“I personally believe we developed language because of our deep inner need to complain.”
– Jane Wagner
We all have word pet peeves, times when people use phrases incorrectly, insert words that don’t actually mean what they think it means, or when society at large is responsible for corrupting a word’s usage. I probably take my particular pet peeves too seriously, but it cannot be helped.
“Ironic” – which does not mean unfortunate, coincidental, silly, funny, aggravating, or any of the other things Alanis Morrissette can now be blamed for teaching us to think it means.
“Ye”- as previously mentioned, anytime you see a sign showing “Ye Olde [something], you’re not actually looking at a “y” but at an Old English character called “thorn” which makes a “th” sound.
This confusion is somewhat understandable as it is most commonly found in England where several linguistic invasions have made the language something of a puzzle for most who try to learn it as a second language. Pear, pair, and pare, you try explaining that one. Or the reason knight isn’t spelled night, when in other words a “gh” produces and “f” like in laugh. Or why, depending on where you’re from, you may spell civilisation as civilization. Or why English doesn’t really have rules, only exceptions.
First the Celts came to Britain, after possibly conquering another group of people who were there first, and as far as we know didn’t have much in the way of writing. There are some hatch mark symbols carved in stone but these seem to have been a clumsy, tedious sort of way of keeping track of things and so they decided instead to rely on memory which they trained to fantastic levels (and where did you leave your keys this morning?). Then came the Romans who brought Latin and other previously unknown practices (see Decimate below). But then their empire, as it had become by this time since they’d given up most pretensions to a republic, caught a nasty case of “The Collapsings” and the legions were recalled from Britain, leaving the Romanized population unprotected and understandably miffed.
The Anglo Saxons (go here and carefully note the caption!), watching this from their Germanic homesteads with glee, could see an upwardly mobile real estate deal when it presented itself, so bunches of the upped sticks and sailed over. They originally were hired as mercenary protectors by the Britons, but they didn’t go in much for togas compared to rape and pillage and within a few years had taken over and set about to dividing into small kingdoms and declaring war on each other to their hearts’ content. They also brought their language, on which somewhat better records were kept. A few centuries later, just as soon as they’d got themselves unified into some semblance of order and had started keeping excellent chronicles, a Norman across the Channel decided he ought to be king. William the Bastard, for that was his unfortunate name, invaded and won. He ousted the Anglo Saxon lords and installed his own Old-French-mixed-with-Latin-again speaking cronies instead, further enriching the language and changing his name to the much more impressive sounding William the Conqueror.
But, in spite of each subsequent invader’s attempt to quash the language of those who came before, the invaded stubbornly held on to an impressive lot of their old languages and culture, which is why something as old as a millennium old written character that looks like “y” and sounds like a “th” is still bulldogish-ly refuses to go away. Which is good because “Yee old [anything]” sounds absolutely ludicrous.
Apostrophe – I know this isn’t a word, but you know what I mean. People will throw this little mark wherever they think something should go, but for the life of them don’t know whether it’s a different spelling, contraction, or trying to show possession.
There/Their/They’re – And while we’re on the subject! These are totally different words, figure ’em out!
“Medieval” – used when people mean backwards. Actually refers to a distinct period in Western history which was complex, interesting, and full of people trying desperately to push their way forward out of the mess that Rome put them in after dividing, collapsing, and embarrassingly allowing itself to be ripped to shreds by barbarian hordes. Western standards of music, culture, and literature were developed during this period. Architecture, which had become an utterly lost art was redeveloped literally from the ground up. The ideas of credit, and banking were invented. The whole period is a heartening example of human beings being knocked into the sludge over and over again with invasions, plagues, more invasions, famine, and a couple of other invasions, and consistently picking themselves up, dusting off the disease and gore, and getting back to the difficult business of human advancement.
Irregardless – This is not, in fact, a word. At all. Don’t use it. Ever.
“Decimate” – Once upon a time, there was an empire that was cheerfully burgeoning in the centuries BC. Not that they called themselves an empire, oh no! That would have sounded barbaric and unenlightened. They called themselves a Republic, the Roman Republic to be exact, and since they were so enlightened and grand, the ideal career for a spry, young Not-Empire was to invade all their nearest neighbors and force them to submit to their rule. Really there were few things this adolescent Republic liked better than sauntering into Germany, Greece, or North Africa and casually killing a few thousand people before breakfast.
Not content with brutality directed at the unwashed masses they were trying to subdue (so that they could tax and enslave the snot out of them), occasionally when one of their vicious battalions mutinied or were insufficiently enthusiastic about marching off to slaughter, the commander would order them decimated. Meaning that they would be divided into groups of ten, draw lots, and whichever one of them pulled the short straw was stoned or bludgeoned to death. Literally it meant to reduce by one tenth.
Nowadays, the term decimation is used, completely at odds with its origin and etymology, to mean when people, places, or structures are reduced by cataclysmic proportions (although the American media is prone to exaggeration in this regard: “That windstorm last night decimated trees and power lines!” for example, when maybe one or two were knocked down). Decimated does not mean destroyed, wiped out, broken, mildly damaged, and dirtied up.
“Like” – “It was, like, so hard! I mean, like, I’ve never had to do anything that bad since, like, I had to pick out my, like prom dress!” The word “like” means similar to. Or fond of. It can be used as a conjunction, verb, or adverb, it is NOT an equivalent to “um…”