” Different – similar. From – to. Apart – together. All very logical. But with language, usage trumps logic, so it’s not surprising that the incorrect usage has become so widely used that it’s also widely accepted.
Does that explain “different to?” Has the original error become so mainstream that it has to be replaced by another one? An even worse one, if you ask me. As explained above, “different than” at least has a rationale, however specious. But “different to” is beyond the pale. It has taken the correct “from” and replaced it with its opposite. When I see it I just roll my mental eyes. I’m beginning to wonder if someone’s doing it on purpose. What happens when this one becomes widely accepted? “Different as?”
By the way, a little research shows that all three — from, than and to — are considered correct, but that “from” is least likely to get you in trouble.