05 March 2009

Unfortunate Usages

When I first started participating in chat rooms, many years ago, I found that one of the more difficult things was to refrain from commenting on the spelling in people's posts. Now, with greater development of our capacity to communicate, comes an even greater challenge to the language which is probably more revealing of the writer's language skills and cultural knowledge than of manual dexterity or typing accuracy. It is the misuse or misrepresentation of common sayings that serves to demonstrate that the writer is using them without even understanding what they mean.

This goes beyond the internet and into daily life. I watched an episode of Jeopardy where someone lost almost all her money by providing as an expression for drunkenness sheets to the wind rather than three sheets to the wind. Alex was neither kind nor forgiving.

I just can't stop myself from commenting on some of the instances I have observed, but without identifying the sources…

It's toe the line not tow the line: an unfortunate military metaphor for stepping up and obeying just like everyone else (each person's toes on the same line), not some kind of strange game of tug'o'war.

It is bearing witness to something, not stripping the witness of all clothing, as you would be if you were baring witness.

A friend of my mother's used to use the word (okay it isn't really a word) predictament, which must be that sticky situation that you just knew you would get into.

One battens down the hatches to prevent the sea from swamping one's boat in a storm, and figuratively to preserve one's integrity in the face of a daunting challenge. I'm not sure what one would achieve by battening down the hatchets unless that is a kind of 'swords into ploughshares' type of thing.

I suppose that the prostrate gland is responsible for keeping us down. The more familiar prostate doesn't have that impact.

Someone along the way noticed how often people referred to that building material used to ensure that the heating and cooling system does not leak as Duck Tape. That person actually registered the name and came out with a product, but it is destined to become the kleenex of duct tape as people keep using the wrong configuration to refer to the generic.

And let me close with one that is a lovely example of the mixed metaphor: loose cannon in the attic. I'm not sure how many people might have attached cannons in their attics, or why this would be as serious as it would, say, on the deck of a ship heaving in the waves, where it might actually swing around and shoot the wrong thing.

As aggravating as they are to me, I'd love to hear more.

1 comment:

madamerouge said...

I love this post & support it 100% :-)