I am a word guy. It’s how I make my living. Words are my truth, and I insist we follow their precise meanings.
One particular agitation for years has been when a waitperson approaches me in a restaurant, sees my plate with some still-edible scraps of food on it and asks: “Are you still working on that?”
Working? Working is a task, often one that a person is paid for, like operating a backhoe on a hot day. I’ve never been paid for eating. If I’m eating, and paid for the privilege, it’s supposed to be a pleasure.
So, yeah, I’m a curmudgeon (noun: a crusty, ill-tempered, and usually old man). But it’s not that I can’t learn. As is the case in my longtime association with the word decimate (verb: to kill one in 10). It irritated me when I’d hear television weather reporters tell us, “Hurricane Katrina decimated the city of New Orleans.” What? It killed one in 10 people, it destroyed one in 10 houses?
But now I admit, time has moved on for decimate (historical verb: a form of capital punishment to quell rebellion among Roman troops, with one out of every 10 men put to death). Grudgingly, I now embrace a new decimate (modern usage: to kill, destroy, or remove a large percentage or part of).
I move on to new, trendy words and phrases, not with reluctance, but with caution. A phrase that appeared a couple of years ago is “throwing shade” (slang: subtle, sneering expression of contempt for or disgust with someone). I like the sound of it, and its intention. Yet since I don’t want to appear to be an older white man trying too hard to be hip, I avoid phrases like throwing shade (social media personality Bugatti Beez: “I just wanna love yo stupid ass but yo stupid ass be acting stupid & that shit stupid”).
More recently, I find agitation in the word “per” (preposition: for each, as used with units to express a rate, such as a gas selling at $2.59 per gallon). I’ve been reading internet stories about the upcoming Super Bowl so that I can engage in social conversation with people, and it’s astonishing how often I come across sportswriters using “per” (example: “Patriots quarterback Tom Brady will be wearing a size XXL jock strap, lined with duck down, per Sports Illustrated’s Peter King). In this case, per is used to indicate attribution. I’ve seen internet sportswriting that contains three pers per story. Apparently, the writers believe the use of “per,” rather than “I read somewhere else,” gives their own reporting a lawyerly authority. And as a former sportswriter, I can confirm that sportswriters are neither lawyerly or authorities.
This week, I’ve been reading the Trump henchman Roger Stone complaining about his arrest on seven criminal counts, including obstruction of justice and witness tampering. Yet another witch nailed in the witch hunt. He’s said Osama bin Laden was treated better than he has been. Stone calls his predicament a “legal lynching.”
Perhaps he has forgotten that bin Laden was shot in the head and his body dumped in the ocean. Perhaps he has forgotten that lynching was something mobs of white racists did to black people in America, and not that long ago.
These words are Stone re-defining the legal system at work. Verbal sideshows that sidestep fact and true definition, and overstate the situation, for his convenience.
In truth, words always matter.
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