Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Wonking in Memphis

Yesterday, a flight layover in Tennessee stretched from seventy-five minutes to two-and a half hours but proved almost enjoyable for my daughters and me. Memphis barbecue deserves some of the credit, and words did the rest.

My kids are word wonks and come by it honestly. Apparently, fascination with language is as genetic as eye color and ear-lobe shape. That's not to say me and mine are word perfect. Far from it. We inadvertently misuse, mispronounce, and garble phrases in our struggle to do right by our mother tongue.

Because my girls had updated themselves on the Kardashians, Duchess Catherine, Jen, Suri, and Sandra on the first leg of the trip and couldn't bear to look at another magazine, I emailed them "Ten Phrases to Purge from your Writing," a guest post written by Nancy Ragno for Jane Friedman's blog, Being Human at Electric Speed. Read the post here. (Go on. I'll wait.)

After reading the post, Older Daughter mopped up barbecue sauce with French fries and moaned that she'd misused hone in on for the correct home in on.

I've misused heart-wrenching for heartrending hundreds of time. What's more, rending doesn't have the visceral flavor of wrenching, so I foresee gut-wrenching in my future.

Younger daughter revealed she has a co-worker who promises to nip scheduling problems "in the butt." Her sister and I advised her not to turn her back on the guy.

Card shark or card sharp? asks Older Daughter.

She's not happy with our mealy-mouthed responses so pulls out her phone and Googles the term—only to find compelling etymological support for both expressions.

"If I'm a good sport and hard worker, am I trouper or trooper?'" asks Younger Daughter.

"You're a trouper and the show must go on," I say.

"You're a soldier-like trooper," says Older Daughter.

Again, there's etymological support for both expressions.

Harebrained gets the nod from dictionaries today, but hair brained loped onto the scene because the animal that acts scattered during mating season was written as hair early on.

Oxymorons might have kept us entertained for another half hour, but our flight was called.


How do you cope with airport delays, long waits in doctors' offices, and lines that stretch out the door and around the block?


Lark Howard said...

Fun post, Pat! Although I'm horrified when I discover I've misused a word or phrase, I find a lot of those mistakes are a result of regional misuse--mostly the region where I grew up. My husband is the king of malapropisms and happily declares, "You say it your way and I'll say it mine," when I correct him. I think he just says that to make me crazy.

As a veteran of long layovers and delayed flights, I always have an extra book in case I finish the one I'm reading (in a foreign airport, getting a book in English can be a problem)and look for an airline lounge that accepts my AmEx Priority Pass. They usually have wifi, soft drinks, snacks and comfy seating so spending a couple of hours isn't such a pain.

You were luck to have company during your wait. Your family sounds like a lot of fun!

Pat O'Dea Rosen said...

Hi, Lark,
My family is a lot of fun, but my Texas-born daughters LAUGH at my mid-Atlantic-state pronunciation and phrasing, and don't get me started on standing in line versus on line.

I'll bet your husband's having fun making up malaproprisms to bug you. Meanwhile, I'm the queen of adding extra syllables to words. I drive myself crazy.

I wish I were as good a traveler as you. Happily, I now have a Kindle, and it's well-stocked.

Lark Howard said...

The extra syllables must be a mid-Atlantic thing. I do it too sometimes. I also catch myself putting a t at the end of across thanks to my Philly accent.

Aren't Kindles great? I travel with one too. Unfortunately you have to turn them off to take-off and land which leaves me with nothing to do for way too a paper book comes in handy.

aroseisarose said...

At least we were able to *home* in on the correct pronunciation of gyro...and Holsten's : ).

Pat O'Dea Rosen said...

Ha! The words I mispronounce will fill a half-dozen blog posts, Amy.

Melynda said... post!

Here are some more misuses that grate (not "great") on my nerves:

"I'll try to take another tact." It's take another tack--a sailing term.

"That ought to fit the bill." No...but it will fill the bill.

"She told a bold-faced lie." Nope. It's bald-faced.

And, finally, one of my favorite peeves: "I'll have some nice ice tea." Tea made of ice would be pretty bland, I should think. How about some iced tea?

Don't get me started on "whip cream!" ;-)

Pat O'Dea Rosen said...

I'm so glad you found your way here--and hope my post reminded you of similar wordathons with your girls.

Hate to tell you this, but while bald-faced lie is preferred, bold-faced is an acceptable variant. Many years ago, I got into an argument with a co-worker over this and had to eat crow when she proved bold-faced IS in the dictionary.

I'm with you in finding ice tea and whip cream incomprehensible.

Are you sitting down? I'm pretty sure I've said, "fill the bill." I KNOW it's fit, but my tongue anticipates the ll of bill and glides past the t.

Thanks so much for stopping by.

Coleen Patrick said...

Your word conversations sound like the ones my son and I get into in the car!
I also liked that phrases to purge post too.
Oh and we lived in Memphis for a year and a half, our apartment was blocks from one of the Corky's restaurants. Oh the smells...

Pat O'Dea Rosen said...

Hi, Coleen,
I, too, love the smell of barbecue.

So your son's a word wonk? Apples don't fall far from the tree, do they?