“This is unchartered territory.”

In compound expressions, eggcorns, thoughtless patterns on August 26, 2015 at 3:36 am

Gabe Sherman, National Affairs Editor, New York Magazine

 MSNBC 8/25 3:50-ish PM regarding Trump leading his followers away from Fox

No, he’s far from the only one to do this. And I doubt he’ll be the last one in the coming political circus, because it’s becoming a habit among more and more folks on the lookout for longer words to bolster their arguments. So what’s so wrong with it?

Mostly, it creates a dreadful mix of metaphors, robbing the second word of its significance. The original, uncharted territory, is clear and powerful. One pictures pilots of ships, reading the shoreline and the push and pull of currents, wondering about shallows that would be predictable if the cartographers had gotten there first. I never learned to read marine charts, but I love the look of them, with their underwater topographic curves. With the corruption, I’m afraid I lapse over into the Monty Python song about chartered accountants.

I generally prefer to address errors found in print, because you can be more sure someone had a chance to correct themselves. But I don’t think I’ve ever seen this one in writing. Maybe in the act of writing or typing two extra characters, the wrongness jumps out. I don’t understand, though, how it doesn’t register when the -r- in particular has to be pronounced. And today it was just a charter too far.

I’ve recently learned to call this particular kind of error an “eggcorn,” which gives it a category, but doesn’t make it grate any less.

“The Single Greatest Country in the World”

In comparatives, redundancy again, thoughtless patterns on January 28, 2016 at 9:49 pm

Marco Rubio campaign ad

So it’s the turn of the third-place scrambler, the one with the fully Hispanic name, and it’s about an English error so common few of my writeous colleagues even notice any more. But I can’t ignore it. This time there isn’t even anyplace to put the excess word.

A superlative like “greatest” is already singular. There is none greater. Often, the “single” is simply misplaced as in, say, “I’d like to thank the single largest donor to my campaign,” one among many. Australia could be the greatest single-country continent, but I don’t see any other way to get to a greatest single country.

There could be great things for a country to do alone — humanitarian achievements, support for the arts, peacemaking — but then we’d probably use words like “solo” or indeed, “alone,” and use identification of the nation to modify something like “effort” or “action.” That might be too specific for a campaign ad, or indeed for this campaign over all.

Come to think of it, there is one thing I like about Rubio’s double superlative: It celebrates the current greatness of the USA, instead of asserting some vague past and greater greatness to which we might return. That may be all Rubio and his writers wanted, to distinguish their campaign from that other one that has made greatness its watchword. And there certainly isn’t any more greatness to which yet another campaign might aspire.

“We’ll do 90 minutes, … mano-a-mano, Donald and me.”

In lost in translation, lost meanings on January 27, 2016 at 9:42 pm

Ted Cruz, Fairfield Iowa, Jan. 27

Either Ted Cruz really wants to physically duke it out with Donald Trump, or I hope his Cuban-born father Raphael will give him a mano-a-mejilla (mejilla de la cara o de la nalga*, I don’t really care) lesson in Spanish.

I’m just sick of this misrepresentation of a phrase that’s come so strongly into use by speakers of English. But even worse, for me, is to hear it misused by someone presumed to have an inkling what it really means, whether through his heritage or his position as Senator from Texas. Certainly it also irks me because it’s so testosterone poisoned, with its implication that males, especially “ethnic” males, enjoy more important kinds of battles than anything involving a “womana.”

What could hand-to-hand combat possibly have to do with running for President, either? Is it some kind of proof of hawkishness, as if a President Cruz or Trump would be taking on opponents on the world stage in this style? While I’d rather see international disputes settled by champions than by armies, I shudder as much at the thought of either of these men playing that role as I do at picturing them at a real negotiating table, where the risks involve such threats as nuclear war. But that’s another discussion for another venue. Here, I’ll try to stick to language.

Maybe he really wants to arm wrestle.

*My advanced-Spanish-student cousin, Sara Kilker, knew enough to question a Peruvian friend, who says mejilla isn’t really used for nalgada, but this being a rant about English, I’m going to stick with the parallel construction, which I find funnier.

%d bloggers like this: