1/4/06

Talk Wrong

It's always awkward when a friend of yours misspeaks, and you're never quite sure if you should say something or not. But perhaps this, a publicly accessible and absurdly named weblog, will prove to be the perfect forum for correction.

Okay:

It's "myriad." Not "a myriad." Myriad means the same thing as "many," and should be used accordingly. I know, I know, I like the idea of a "myriad" too... I picture a place like that crystal castle where Superman's folks live. But that's not how the word works. You say, "There were myriad options at the Ponderosa dessert bar."

And, when you proceed to complete a project that until now has only been outlined or described, you are fleshing it out. I think of it in illustrative terms: once you've drawn in the rough skeleton, you go back in and fill in the skin's final contours. Flushing something out doesn't really mean the same thing, and could well mean the opposite. A springer spaniel flushes birds out of a nest. A business team fleshes out a proposal.

Now, just to prove I'm not some kind of grammar Nazi, I will append a couple of applications that are technically incorrect but provisionally okay in my book.

Saying "anyone speaking incorrectly should have their lips torn off" is not actually right. "Their" is plural, but you're talking about one person at a time. It should be "...have his lips torn off" or, "her lips," if the group you're talking about is all female.

Now, I see that one screwed up all the time - on signs, in instruction manuals, corporate memos... everywhere - and it's fully understandable that most people don't know it. And so, even though it does bother me a little to see this error, I have decided that, Hey: English is a live language - at least we hope so - and as long as an error doesn't cause a failure in communication... (no harm, no foul) ...and life's too short, you know? Say "Each of the cops brought their gun to church" if you want to.

I'll go even further on "legendary." Technically, I guess to say something is legendary doesn't exactly mean what most people think it does. To say Dick Clark's resistance to aging is the stuff of legend actually means it's mythological, or drawn from fable, or - in a word - fake. The "Legendary" Matterhorn would, according to some, be a 14,692-foot mountain on the Swiss-Italian border that doesn't really exist. But I say screw that: if I claim my basketball skills are legendary, you and I both know exactly what I'm talking about. (And that I'm totally lying).

Oh, and you can get compose/comprise and discrete/discreet wrong all day long and not bother me a bit.

So go forth, friends, and say what's on your mind, making modifications to the English language where you see fit. Just don't butcher it, please, or you'll hear about it from me. On my blog.

9 comments:

penelope said...

Me talk pretty one day.

kohn said...

nehamkin?

also kohn said...

is that you?

Anonymous said...

Are you ANAL or what???

Colin said...

It's possible. For instance, duplicate question marks bother me quite a bit.

Luke said...

"To say Dick Clark's resistance to aging is the stuff of legend actually means it's mythological, or drawn from fable, or - in a word – fake.”

I was under the impression that "myth" was a word that more accurately describes ultimate truths (transcending the details of the story wherein it is contained).

That myth is so functional across cultural and time boundaries is directly connected to its detachment from the who, what, when, or where that we individuals often need in place in order to tell our tales.

According to Geoffrey Hill's book, Illuminating The Shadows - The Mythic Power Of Film, "Myth is not, as popularly conceived, something that is not true. To the contrary, the scholar of religion Ananda Coomaraswamy reminds us that myth is actually "the nearest to absolute truth that can be expressed in words.""

Just because Webster says that myth is something not true doesn't necessarily make it so. Indeed, some of our greatest mythologies to date have lasted as long as they have (throughout the centuries) because of what rings true about them and not because of their silly basis in the absurd or untrue. Indeed, the very reason for continuing to tell such tales is to pass on some universal value or truth to new generations. We don’t think of Hercules or Achilles as some silly loons. We consider them with much higher regard. We don’t care if they are real. They are true.

It is my contention that you too are misusing a word (the worth "myth") to the point of contributing to its very demise!

FOR SHAME!

Colin said...

Luke, I stand thoroughly corrected. I never meant to claim that myths are mythological.

No wait, I mean, they are. And we love 'em for it! They're gloriously mythological (meaning true), these myths of ours, and I'm with you all the way, man, provided I'm understanding you correctly and you're not implying that there actually, factually, was an Achilles who was actually, factually dunked in the river Styx.

Susan said...

I have never written to a blog before, and only found yours today through the link on Penelope's site. So, I just want to say, with all due respect, I believe "a myriad" is correct. See http://dictionary.reference.com/search?q=myriad for details. cheers, Susan (greenskyblue@hotmail.com)

Colin said...

Okay, okay. You can have "myriad" too.

Personally, I think this alternate usage makes a lot more sense, and I say we bring it back: "Throughout most of its history in English myriad was used as a noun, as in a myriad of men. In the 19th century it began to be used in poetry as an adjective, as in myriad men. Both usages in English are acceptable, as in Samuel Taylor Coleridge's 'Myriad myriads of lives.'"

The only good reason to stick to the adjectival use of the word is to stay on the good side of any grammar sticklers you might run across (besides me) (now).

Samuel Taylor Coleridge can go pound sand.