I am a liberal. I believe in evolution, artistic license, and new ideas to deal with changing times. But I am a staunch conservative when it comes to the English language. I do not believe in “verbal relativism” - the idea that usage determines the meaning of words. I believe that we have had plenty of time to decide which words mean what and that any further changes are ignorant and irresponsible.
Imagine if we were to arbitrarily change the colors of a Van Gogh, or alter the notes of a Mozart composition? Isn’t that what we do when we change the meanings of words recorded in the works of Melville or Hawthorne or Faulkner?
This thread will deal with the bastardizations of the language that we sensitive folk are assaulted with every day. Simple misuses of words which become the currency of the ignorant by popular repetition.
Let’s begin: the word embattled means “prepared for battle”. It does not mean “under attack”. When a politician or the football coach is being criticized to the extent that his job is threatened he is “beleaguered” or “besieged.” To be “under attack” is not the same as being “prepared for an attack” or “prepared to attack”.
Willy-nilly is not a synonym for helter-skelter or higgledy-piggledy. In fact it means nearly the opposite. Willy-nilly is an alteration of the expression “will ye, nill ye”, which means “whether you want to or not”. To do something haphazardly is very different from doing something by necessity. Yet this is the very misinterpretation that can occur when reading classics of literature.
If I hear one more person use the expression begs the question to mean ‘raises the question’ or ‘leads to the question’ I’ll freak out. Stop being pretentious! Only sportscasters and sophomores should still be making this mistake. “Begging the question” is a term used in the discipline of logic which refers to a specific fallacy also known as “petitio principii”. Tell a friend and help to stop this travesty.
Speaking of sportscasters, recently I heard one describing a fancy exclusive country club as one where the hoi polloi gather. Maybe he meant they gathered in the parking lot.
Feel free to contibute your own pet lexical peeves. I’m not done by a long shot.