Monday, November 16, 2009

Linguistic Patrol: Fetch Me A Willow Switch


The strange little people who live inside my TV set -- all hair and teeth and big, big smiles -- have got themselves a new word. It's not really new; it's a word they have prised up from its proper use and have taken to inserting, willy-nilly, any time they want us-the-home-viewer to be fretful. Worse yet, they had a much better word for the purpose (out here in Big People Land, many of us still use it), which has now vanished from their tiny lexicon.

I suspect one among their number had made itself a new nest in the wainscoting using old business correspondence and while absently grooming itself, happened across a construction akin to this:

"...Concerning yours of the 15th ult. in re the d'Anconia Copper situation...."*

Where you and I might yawn -- the more fools us! -- the clever mediaperson's eyes must have lit up with innocent delight. "'Concerning,'" it mused, "that surely means 'to make concerned.'"

It is at this point that a willow switch might have been most productively employed to administer a sharp reminder while ever-so-gently reminding the creature, "No, blast you, it does not. 'Concerning' means, roughly, 'about' and not a blame thing more!"

It's too late now; every new twitch or sniffle, every bobble in stock prices and, of course, every word from Sarah Palin's pen or lips is "concerning."

It's a worrisome trend.
* Both of my readers who appreciate Victoriana will recall that "ultimo" (ultimo mense) refers to the previous month, "inst." or "instant" the current month and "pent." the previous month but one. Alas, this convenient and charming usage of our crudely primitive forebears has, much like the calling card or a lingering, romantic death by tuberculosis, fallen by the wayside.


Turk Turon said...

"The trajectory of that electric airship is very disconcerning," said Tom Swift.

You mean like that?

wv: listan

Why is my airship listan to starboard?

Ken said...

They were about up to the limit on "troubling," you see.

Thank you for the explanation of ul./inst./pent. It's one of those things I should oughta have looked up long ago but never did.

Recently, another blogger I read posted stills from (I think it was) the original Scarface, with Boris Karloff bowling just before someone killed him. He, and nearly everyone else in the place, was wearing a three-piece suit.


That old guy on the porch, shaking his cane at the whippersnappers? That's gonna be me, thirty years from now (if I am spared).

I'm not sure it isn't me already.

Old Grouch said...

Ah yes, the grand old business correspondence conventions!

"In re yours of the fifth inst., yours to hand and beg to rep... brackets...
We have gone over the ground carefully, and we seem to believe, i.e., to wit, e.g., in lieu, that, uh, despite all our... precautionary measures which have been involved..."

Don said...

I find it very concerning that your TV's inhabitants are disembodied, floating heads that nest in the walls inside Ayn Rand novels.

Something about the whole thing just sends a shiver up my spine.

Rob K said...

I find this so concerning, I think I'm utterly decimated! I think I'll go have a chocolate martini, to calm down.

Is it language rot, or language cannibalism?

sam said...

I miss Bill Safire, in more ways than one. "Mr. Language Person" must be rotating at high RPM these days.

Is that hot fudge on the free ice cream, lovely one?

Fuzzy Curmudgeon said...

One of my favorites:

Hd Qrs. Army in the Field
Camp near Donelson, Feby 16th

Gen. S.B. Buckner,
Confed. Army,

Sir: Yours of this date proposing Armistice, and appointment of Commissioners, to settle terms of Capitulation is just received. No terms except an unconditional and immediate surrender can be accepted.

I propose to move immediately upon your works.
I am Sir: very respectfully
Your obt. sevt.
U.S. Grant
Brig. Gen.

Ken said...

Also sprach Rob K: "Is it language rot, or language cannibalism?"

It is the Endarkenment.

Wayne Conrad said...

A new reason for me to yell at the talking heads? Good. I've gotten bored with reminding them (oh, if only they could hear me!) that not everything has to be a "situation." It is fine to have thunderstorms without it being a "thunderstorm situation," and there's no good reason that a simple collision must be elevated to the lofty station of "an accident situation."

Bruce B. said...

It is disconcerting that a number of you seem to be purposely misusing the word in question after Bobbi's rant. :-)

Do you want her to come after you with that willow switch? I know from personal experience that you don't want to be on the receiving end of one of those.

Stranger said...

Hmm - as late as 1950, many men dressed for lodge meetings - and for bowling. Some men wore a snappy fedora as they played "roll a bowl a ball, a penny a pitch."

Unfortunately, the advent of television put an end to most social activities.

On a more modern note, I have also observed the linguistic peccadilloes of television's minikins. I attribute it to the extreme thinness of their world, painted as they are on a phosphor coated window. Or the inside of an LED screen. They are in reality no more than Flatlanders.

But, as my old boxing buddy Willie Weichert used to say about the Legislature, "Those people blow as much smoke as a wet wood fire in a high wind."