The Grammar Factor: words, words, words, farthest/furthest

Words, words, words

words2As new words creep into the language or old words are used differently, we react to them in different ways.

Many new usages just make good sense and we use them without a second thought – ‘google’ as a verb and ‘invite’ as a noun.

Some pass us by completely – I had not heard of ‘earworm’ until recently (a tune that keeps repeating itself over and over again in our heads).

Some new words stick and others fade. I don’t think the American Dialect Society’s 2005 word of the year, ‘truthiness’, is still widely used.

A few new words or meanings make some of us cringe – ‘futurate’ and ‘impactful’ sound ugly to me and a colleague dislikes the way ‘careen’ has morphed from applying to ships on a lean to mean ‘move in an uncontrolled way’. What new words or meanings do you dislike?

If changes stick, we usually adapt and get over our pet dislikes. Do you have negative feelings about these words: colonise, contemplate or balcony? In 1760, Benjamin Franklin stated in a letter that the word ‘colonise’ was bad, and in 1855, English poet Samuel Rogers said ‘as if contemplate were not bad enough, balcony makes me sick’.

In the process of change, some words have conflicting meanings that can cause confusion. I avoid using ‘peruse’ because it now means both read thoroughly and skim-read, and ‘bi-monthly’ because it means twice a month or every two month.

Watch some TED talks about words, words, words.

READERS’ QUESTIONS

Book titles

Question: What sort of punctuation marks do we use for book titles?

Answer: We use italics for the titles of books, legislative Acts (when used in full the first time), newspapers, movies and plays. We use inverted commas for the titles of articles, songs and poems.

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
‘What price your pet?’ The Sydney Morning Herald

farthest and furthest

Question: I would be interested in your opinion about the use of ‘farthest’ and ‘furthest’.

Answer: In Australian and New Zealand English, ‘farther’ is not very common. We use ‘further’ as an adjective or adverb to mean both at a greater distance, and in addition, moreover. It can also be used as a verb meaning to advance (something).

‘Farther’ is used more in the US and UK, where some writers split the meanings, saying ‘farther’ relates to distance and ‘further’ to moreover.

The same distinctions apply to ‘farthest’ and ‘furthest’.

INTERESTING ARTICLES ABOUT WRITING

Rise of the machine translators
Machine translators (MT) are here to stay, but will they replace human translators? Read these two Economist articles: ‘Rise of the machine translators’ and ‘Future English’.

Simple and complex languages
Did you know that languages spoken by ‘stone age’ or isolated tribes tend to be complicated, while languages spoken by a large number of people, less so? Read this Economist article to find out more.

Words that have changed meaning
This TED article by English professor Anne Curzan looks at 20 words that once meant something different – ‘nice’ used to mean silly and ‘decimate’ meant to kill every 10th person.

WORD OF THE MONTH

adorkable = nerdy in a cute, adorable way

QUOTE OF THE MONTH

‘But if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought.’
George Orwell, 1984

 

 
 

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