The Write Way
18 April 2008
Aargh! It's All Too Much!
Author Mark Twain once worked as a journalist and was paid seven cents a word for his articles. His rule for successful writing was expressed clearly when he said, "I never write metropolis for seven cents, because I can get the same price for city."
Wise words, and what a shame it is that modern writers don't follow Twain's lead.
I was reminded of this when I heard a report about a city business that had been "burglarised" over the weekend.
What ever happened to good old "burgled" or "robbed" even? Why must we make life so complicated?
So, gnashing my teeth and doing a fine impression of a Grumpy Old Woman, I took myself off to investigate this travesty of language, and what did I find, dear reader?
That there really is such a word, that's what I found ... to my horror and chagrin.
It seems that the word (gulp ... I can hardly bring myself to dignify it by acknowledging its existence) really is in dictionaries. It means:to enter and steal from (a building or other premises); to commit burglary against: e.g. 'The second-floor tenants have been burglarized twice.'
And it's been around since 1870–75, when our 'Murkin cousins coined it by adding the suffix -ize to burglar.
Of course, I know what you're thinking, and it's just what I was about to ask ... Why?
We already had a perfectly acceptable short word in burgle, why mess with a good thing?
Now, I have no problem with neologisms. After all, where would we be without email, blogs and the Internet? These are all very useful words and fill a void. No, my wrath is reserved for useless words ... such as 'burglarize.' It means exactly the same as burgle (commit a burglary; enter and rob a dwelling) and adds absolutely nothing to human happiness.
The English language has become adept at borrowing and then making subtle changes in words to cater for every little nuance of meaning. Consider the difference between these pairs of words:
bit - morsel
ask - demand
wish - desire
answer - respond
freedom - liberty
All have similar meanings, but you'd never use one when you meant the other ... F'r instance, you might grab a bit of cheese to eat as you rush through the kitchen on your way to work, but you'd never be offered a bit of caviar at a posh restaurant. It would definitely be a morsel to tempt your taste buds ...
This week's quiz:
Since we've been looking at nuances in meaning this week, try your hand at these unusual (but everso useful) words:
aposiopesis, divagation, witling, peccant, arachibutyrophobia, velleity, famulus, muliebrity, nares, spong
1. a fear of peanut butter sticking to the roof of one's mouth
2. irregular, narrow, projecting part of a field
3. to wander; stray; to digress in speech; a message that departs from the main subject
4. the nostrils or the nasal passages
5. a mere wish, unaccompanied by an effort to obtain it
6. a sudden breaking off in the midst of a sentence, as if from inability or unwillingness to proceed
7. the state of being a woman (as opposed to a maiden); femininity
8. sinning; guilty of a moral offence; violating a rule, principle or established practice; faulty; wrong
9. a servant or attendant, esp. of a scholar or a magician; private secretary or other close attendant
10. one who aspires to wittiness; one who has little wit
And a little tale from Richard Lederer to warm the cockles of your heart ...
When young José, newly arrived in the United States, made his first trip to Yankee Stadium, there were no tickets left for sale. Touched by his disappointment, a friendly ticket salesman found him a perch near the American flag.
Later, José wrote home enthusiastically about his experience: "And the Americans, they are so friendly! Before the game started, they all stood up and looked at me and sang 'José, can you see?'"
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Last week's quiz:
1. falsely or smugly earnest; unctuous - OLEAGINOUS This wonderfully expressive word comes from the Latin oleaginus meaning the olive tree, and isn't it perfect to describe those oily weasels who slither and insinuate themselves into the top jobs?
2. lying concealed; hidden - DELITESCENT. Another from the Latin, this time from delitiscere meaning ' to lie hid'
3. of or relating to a meal - PRANDIAL From the Latin prandium 'late breakfast'
4. scar left by the formation of new connective tissue over a healing sore or wound - CICATRIX
5. crescent-shaped area at the base of the human fingernail - LUNULE I don't have to tell you where this one comes from ... think Luna Park ... lunar eclipse ... lunatic!
6. covered in fine, soft hair - PILOSE From the Latin pilus 'hair'
7. projecting gallery at the top of a castle wall, supported by a row of corbelled arches and having openings in the floor through which stones and boiling liquids could be dropped on attackers; one of these openings - MACHICOLATION This comes from the Latin machicolamentum meaning 'combustible material' ... guess what other word we get from this? Yep! The humble little match!
8. shifty or tricky; lewd, wanton - LUBRICIOUS Another form Latin - from lubricus 'slippery'
9. generally regarded as such; supposed - PUTATIVE This is an easy one when you think about it. It comes from the Latin putare 'to think, to consider, to reckon; to prune, to cleanse.' Other words from the same root are compute, reputation, dispute.
10.fat; oily - PINGUID Yet another word about oil, but this time it refers to things, not people. You can have pinguid pools ... days that are "more pinguid than others" and so on. It comes from the Latin pinguis, meaning 'fat, rich, fertile; dull, gross; thick.' And as a noun meaning 'grease.'
Remember our old friends Tom Swifties? Well, here are some more ...
"This boat is leaking," said Tom balefully.
"I have to keep this fire alight," Tom bellowed.
"This is mutiny!" said Tom bountifully.
"Skool is grate," said Tom comprehensively.
"A Greek woodland deity is no more," said Tom, with a deadpan expression
A Little Something Extra
This week, take a trip to discover the origins of English with this BBC interactive timeline.
Word of the week: Cryptoscopophilia (n) The curiosity of looking through the windows of homes that one passes by, as when walking or driving. The tendency is based on the desire to see people as they are and act when they consider themselves unobserved. (An Almanac of Words at Play)
And who among us hasn't indulged in a little cryptoscopophilia while out walking at night?
Sadly, I can't find this in any reputable dictionary ... but it's the sort of word that does have a place in our lives, don't you think?
Oxymoron of the week: basic vocabulary
And a Latin phrase for when you're dining out this weekend ...
Sic volo, sic iubeo.
[SEEK WOH-loh SEEK ee-oo-BEY-oh]
(I want this, I order this.)
Did you know that you can have your very own Latin reminders? How about undies proclaiming, Bene est rex esse? (It's good to be king) Or a shopping bag that warns, Emptrix nata sum (Born to shop)?
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Copyright Jennifer Stewart 2008
Individual articles copyrighted by their authors.