Word of the Day Defense
TMS 4/17/2012: “Giving 110%”

Brian is totally not helping me out with his comment.  True, there are places where percentages over 100 are entirely appropriate, but I wasn’t planning on defending this one this way, since really, the usage of 110% that people get annoyed with is one where it really doesn’t make sense, taken literally at least.

Now, I will concede that the 110% bit can get overused by some people in some situations, but overall, it’s just hyperbole — which is not that unusual.  In fact, with the amount that it is used, I would label it as an idiom: giving 110% never actually means that literally, it means pushing yourself to your limits to achieve a certain goal.  It’s only really problematic when one person uses it often enough to bleach it of meaning — or in a situation where it is unwelcome because your audience is not really enthused enough to really care about pushing themselves to the limit on a given task.  So, it can be a nice canned phrase for motivational speeches — so long as you’ve already got your audience fully into the project/task/game.

Anyway, that’s my two cents.

TMS 4/16/2012: “compass”

It seems that Merriam-Webster actually lists the pronunciation that the emailer maligns as an alternative.  I say “seems” for a few reasons: 1) I can’t be 100% certain what pronunciation the emailer intends to convey, 2) I am uncertain of how to read Merriam-Webster’s transcription system (I’m used to IPA), and 3) Merriam-Webster only lists pronunciations for the verb compass, so I’m assuming it’s the same for the noun and adjective listings.

I find it particularly irksome that the emailer is more annoyed because his friend does not have a “thick accent”.  Many Americans (including Scott and Brian) express this belief that there is some kind of zero accent.  I think this may be because American English is, in fact, remarkably homogenous: in England, there is markedly different dialect in each little town, while we have large swaths of area where people speak quite similarly — likely because English speakers settled North America relatively recently, and haven’t drifted apart that much.  What people consider the “neutral” accent is probably General American, an artificial standard that is based largely on a Midwestern dialects.  But just because someone speaks something close to this standard, doesn’t mean they won’t have some pronunciations that may differ.  More than just accents and dialects, each individual has an idiolect — essentially their own personal dialect of any language they speak.  This doesn’t mean that standards mean nothing, but if you think people should only speak a certain way with certain variants based on the accent they present (note: really, everyone has an accent/dialect), you are putting people in a box.  Language acquisitions is a fluid process, and people are influenced by multiple dialects more often than not.

Bottom line: whether you consider this variant pronunciation of compass valid or not (and again, Merriam-Webster seems to think it is), don’t assign people to dialects unless you know how to exhaustively analyze their speech.

TMS 4/9/2012: “klick”

I didn’t really have to go to the dictionaries to know that klick is military slang for “kilometer”.  Though the email was very brief, I think I know what his argument really is.

Essentially, the emailer is assuming that the person using the word klick, if they are not military (or he thinks they are not), don’t actually know what it means.  This may be true, or it may not, but the fact that the emailer is perceiving it this way gives me a clue to why he’s really objecting.  My guess is that the emailer strongly associates this term with the military, and reacts badly to uses in other contexts.  Language is more than just for communication, it is a social and cultural tool, and as such certain groups like to have their own terms purely as a sign of group membership.  In extreme cases, linguists have been unable to document languages because the speaker community refuses to teach it to outsiders, so I don’t think it’s such a stretch that someone might object to civilians using a military term, particularly if that someone is military or has family or friends in the military.

Does that mean that you shouldn’t use klick?  I don’t think so. Jargon like this regularly makes it into general circulation, just as words get borrowed across dialects and languages.  Sure, some people might object to someone else’s use of “their” jargon, particularly if the meaning changes somewhat.

So, with that covered, I know have to do some soul-searching on my feelings regarding certain popular uses of linguistic terms such as grammar, phonetic, and passive voice

TMS 4/4/2012: “dramedy”

I don’t know what about dramedy the emailer doesn’t like, though Scott’s hatred for the genre seems to surpass his hatred for the word.  I find this amusing, since he shows appreciation for good genre-mixing all the time, but somehow putting a word on it makes him think of the examples he hates.

In any case, dramedy has an interesting track through time, with a meteoric rise in the 80’s, a precipitous fall in the 90’s, and then another rise in the late 90’s and early ’00s (ngram below).

Funnily enough, I checked on that bump around the 1920s, and while one example I found was clearly an OCR mistake, there were several more that clearly refer to a literary genre, though I’m not sure if the sense is the same as that used today, or if it simply meant drama (it may have been used both ways, though very rarely).

In any case, dramedy is a curious word, and probably one deserving of some further investigation.  In the end, I say it’s fun.

4/3/2012: “best practice”

So, this is another item that is being associated with “corporate speak”: best practice.  Wiktionary defines this as “a well-defined procedure that produces near-optimum results”.  I think that the emailer’s own complaint that this word somehow degrades all previous thinking on a subject is an overthinking of the meaning:  best practice is an idiom, and should be treated as such, thus pulling out the word best and assuming that it means something: a best practice is not what we consider the best procedure for something, merely an effective one.

Besides that, why shouldn’t we continually look for newer ways to do things.  Not all of them will be better, but many will be.  We are much, much better at heart transplants now than we were when the first one was done.  But again, I’m not even sure that “new procedure” is in the core meaning of best practice.

In the end, it’s possible that certain people overuse the term, though it can be hard to tell, as the people who complain about these things are often wrong about the frequency.  But I think that best practice, particularly in areas where clearly defined procedures are useful, is an important concept.  I don’t really see a need to expunge it.

Rob Wynne (aka autographedcat) gave some good insights on the term in comments on the Tadpool Facebook group.  I highly suggest you check it out, since he knows a lot more about the in-the-wild usage of this word than I do.

TMS 4/2/2012: “reach out”

This is another term that someone is associating with a certain situation.  Interestingly, I have never heard the sense of reach out the emailer cites, namely “to communicate something to someone outside of present company” — to me it seems to be a more mundane extension of the sense “to ask for help.”  It could be that the emailer’s irritation does come mostly from an association with business meetings, or some sense that “reaching out” is not done to convey a mundane order to another employee.  But I understand that words change meaning, so I don’t see at too big an issue.  I’ll admit I had an immediate reaction, but if this usage continues, the next generation will not.

TMS 2/29/2012: “chuffed”

I found the same definition that Brian Ibbot did.  However, funnily enough, Etymonline of all places has "displeased, gruff" dating from 1832, though from a different etymon.  It’s not that unusual for a word to have two opposite meanings, or for an opposite meaning to take hold.  Such things can occur through two different etymologies that happen to become homophonous, from ironic usage (as in the use of bad to mean “good, great”), or just regular old semantic shifts (silly took a rather torturous route from “pious” to its current meaning).

Funnily enough, I did find a list of “contronyms” (defined as “words that are their own opposites”), and of course chuffed is listed there, with the gloss “pleased, annoyed”.

I think the moral of the story here is that just because a sense is not in a particular dictionary doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.  Also, language is not discreet and logical, as natural evolution causes a lot of odd ambiguities — including words that are their own opposites.

TMS 3/27/2012: “netizen”

Merriam Webster says the earliest known usage of netizen comes from 1984, though they maddeningly don’t give a citation (again, I can’t wait until I have OED access for these kinds of words).  My efforts at antedating the term were foiled again and again by insufficient data or search engines that are not designed to help you find early examples (Google News, why do you refuse to let me go past page 26 of your date-sorted results?).  Anyway, the Google n-gram indicates that while the term was coined in the 80s, it’s rise was exponential through the 90s and 00s, peaking somewhere around 2005 or thereabouts. (I think we can safely assume the small bump around 1900 is either an error or an entirely different meaning.)

To be honest, I rarely hear the term netizen outside of the context of stories about the Chinese Internet*.  This may be more a reflection of the kinds of stories I read than the overall usage of the word, of course.  It is definitely quite useful in China, where despite rapid growth of access, “netizens” are still a much different demographic than the general population — generally more urban, richer, and younger on average — and I suspect the same could be said of other developing countries.  I imagine it’s slightly less useful in the US or in South Korea, where the emailer is, due to wider penetration of the Internet, though there still is a subset of the population that uses the Internet more.

So, ultimately I say that netizen can be a useful term, particularly in places where the Internet is less ubiquitous.  And it certainly sounds better to me than the alternative cybercitizen (found on the Wiki article).  So let’s not ban this term.


*The Chinese word happens to be a calque, or direct translation: 网民 wang3min2 where 网 means “net” in all senses and 民 (literally, “people”) is from 市民 shi4min2 “citizen”
TMS 3/26/2012: “yinz”

I had to look up the spelling for this word, as I wasn’t sure what it was from Scott’s pronunciation.  It’s entirely possible that the emailer did write it as <yens>, but <yinz> is what Wikipedia gives me.  According to aforementioned Wikipedia article, it is a plural you form found often in western Pennsylvania and several other parts of Appalachia, and probably related to you’uns and other similar forms that have roughly the same distribution.

I find it rather sad that Scott and Brian are happy with y’all but don’t like yinz, especially the idea of “Oh it’s just a Southern thing, after all”.  True, Appalachian dialects are often grouped with Southern American English (though not always), but they are not quite the same, and this usage extends beyond traditional “Southern Territory”. It’s not like these regions put this kind of thing to a vote — dialects form for a variety of reasons, and all we can really do to identify them is to check the distributions of various features and variants — obvioiusly some will overlap

There are many different regional variants for the second person plural pronoun — probably largely because there is no standard variant.  There’s no reason to think of one of these is inherently better than the others.  Next they’ll be complaining about yous (something that occurs among ethnic Scots in the British Isles, and probably related to yinz as well).

TMS 3/22/2012: “That’s what I’m talking about!”

I’m really not sure how to go about this one.  The emailer seems to just be listing a bunch of peeves that he associates with Southern California.  All I can really say is that he’s clearly doing the language-as-proxy-for-cultural-group thing.  There really wasn’t another argument there except for “This annoys me!”.  Obviously, neither of these arguments sit well with me.