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March 02, 2009


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I'm not willing to use a word in a new, or even newish, way until it's very widely accepted. To me, "enormity" still has a negative connotation, so I use it only in that way.

To quote Alexander Pope:

In words, as fashions, the same rule will hold
Alike fantastic, if too new, or old
Be not the first by whom the new are tried
Nor yet the last to lay the old aside.

Language and fashion in the same verse, just for you! :-)

I like mumpsimus, by the way.

Great word, although it does require the whole story to get the point. Like "mondegreen," I suppose, although "modegreen" has the benefit that everyone, and I mean everyone, has a personal example.

I admit that I have some ... confusion ... around the idea that there is any authority for determining the meaning of a word other than how people actually use it. Specifically, around the notion that someone can wake up one day and say "No, my investigations (that do not account for how people are currently using this word) have determined that what the word ACTUALLY should mean is ...". Which is what seems to have happened with "enormity," along with a host of other words that have definitions honored primarily in usage guides, not in actual usage.

My man Goofy puts it this way [http://bradshawofthefuture.blogspot.com/2008/11/recently-i-saw-november-theatres-black.html]:

"Knowledge of etymology is completely unnecessary for using a language. What's necessary is not what words used to mean, but what words mean now. [...] Sometimes it is claimed that an earlier meaning of a word is its literal or real meaning, but really all that can be said is that an earlier meaning is an earlier meaning."

One of the LL dudes coined the term "zombie rule" for grammatical rules that are false (and have always been false), but cannot be killed. Perhaps we need a term along those lines for word definitions that live in dictionaries but not in people's mouths.

Anyway, thanks Nancy for another great post (and listening to all this blather ... :-) )

I knew something was amiss when I clicked in here and realized the word had nothing to do with mumps.

I received a thank-you note from an MD I had introduced at a conference; he thanked me for the "fulsome praise". I was irritated, because I had spoken sincerely.

Years later I realized that there was a second and competing meaning of "fulsome". My own version of mumpsimus was in continuing to be annoyed that he felt I was an excessive flatterer.

My man Mike's link doesn't work, try this: http://bradshawofthefuture.blogspot.com/2008/11/recently-i-saw-november-theatres-black.html

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