Monday, January 22, 2007

"How come you keep saying that word?"


They mean things.

You can try to bend them to your will, but they really do have concrete meanings, and if you are trying to make an argument using them (it would be difficult not to, unless you designed a flow chart or something and just sort of pointed), you should probably use them as nature intended. Otherwise you will be constantly called out on the semantics of your position, and not addressing the issue of the debate.

Often people try to appropriate words to make them positive. This works to a certain advantage, when words used to deride a minority is taken by the minority and turned around to be positive.
However, most of the time, people just don't realise they are misusing the word in the first place. Here are two such words that, as Inigo from "The Princess Bride" would tell us, don't mean what we think they mean.

Arrogance - Okay this word is most often used pretty correctly. But what gets my goat is when people try to use it in a positive way as, "I believe in myself, and if that makes me arrogant, fine." Now I have nothing wrong with people believing in themselves. I think pride and self-esteem are critical to being a functioning human on this planet. However arrogance?

Well this is what arrogance really means: "having or revealing an exaggerated sense of one's own importance or abilities".

The key word is "exaggerated" as in, you think of yourself in a way that is false in an extreme. Being arrogant means you think highly of yourself in a skewed and untrue light. It is not a positive thing. It actually makes you look, dare I say it, a wee bit foolish.

Next word, and this one IS used all the time to mean something quite different than what it really means.

- this is used most frequently to mean that a person has a lot of strong opinions. This is not a bad thing. I way prefer people to have strong opinions than to sit on the fence all the time. You may have noticed from the content of my blog that I have just such those opinions. However this is not what it means.

really means this: "conceitedly assertive and dogmatic in one's opinions".

Again not such a great thing to be. Very close in fact to the definition of arrogant as a matter of fact. Check out the synonyms to opinionated: dictatorial, pontifical, domineering, pompous, self-important, arrogant; inflexible, uncompromising, prejudiced, bigoted.

Not so hot to be.

I don't think the people who use either of these terms (especially the latter) really are the way the words they choose to describe themselves imply. I don't mean to judge anyone simply because they got a word wrong. It seriously happens to all of us all the time. I just think it would be nice if we could be thoughtful about the things we say, enjoy words and play with them, and do so with some care and respect. And it can be fun, every once in a while, to look up words you use with some frequency. Just to, you know, double check.

And I would like to point out that up until recently I too misused "opinionated". It is just that now that I know what it means, I am determined to use it correctly, and to also educate the world!

I think that should be my superhero - "Dictionary Girl!"

If you can't quite think of the word
no matter how hard that you try,
don't look for it up in a book,
but rather look into the sky!

For Dictionary Girl will save you
when you just can't think of the word,
or if you've used one that's not quite right
that would make you sound slightly absurd.

And then she'll fly off once again
to where, well no one really knows,
but no fear! she'll always be there
should you need a slight hand with your prose.


Holly Kennedy said...

Great post! You and Pat at ORION kill me....

ORION said...

Oh I LOVE dictionary girl. I wrote a children's story with similar themes! Maybe I'll pull it out and play with it.
This is such a great post and yeah it's cool to get the same idea -- it must be because we're both editing!

Holly Kennedy said...

Thanks for your sweet comment on my blog today, Adrienne. I hate replying to someone on my own blog as I'm never sure they'll return and read it. Anyhow, thank you. You're a doll for popping by. And Orion? Get back to work, goof!

J M McDermott said...

My favorite misused words stem from my days in sales:

"positive" and "negative" do NOT mean what people think they mean in interpersonal relations. Business-people have snatched words ignorantly.

Being "positive" means doing something. Anything. Positive activities include fisticuffs, offering cake, spitting in someone's face, praising someone, and verbally humiliating someone in front of their mother.

Being "negative" means doing nothing. Nothing at all.

Thus, in interpersonal relations, people must strive for balance in both the positive and the negative.

Whenever I heard someone say "I'm a very positive person!" or "Don't be so negative!" I shuddered. Occasionally, I corrected them. Usually no one cared. Which is a very negative thing, indeed.

adrienne said...

Hmm . . . maybe I have a whole new series out there with Dictionary Girl!

J M M - that is so interesting, I've never really looked into "positive" and "negative" at all. Well now I have a new addition to Dictionary Girl's arsenal!

Leah J. Utas said...

Okay, you made me look.
Now what word did Wallace Shawn keep misusing in "The Princess Bride?"

Good post.

adrienne said...

Too easy!


What did Fezzik rhyme with:

"No more ryhmes now and I mean it!"

Leah J. Utas said...

That wasn't a test. It was bugging me.
Wish I knew the answer to the rhyme.

adrienne said...

Ha! Well then I am glad I could help out. By the way I answered the question of what the rhyme was in my latest entry.