Targeting the Location

It’s been a while since my brain toggled back and forth between spellings of words with the same pronunciation and multiple meanings as my poor fingers struggled to keep up. One can’t always depend on the red, blue, or green squiggles of Word to proof that sentence for you, you know.

This time it was “she had it in her sights.” No, sites. No, I was right the first time, it’s sights. Oh hang it all. Time to check the dictionary.

Site:

A place where something it located

Today we’ll be investigating the site of the burglary.

A website

Check out my new site with all the cool apps.

Sight:

The ability to see

Everything is blurry, and I appear to be losing my sight.

One’s field of vision

The toddler casually walked out of his mother’s sight.

Something seen

What a sight she created with her shaven head, pierced nose, and combat boots.

A place or thing worth seeing

Philadelphia is a great place to visit for historical sights.

The part of a firearm used to aim

I had the criminal in my sights.

An extended version of the last definition was the one I needed:

To defeat someone or achieve something, or be close to doing so.

She had first place in her sights.

Collecting the Masses

As I was typing a blog post last week, a tiny red flag flew up the mast in the back of my mind. I ignored it and pressed on toward my writing goal for the day. Fortunately, that small warning kept popping up as I went about business. I don’t know why my mind settled on the word hoard (or was it horde), but I knew I had used it recently only I couldn’t remember where. Making matters worse, after double checking definitions, I realized I had chosen the wrong one.

For two days, I skimmed my memory for how I meant to use it, and that helped me track down the scheduled blog post. Much to my relief, it hadn’t posted yet.

I had chosen hoard when what I meant was horde. Word had completely failed me when it produced neither red, blue, or green squiggles beneath the offending version to prevent my error. The next time I receive a survey from Microsoft during an update, I’m going to request purple squiggles for homonyms, homophones, and homographs. But I digress.

Hoard, the noun, means:

*a stock or store of money or valued objects, typically one that is secret or carefully guarded

“Smaug stood guard over his hoard of treasure.”

*an ancient store of coins or other valuable artifacts

“The search for a hammer resulted in the discovery of the largest hoard of Roman gold coins.”

*an amassed store of useful information or facts, retained for future use

“The NSA has a hoard of stored information about my activities.”

Hoard, the verb, means:

*amass (money or valued objects) and hide or store away

“She hoarded shoes worse than Imelda Marcos.”

*reserve in the mind for future use

“She hoarded every insult against her and plotted her revenge.”

And then there is horde, only a noun and the version I meant to use.

*a large group of people (derogatory)

“The Mongol horde invaded China.”

*a loosely-knit, small social group typically consisting of about five families (Anthropology)

A horde of peasants had lived about five miles outside of the village.

The Buzz About Last Names

Making the last name of the family in my novel, The Tedescos, plural was quite easy. I simply added an S to their name when speaking or writing about the entire clan. And then I assigned one character the last name Roberts and decided to write about his family as well. Time to apply “The Joneses Rule.”

Of course this isn’t the official title of the grammar rule; it’s just my way of remembering that when I make a last name ending in S plural, I add –es. The AP Stylebook, The Chicago Manual of Style, the Cambridge Guide to English Usage, Garner’s Modern American Usage as well as many grammar websites agree with this practice.

Then there is the annoying little pronunciation rule that pops up every now and then. If a last name ending in S sounds like a Z, as in Jones, one shouldn’t add the –es. A trick to determining this is to place your hand on your throat, say the name aloud, and see if you can feel your throat buzzing. Really? We’re supposed to trust proper grammar to the buzzing in our throats? This is made doubly ridiculous because sites that uphold this rule still say that Jones should be Joneses when making the name plural.

Here’s my advice: play it safe by trashing the buzzing rule, be consistent in your writing, and add –es to any last name ending in S. Regional dialects pronounce names differently, and it’s too difficult to pin down whether a name is ending in an S sound or a Z sound.

Ancient Canine Proverb

Sister Mary Agnes is a peripheral character in my novel, The Tedescos, but she is one of importance as she lends emotional and spiritual support to the Tedesco Family. In a chapter where she and Shirley Tedesco are at the hospital waiting for a very important outcome, the nun asks Shirley if they should go check on the men meaning Joe and his friends. Shirley replies, “Nah, let sleeping dogs lie.” The phrase means to avoid interfering in a situation that is currently stable, and Shirley certainly didn’t want Joe and company hovering around and mucking things up.

The expression is based on the observation that dogs are often unpredictable when they are startled awake. What started out as a warning about the risk of waking a potentially dangerous animal became metaphorical. The ‘leave well enough alone’ proverb has evolved from the days of Geoffrey Chaucer (“It is nought good a slepyng hound to wake.” – Troilus and Criseyde, circa 1380) and John Heywood (“It is euill waking of the slepyng dog.” – A Dialogue Prouerbes English Tongue, 1546) into more modern versions including ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.’

There is also a legend that credits 18th century British politician Sir Robert Walpole with the proverb, claiming that it was also his motto. Apparently, the saying does not appear in Walpole’s published writings nor does record exist of him ever saying it. Perhaps he applied some version of the phrase to his political policy, but that’s as far as he and the phrase go although a lovely little cartoon of Sir Robert exists based on the proverb.

As serious as this explanation sounds, Joe and his buddies wouldn’t have responded as a vicious dog would, but their presence still wasn’t required by the ladies.

Don’t Have a Heart Attack

You know how it is. You’re typing away in Word, and maybe you truly aren’t aware of the difference or maybe you just made a typo, but in either case the blue squiggles have shown up under one or two words. I don’t often experience the blue squiggles. I’m familiar with the red (misspelled word) and the green (fragment). But when I see the blue squiggles, I know something is wrong.

It happened recently when I typed the word anymore. Making anymore into two words solved the problem, but I couldn’t let this correction go without re-familiarizing myself with the why behind it. Never hurts to brush up on my grammar, not to mention it makes a great blog post for The Weight of Words.

Any more and anymore have related meanings, but they are not interchangeable. How you use it will determine whether you type or write it as one word or two. Any more deals with quantities such as:

Would you like any more cookies?

Anymore is an adverb and has to do with time:

I don’t like cookies anymore.

A quick check to see if you need the single-word version is if you can switch it for the word nowadays. One source claimed this usage to be unacceptable in formal writing and quite rare, however, I believe it would add flair to one’s writing whether in the prose or as dialog. I also am a great proponent for keeping alive interesting words deemed archaic.

Another interesting fact regarding anymore vs. any more is that the traditional though less common spelling was as two separate words: any more. Apparently, in the last fifty years, anymore has increased in use giving rise to the one-word and two-word spellings, distinct definitions, and usage.

Old Literature, New Words

Nothing like a great classic to bring up some words you may know, but weren’t aware had interesting multiple definitions, and a few you may not know.  I’m sure you’ll want to add these to your vocabulary, work them into your writing, and use them to win a round of Jeopardy.

First is beetling.  When I came across it in a sentence, I thought I knew the definition of the word, but its usage didn’t make sense where it had been written.  So, I went in search of the definition that would fit the sentence.

As a verb, beetling can mean:

Make one’s way hurriedly or with short, quick steps.

To use a beetle on; drive, ram, beat, or crush with a beetle.

To project or overhang threateningly.

As a noun:

A heavy hammering or ramming instrument, usually of wood, used to drive wedges, force down paving stones, compress loose earth, etc.

Any of various wooden instruments for beating linen, mashing potatoes, etc.

Any insect of the order Coleoptera, having biting mouthparts and forewings modified to form shell-like protective elytra (two-wing casing of a beetle).

As an adjective:

Projecting, overhanging.

That’s quite a few definitions for a word that sounds rather cute when you say it.  Try it this way:

But just then the moon, sailing through the black clouds, appeared behind the jagged crest of a beetling, pine-clad rock, and by its light I saw around us a ring of wolves, with white teeth, lolling red tongues, with long sinewy limbs and shaggy hair.

Now it doesn’t sound so innocent, does it?  Clearly the adjective of beetle was the one the author had in mind.

Let’s move on to prosecuting.  I don’t know about you, but I instantly think all things legal when I hear the word.  A verb all around, drop the –ing and head straight for prosecute to discover what it means:

Institute legal proceedings against (a person or organization), institute legal proceedings in respect of (a claim or offense), and (of a lawyer) conduct the case against the party being accused or sued in a lawsuit.

See what I mean about the legal thing.  But press on a titch to find:

Continue with (a course of action) with a view to it completion.

And the archaic:

Carry on (a trade or pursuit).

Consider the sentence:

I think had there been any alternative I should have taken it, instead of prosecuting that unknown night journey.

Our character is fearful of his surroundings and the strange goings-on, so no doubt the second definition of prosecute applies here.

The last word is a fun one and needs to be worked into conversation at every opportunity not unlike the word huzzah.  Try faugh on for size.  The exclamation is used to express disgust, and I came across it in the sentence:

I am alone in the castle with those awful women.  Faugh!  Mina is a woman, and there is nought in common.  They are devils of the Pit!

You might believe the author is writing about the Kardashians, but he’s not.  The women in question are vampires, and if you haven’t figured it out yet, I’m reading Bram Stoker’s Dracula.

I wasn’t going to mention this word, but lest anyone think I’ve misspelled it, nought in the sentence above is not spelled incorrectly; it’s a variation of naught.  But you, brilliant follower, already knew that.

Where Are We Going With This?

The other day I banged out a sentence on the ole laptop and paused when my son interrupted my thought process to ask a question.  When I returned my attention to the sentence, one word in particular caught my attention.  My head tilted as I assessed the word, questioned the spelling.  Strangely enough, the obnoxious red squiggles Microsoft Word is so found of hadn’t appeared, so I assumed I’d spelled it correctly.  Still, something didn’t look quite right.  Or perhaps I should say spot-on.

Perhaps you’ve guessed by now that I spelled the word in question, travelling/traveling, as if I was writing for our friends across the pond.  I mentioned before in How Reading Taught Me to Misspell Words that I’ve been tripped up by the British spelling preferences.  Usually, Word catches them.  Not so this time.

I’ll cut to the chase and tell you that travelling and traveling are both verbs meaning to go from one place to another, as on a trip or journeyThis isn’t a case of a second or third definition.  In fact, the two spellings can be used interchangeably.  What’s more, what I’m about to tell you applies to travelled/traveled and traveller/traveler.

So what’s the difference, you ask?  There isn’t one.  Today’s The Weight of Words is another example of British versus American spelling preferences.  British writers employ the double L version of the word and American writers go for the single L spelling.  No big deal if you’re jotting off a note to someone or a private letter.  But if you’re writing a larger work for a particular audience or about Brits or Americans specifically, it might be wise to use a spelling your intended readers will not think is a mistake.

A tidbit of research uncovered the reason behind the differences in spellings:

Each word has its own unique history, but the primary mover and shaker in this transatlantic drama is the nineteenth century American lexicographer Noah Webster, he of dictionary fame.  According to “A History of English Spelling” (Manchester University, 2011) by D.G. Scragg, Webster’s dictionary of 1828 is largely responsible for standardizing the accepted spelling of American English.

Before 1828, many words, such as humor (or humour), defense (or defence) and fiber (or fibre), had two acceptable spellings on both sides of the pond, because they were introduced in England via both Latin and French, which used different spellings.  Webster picked his preferred forms (the former ones in each example above), justifying his choices in various ways, but partly on nationalist grounds:  he wanted American spelling to be distinct from, and (in his opinion) superior to, British spelling.

I can appreciate Mr. Webster’s patriotism, but sometimes I wish he’d chosen another way to express it rather than in different spellings.

~~~~~

Wolchover, Natalie. “Why Do Brits and Americans Spell Words Differently?” LiveScience, Purch, 17 Apr. 2012, http://www.livescience.com/33844-british-american-word-spelling.html.

To Praise with Admiration

For far too long those crazy Latin-speaking people have influenced English to the detriment of high school students everywhere.  Until we can stop them, here’s some information on compliment versus complement.  No doubt the confusion started with the fact that they are pronounced alike and used to have similar meanings.  Fortunately, they evolved into separate words.

The older of the two words, complement with an E derived from the Latin complementum.  As a noun, complement means “a thing that completes or brings to perfection” and “a number or quantity of something required to make a group complete.”  As a verb, it means “to add to (something) in a way that enhances or improves it; make perfect.”

Noun 1:  The lyrics provided the perfect complement to the music.

Noun 2:  As of today, we have a full complement of employees.

Verb:  The navy blazer complements the tan slacks for a classic look.

If something complements something else, it completes it or enhances it.  A handbag can complement an outfit, and a throw pillow can complement a sofa.  Remember the color wheel from grade school art class?  Complementary colors were those that were directly across from each other.  The contrast between them enhanced their relationship:  orange and blue, yellow and purple, red and green.

Remember:  if something complements something, it completes it.

Compliment with an I also derives from the Latin root completmentum, which explains some of the early overlap of meaning.  It was introduced to English by way of the Spanish cumplimiento, via the route of Italian and French.  You can pay someone a compliment, or compliment someone for a job well done.

As a noun, compliment means “a polite expression of praise or admiration.”  As a verb, it means “to politely congratulate or praise (someone) for something.”

Noun:  George paid me an enormous compliment.

Verb:  Marcia complimented Darren on his academic achievements.

Hopefully, today’s The Weight of Words helps with the compliment versus complement confusion.  If not, blame those pesky Latin-speaking folks.

Just a Titch

No, this is not me!

I am on a roll with The Weight of Words this week.  Microsoft Word keeps telling me that titch isn’t really a word.  Every time I type it, the red squiggles instantly appear beneath it.  Since I used it in yesterday’s blog post, I feel obliged to pay homage to tiny, little titch.

I first heard titch as a teenager while trying to explain to the stylist about to perm my hair into a mass of curls that would make any teen of the ‘80s green with envy exactly how little hair I wanted removed prior to perming.  She assured me that any hairdresser would understand I wanted nothing more than the dead ends cut off if I simply told him or her to cut just a titch.  Lo and behold, to this day, her advice holds true.

Titch is informal British for a small person.  The slang originated in the 1930s from Little Tich, the stage name of Harry Relph, an English music-hall comedian of small stature.  Apparently, Relph earned the nickname because he resembled Arthur Orton, the Tichborne claimant.

Somewhere along the way, it came to mean a small amount, to tut-tut someone in disapproval, or a small child.

I’ll have a titch of coffee before I go.

Titch—you ate all the cake and didn’t save me any?

He’s just a titch of a thing who hasn’t grown much in the past year.

Fortunately, you will not need to expend several cans of Aqua Net to employ the word titch.

Using Vulgar Language

I’m not bragging when I say I read voraciously.  Ever since I discovered reading as a child, it has been one of my absolute favorite pastimes.  My personal library attests to this as does my activity on Goodreads.  Reading has added a few words to my vocabulary that I didn’t think were all that unusual, but apparently they are.  One such word is unbeknownst.  I don’t use it all the time and I’m certainly not trying to sound haughty when I do.  It appears a few commentators do not agree with me.

Today’s The Weight of Words is in honor of unbeknownst, a humble adjective usually used with ‘to’ that simply means happening or existing without the knowledge of a specified person or persons.

Unbeknownst to my mother, my brother and I are planning a surprise birthday party for her seventy-fifth birthday complete with a cruise to Hawaii as a present.

According to one site I checked, the first known use of unbeknownst was in 1626, so yes, it probably does sound a little archaic.  But that doesn’t render the word useless or worthy of exclusion from the English language.  I used it recently in a blog post which prompted this post in turn!

Unbeknownst derives from beknown, an obsolete synonym of knownUnbeknownst has widespread usage, including appearances in the works of Charles Dickens, A.E. Housman, and E.B. White, yet despite its candid history, unbeknownst has caused a ruckus among usage commentators.  It has been called everything from “obsolete” to “vulgar.”

I’ll continue to use the word, especially since it still crops up in new writing, and unbeknownst to those who have no idea what it means, I shall talk over their lazy, empty heads.  Okay, now that did sound a titch haughty.

 

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