“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.” – Alice in Wonderland, Lewis Carol

In yesterday’s blog, I created a new word, ‘Twitterati”, meaning, “those who obsessively use Twitter to tweet and re-tweet whatever resonates with their cultural and political perspective.”  Since I created the word, one supposes, then it means just what I choose it to mean.

On the other hand, I propose, we should not be so casual on how we use words, and what we intend for them to mean — if for no other reason than to do otherwise causes us to appear intellectually lazy (or vapid) to the literati.

Three topics.  First, assume you have some money.  Then you could give some to someone; in which case you could have less money.  Or: You could have some pain, and if it was too great, wouldn’t it be wonderful if you had less pain.  You could have less pain if you meditated or took some pain killers.

In each case, we could have less of something, but for this to be true, we must have some of it to begin with.  Then, why do accept people saying “I could care less”, when they really mean “I could not care less”?!?  We’ve already made it easy by accepting the contraction “couldn’t” in place of “could not.”  Is it so demanding to require the additional enunciation of “n’t” at the end of “could”??

“Oh, I dropped a nickel in the parking lot, and it rolled into a storm sewer.  But I could care less.”

Really.  If you could care less, that means you care to begin with.  If you don’t care about losing a lone nickel, then “you couldn’t care less.”

Secondly, let’s recognize that apples and oranges aren’t the same thing.  One is one thing, and the other is another.  Trucks and monkeys aren’t the same thing either.  If you have two trucks and two monkeys, these are not the same thing.  Or is it?

Then why do we say “six of one thing, half a dozen of the other”?  We say and accept this as meaning two choices are of the same value or consequence.

“We could have eggs and bacon for breakfast, or we could have oatmeal.  Which do you prefer?”

“Oh, it’s six of one thing and half a dozen of the other.”  In other words, “you choose; I don’t care.”

Literally you are saying these are not the same thing, even though they might appear to be if you only look superficially.  They are really quite different.

It’s subtle, but words mean what they mean.  And if we use them casually, then they can actually mean quite the opposite of what we intend.

The final item.  Consider that you are given one snack for each hour in the day.  But you can only have one per hour, and if you don’t take and consume the snack, it is gone forever.  If you prefer not to arise at dawn, however, and by remaining in slumber, you miss your first snack of the day.  But, by a quirk in the rules, at prescribed parts of the year, you are permitted to take this first (missed) snack of the day at the end of the day, after the sun has gone down.  In other words, you can “save” this snack until the end of the day, when you can enjoy it more.  You are “saving your snack until later”; it is snack saving.

Today is the first day of Daylight Saving Time in 2013 in most of the US and Canada, not Daylight Savings Time.  We are “saving time”, we are not “savings time.”

Now, after investing that one hour, you get one more hour of sunlight to enjoy in the evening for the rest of the spring and summer.  Enjoy it.


Joe Girard (c) 2013

One thought on “Words”

  1. Kevin

    We’re the new lexicographers, what with twitteratti and rantble being bandied about….I like the new format, and now I get to be one of your Peanut Gallery….keep it coming!

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