Monday, February 9, 2015

Help! Call the Word Police!

Several solecisms popped up in print recently, provoking me to summon the Word Police to clean up the mess.

First I read that a well-known basketball coach was “loathe” to criticize the obviously mistaken call of a certain referee, meaning that he was “reluctant.” As the Word Police were far from loath to point out, the word should be “loath” (even though certain permissive modern dictionaries list both “loathe” and “loth” as alternates). Loathe, with an –e on the end, is a verb, meaning to “hate intensely or despise.” Both words are rooted in in Old English lað, meaning “hated, hateful, hostile, or repulsive.” It came into English from Proto-Germanic laithaz and is related to the French laid (“ugly”). The contemporary meaning with its lessened sense of “reluctant or disinclined” was first seen in the late 14th century.

Then I saw that a ruling by the Supreme Court had caused one legal question to become “mute.” Of course, what was meant was “moot.” The term now usually refers to a topic that is of “no practical importance, or purely hypothetical.” Originally, from the 12th century, moot was a noun meaning “assembly of freemen,” that is, a deliberative body, derived from Old English gemot (“meeting”). From this meaning came the adjectival use of moot as “debatable, arguable, undecided.” The term was often used by law schools to describe practice arguments of hypothetical cases, and from that usage it gained its present meaning. 

Mute, meaning “silent” is a late 14th-century word, derived from Old French muet and Latin mutus, with the same meaning, ultimately from the Greek myein (“to be shut, as of the mouth”).

Finally, someone reported on Facebook that she was blind-sighted by an unexpected turn of events. While the W. P. admit that this usage has a certain compelling logic, the term actually is blind-sided, alluding to “being hit from one’s blind side.”

Having done their duty, the Word Police respectfully tipped their caps and silently stole away.

The Bard of Buffalo Bayou has bestirred himself from his customary substance-induced torpor, to opine as follows:

            A playboy with two girlfriends was loath
            To pledge either young lady his troth,
                        Thus far as of yet
                        The two girls haven’t met,
            So he thinks he can hold on to both.

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