Log in

No account? Create an account
The Mad Schemes of Dr. Tectonic [entries|archive|friends|userinfo]

[ userinfo | livejournal userinfo ]
[ archive | journal archive ]

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?

[User Picture]From: 0nce_and_future
2005-03-17 10:39 am (UTC)
That's what happens when you combine/merge/evolve three separate and extant vocasbulary families, but have the grammar rules imposed from yet another (dead) language. Seriously.

English grammer is teh sux.
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: dr_tectonic
2005-03-17 01:08 pm (UTC)
English grammar is actually very simple, in comparison to lots of other languages. I actually like having lots of little grammar-particle words instead of case-markers!

It's English orthography that's completely heinous. I mean, I kinda like it the way it is, honestly, but it's apparently a real bear to learn as a second language.
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: dcseain
2005-03-17 01:46 pm (UTC)
Il n'est pas plus difficile d'orthographier que le Français.

Though i'm all for spelling reform. Representing the 40-41 sounds of North American English with 90+ different spellings for various phonemes is tedious at best, even for native speakers. Spelling competitions, to my knowledge, are known only in the English and French speaking parts of the world.
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: dr_tectonic
2005-03-17 02:09 pm (UTC)
Spelling reform always sounds like good idea, but then I look at the results and it just feels wrong to me.

One of the neat features of our current spelling system is that it records etymology (and meaning) in addition to pronunciation.

(And I should probably confess that I won a number of spelling bees in elementary school, so the tediosity is lost on me...)
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: dcseain
2005-03-17 02:25 pm (UTC)
One of the neat features of our current spelling system is that it records etymology (and meaning) in addition to pronunciation.
I agree. Each new language I study has helped me with my Spelling.

Presumably unlike yourself, i'm dyslexic, which made learning to spell very tedious. Though despite the dyslexia, i still spell better than most.
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: melted_snowball
2005-03-17 02:42 pm (UTC)
I think there's some other kind of spelling bee that's common in Francophone Canada, which is about sounding out homophones, or something like that.

[I won spelling bees when I was a kid, too...]
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread)
[User Picture]From: dcseain
2005-03-17 03:11 pm (UTC)
You mean like differentiating between Thibideau, Tibidot, & Thibideaux, for example?

(Those are actual surnames of 3 of our Canadian customers, and all 3 are pronounced basically the same, tho Tibidot accents the last syllable, rather than the penultimate, and the final vowel in Thibideaux is a bit longer in duration than the singular.)
(Reply) (Parent) (Thread)