Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Listen to Inigo

“You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”
- Inigo Montoya

Truly one of the great lines from The Princess Bride. Too many great lines from that movie. It’s just a brilliant script. Bravo to William Goldman for his book and screenplay.

Part of the reason Montoya’s line is so memorable, I think, is because too many of us keep using words that we don’t know what they mean .

One in particular, I find, is akimbo. Arms akimbo, specifically. It seems most people use it to mean “flailing about haphazardly.” It certainly sounds like it means that. A good friend once even described a different body part set as being akimbo. (No, not legs.) If you do use it to mean hanging here and there all out of sorts, for Inigo’s sake, look it up and be surprised.

I encourage you to have a look at Sunshine’s post about the word “hopefully.” Hopefully you will go to be enlightened.

I recently learned what “nonplussed” actually means, too, as evidenced by the comments in Sunshine’s blog. (Hint: It's not akin to ambivalent.)

And then there’s the Flammable/Inflammable/Nonflammable debacle. When in doubt, just use Flammable and Not Flammable to avoid confusion and save lives.

Literally. This word is abused, though not literally. He literally laughed his way to the bank. Did his uproarious giggles propel him to the financial institution? Um, no. Then don’t say that it did. In a nutshell, literally means exactly as written/spoken. Laughing all the way to bank is a figurative statement. So is being in a nutshell. However, due to overwhelming usage in the incorrect way, the Dictionary now mentions that it is becoming “acceptable” to say things like “She literally had her heart on her sleeve.” Fight it. Don’t let grammar die. [Don't worry, I won't ask you to clap really hard if you believe in good grammar.]

Speaking of words that have become acceptable, “normalcy” takes the cake. Although there is evidence that the word existed in early dictionaries, the story goes that 29th President Warren G. Harding coined it for his “Return to Normalcy" campaign in the absence of a speech writer. Either way, it just sounds silly to me. Since normality is a word already, do we really need this crazy addition?

Ironic. Chances are, it’s not. Poor little “irony” is as abused as “literally.” Irony is the opposite of what you expect, not an absurd conicidence. And the irony of Alanis Morissette’s song “Ironic” is that nothing in it is ironic. Unfortunate, coincidental, luck perhaps.…just to get that ironed out.

So, if you’re sitting there with your arms akimbo, literally wondering if my displeasure is inflammable and hopefully assuming that you won’t get nonplussed by it, be comforted that you’re not being ironic and you can resume normality.

And please know that I’m not being superior or accusatory.

Just thinking how Inigo is right, which is not inconceivable.


Danielle Mari said...

... oh and the list goes on... Don't even get me started about Then/Than, Effect/Affect, Who/Which/That, or why people insist upon saying, "Going towardS the light." Towards? No such word! Or people who say, "I could care less." Of course you could!

Peter Von Brown said...

Ooo! "care less" That always makes me more nuts than usual. It's as if people don't even listen to themselves.

Siobhan MacIntyre: Knackered Novelist or Hung-Over Hack? said...


While I may have built up an immunity to iocane powder, I have NOT built up an immunity to poor grammar. Danielle has proclaimed us and my friend Jinx "Grammar Ninjas" (although we have to buy our own suits), and I'm proudly wearing the title.

The moral of this story is to never go against a wordsmith when grammar is on the line!