|Being Picky with Words
||[Mar. 17th, 2005|12:11 am]
I'm given to understand that English has a bigger vocabulary than most (all?) other languages. This means that English has high descriptive granularity; there are lots of words that differ in meaning by fine shades. I like that, because I like to be able to use precise terminology when it's available. (This is a general trait of geeks, according to The Jargon Files Appendix, which is scarily accurate.)|
Anyway, there are a number of words that, in common usage (even in dictionaries), are starting to lose their precise meanings, which would be a shame. Here's the ones I can think of at the moment.
uninterested vs disinterested
"Uninterested" means that I don't care; "disinterested" means that I don't have any stake in the question and am a neutral party.
jealousy vs envy
"Envy" means that you have something that I wish I had; "jealousy" means that you've got something that I think rightly belongs to me, or that I'm intolerant of rivalry with regard to that thing.
nausea vs nauseous
"Nausea" (noun) is a feeling of queasiness; "nauseous" (adjective) is something nausea-inducing.
So the question is: are these important distinctions of meaning that it's valuable to preserve? Are there others we should work on maintaining?
Or is it just obnoxious hypercorrectness and linguistic snobbery?
Another meaning for jealousy, at least in Portuguese, is that you want control over what you are jealous of, like exerting control over your partner (most common use in Portuguese anyway).
I've also seen people misuse "noxious" in place of nausea or nauseous. Grrr. Might actually be the reason why people think something noxious make them nauseous, instead of nauseated.
My current peeve has more to do with "in a moment" vs. "momentarily". "In a moment" being very soon, and "momentarily" being "for a moment" or "for a short while". I can even see how that stupidity started -- some nurse told a patient in an ER that "the doctor will see you momentarily" and the patient thought "Oh, good, they'll be here soon" instead "oh, no! they'll only take a cursory look at me!" and it stuck. Bummer, dude!