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English idioms: how they get distorted

The other day, a friend asked, “How do you spell towing the line as in the sense of complying? Is it toing or towing?

This is just one of many examples of how idioms become distorted over time.

Basic English: Four of the most common mistakes

In my job as a sub editor I come across so many basic errors in grammar and the use of unnecessary words.

These are exhibited by junior writers with no more than six months of cub training to senior writers and even contributors who are academics in their respective fields.

These are just a few of the most common.

Five word pairs to increase your word power

Today I’d like to share these word pairs that always confuse new writers. Not to sound arrogant there are plenty words in the English language that I need to check on for correct usage, despite considering myself an English language professional.

I have selected these five word pairs so that you can easily increase your word power.

A deadly blutterance: How words are formed

 

Blasted, blithering and blooming. All lovely descriptive words with a possible to probable note of irritation in how they are expressed, depending on context of course.

These words remind me that the art of conversation could be in jeopardy what with SMS, Twitter and Google-speak.

Theft and larceny: correct usage

With so much exposure to people’s dirty legal laundry and equal amounts of televised fictional dramas – Law and Order my personal favourite – I often heard the charge of larceny and never understood what it meant. So today I delved into it.

How words are formed

The English language owes much to many.

From the outset it borrowed from Germanic, French, Latin and Dutch influences, to name just a few.

Overtime the language has seen words come and go. Word styles and forms change continuously. Suffice to say the language lives among its users.

The incidence of incidents

There’s not much to say about incidence and incident except that temptation (also read auto brain) to misuse the two words is quite common.

It’s one of those cases in the English language where words sound the same with different spelling.

I find these the most challenging in the language and tend to make the most mistakes with this type of English trickery. I find when I am busy, a word sound in a sentence can pass for the right word because the brain picks up the sound if one reads aloud.

Incident is a noun, meaning event or happening. For example: There was an incident during the student protest.

The word incidence, a close neighbour in the Paperback Oxford English Dictionary (2001), just one above, is also a noun. It means the occurrence of something, or frequency of occurrence, for example to form patterns. Such as: The incidence of student protests at South African universities has been high of late.

Both have a plural with the simple addition of an ‘s’.

Thus, there have been many incidents since violence erupted at universities throughout the country.

wits

And, The incidences of violence have students, parents, lectures and police extremely worried.

 

And, The incidences of violence and injury have students, parents, lectures and police extremely worried.

Although this would be better said as, The incidents of violence and injury have students, parents lectures and police extremely worried.

However, you would say, Studies will compare the incidences of violence at UCT and Wits to suggest solutions (in other words two sets of incidences). However, you could just as well use incidents and the sentence would be correct.

Incidence in its plural form is a less preferred usage and should be avoided if at all possible.

Please add your views or leave a comment

 

 

 

 

A stonking good word

 

There’s so much to say about stonking. For starters dictionaries across the web from Cambridge to Oxford and Encarta broadly agree on its adjectival usage to mean “large, impressive, used to emphasise how good or enjoyable something is.”

Tony Thorne in his Dictionary of Contemporary Slang described stonking as “an all-purpose intensifying adjective usually used in place of more offensive terms”.

It’s thanks to Greg Wallace, BBC Master Chef Professionals’ judge, who described one of the contestant’s presentations as “a stonking good dish”, that stonking is the subject of my blog.

Stonking has a rich and colourful history with pundits arguing for its Scottish origins, others its British birth right and still others remarking on its Australian slang usage.

Wordlwidewords.org: says “Stonk and its relatives are an interesting bunch: with all those strong consonants they’re thudding, active, strongly masculine words,” namely noun, verb, (especially) adjective and (even) adverb.

For the Sottish argument, worldwidewords.org claims  the first recorded use of it was in John Jamieson’s Etymological Dictionary of the Scottish Language in 1841, in which he said that stunk was “the stake put in by boys in a game, especially in that of marbles” .

According to the Concise Scots Dictionary, this is now only local Scots dialect, and it suggests the Scots got it from local English dialect which might have originated in stock, a store, presumably the bag or other container the marbles or money were kept in.

The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) defines “stonking” as an adjective meaning “Excellent, amazing; considerable, powerful” and as an adverb meaning “extremely, very”.

The second sense of “stonk” the OED gives is “a concentrated artillery bombardment,” dating in print to 1944. The OED suggests that the word is “echoic,” mimicking the sound of a shell exploding, also known to practitioners of the English language as onomatopoeia.

A South Korea's K1 tank fires smoke shells during a joint military drill between South Korea and the US in Paju near the inter-Korean border on June 8, 2011 aimed at deterring North Korea's military threat. Tensions on the Korea peninsula are high following two deadly border incidents last year which Seoul blames on its neighbour. AFP PHOTO/JUNG YEON-JE
A South Korea’s K1 tank fires smoke shells during a joint military drill between South Korea and the US in Paju near the inter-Korean border on June 8, 2011 aimed at deterring North Korea’s military threat. Tensions on the Korea peninsula are high following two deadly border incidents last year which Seoul blames on its neighbour. AFP PHOTO/JUNG YEON-JE

You can trust the Australians to outslang any slang and that argument is that “stonker” used as a verb in Australian slang means “to outwit, defeat, render helpless, defeat” or  “to kill or destroy,”.

Thanks to the Aussies,  “stonkered” is a popular slang synonym for “drunk”. Apparently these originate from the “artillery bombardment” sense of “stonk,” and the Australian slang use  first attested to in 1919, shortly after World War I.

“According to the Macquarie Dictionarystonkered in Australia can mean drunk, though it also has associated ideas of being defeated, exhausted, done in, or lethargic, as after a large meal. This comes from the verb stonker, which at one time could mean to kill, but is now the action of outwitting or defeating somebody.

Whichever way you take it, it’s a stonkingly meaty and delicious word.

 

I offer my singular condolence: Grammar

English demands that its users know more than just the meaning of a word.

They also must know how it’s used. It’s not okay to slap just any words together. Some have special ‘partners’.

While subbing an article yesterday, I happened upon the phrase ‘pay their condolences’. I knew instinctively that condolences were not paid. However, I forgot for a second what it was that you did with them.

So of course, you offer them. Thus the phrase was corrected to ‘offer their condolences’

While gathering information on the matter, I discovered that one can offer condolences in the singular, as in I offer my condolence. There is also the verb, to condole.

Lifesomundane has explained the difference between the singular and plural usage so well that I’ve just copied it in.

 

Now this is a tricky one. I have always preferred ‘condolences’ because that is how I often hear it from native English speakers. It is not, apparently, as straightforward as I used to think.

First of all, the word condole is derived from the Latin ‘condolere,’ meaning to ‘suffer with one another.’ It means to ‘express one’s sympathetic grief, on the occasion of someone’s death.’ (Advanced English Dictionary)

Condolence, therefore, is an expression used to commiserate or sympathise with a person who has just lost a loved one.

To get back to the gist of the matter, does one say ‘condolence’ or ‘condolences’ when expressing sympathy to the bereaved?

weeping over loss

If used as part of an adjective phrase, there is no question that ‘condolence’ is more correct. Hence, one gives a ‘message of condolence’ rather than a ‘message of condolences.’

There also is no question when condolences are offered to the bereaved on behalf of a group of persons. Hence, you can say my family’s, my company’s or my office’s condolences. Likewise, one can just say OUR condolences.

The tricky part is when one says MY condolences. There seems to be something not quite right about a singular person offering the plural of condolence on his or her behalf alone.

However, as a matter of convention, it is perfectly correct to do so and this is, in fact, how native English speakers condole with the bereaved.

Similarly, ‘my sympathies’ is often preferred to ‘my sympathy,’ the latter grammatically correct but not quite sounding so conversationally.

Most online English dictionaries that I referred to before writing this article do not state outright that ‘condolences’ is more correct than ‘condolence’ when used by a person on behalf of himself alone.

Instead, what they say is that ‘condolences’ is how the word is OFTEN used to express sympathy when somebody dies.

To conclude, ‘my condolence’ is perfectly correct and especially so from the grammatical point of view. That said, ‘my condolences’ is just as correct and particularly so because this is how it is often stated by native English speakers.

 

http://www.lifesomundane.net/2015/06/condolences.html

 

Tintinnabulation: Origin of words and #belltolls4JZ

Tintinnabulation.

This delightful six-syllable tongue-twister made its debut in 1831 according to some sources, even earlier according to others.