Word Police

Recently the senior rabbi of my synagogue recounted a “discussion” with his wife. Out of frustration at being corrected for something she had said, she countered with, “Why do you have to take words so literally?” His response must have added to the marital discord: “Because words have meaning.” As much as I could see how this was not going to go over well at home, I actually did agree with him on his point.

I definitely am a firm believer in finding the exact right word to convey meaning. Many a time on the dance floor, Kurt would say something that didn’t ring true. I would then either end up arguing semantics with him or stop and go into my head to pull out the right term, and then I could move on.

That tendency is currently being fed by my copy editing course, where we are expected to respect the meaning of words (which at times is in opposition to their common usage). It can be quite the challenge. I’m having to look up seemingly every word because I don’t know when some commonly used words are being abused, or if my spelling Spidey sense works any more. I’ve used a dictionary more this quarter than I did in my entire life up to this point!

Merriam-Webster Dictionary

Initially, I was going to write how I am not an advocate of the word police. That made me feel like such a rebel against my own personality, and I liked it. In thinking about it though, labels matter. I believe that how we express ourselves reflects on our character and shapes our thoughts and actions.

That being said, I won’t be the one doing the correcting of grammar and word usage (unless specifically asked). Although I am all excited about what I am learning, I realize that not everyone cares… at all. In working with my new boss to compose a thank you to a potential donor, I explained, “You can’t combine two independent clauses with a comma like that. You need either a coordinating conjunction, a semi-colon, or to break it out into two sentences.” His glazed look was his sole response. “It’s better as two sentences.” “Okay, thanks.”

Discovering brain-hurting differences between how I’ve always used a word and what it actually means does warrant the occasional tweet or post on a grammar site, but other than that, I’m not trying to bore my friends – I could easily become Sheldon‘s “Fun with Flags” and am trying to resist!

Who else gets all excited about punctuation? (crickets) or Am I the only one to wish that somewhere out there existed Easter Egg bonuses of full length “Fun with Flags” episodes?

4 thoughts on “Word Police”

  1. I’m completely with you on the proper use of words. It’s hard to understand what someone is saying if they don’t know the proper words. Over the years, I’ve accepted that people will often misuse some words or not understand what word they are using. I can usually get around it, but still I like when people use words correctly. This reminds me of two words I hear people use incorrectly a lot. One is “literally” the other is “enormity”. People often misuse these words, but I’ve become used to it.

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    1. “I was literally swept off my feet by his charm.” Um, no. I’m definitely with you on that one, Steve. There are so many pet peeves when it comes to language usage, but like you I normally just mentally correct and then move on without saying anything. Picking my battles.

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  2. I love etymology and linguistics was one of my favorite courses when I got my English degree. And if it says anything, the ONLY book I still have from all of my books in college is The History of the English Language. It’s a fascinating read.

    I’m a dictionary geek and love a good game of Scrabble.

    So I TOTALLY get your delight in the right use of words.

    Another sister from another mother moment for us, Tammy. 🙂

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    1. I have grown into being a word geek, and I’m loving every moment of my new passion. I think it was my grammar and punctuation class that demonstrated how complicated our language can be and how little I know about it!

      It truly is another sign of our sistership!

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