People who take a lot of pride in their craft can also take a lot of grief from those who don’t suffer gladly nit-pickers.
If a master carpenter saw an apprentice leave a tongue-and-groove seam less than perfectly flush, with even a hint of a gap visible to the eye, he wood nail his protege to the wall, figuratively speaking.
If a singer giving a master class heard a student falter on pitch so slightly it was imperceptible to the layman’s ear, the teacher would halt the lesson and make a note of it.
That’s me with words, to an extent that even I at times can find insufferable. I’ll read or hear a word misused and I’ll obsess over it, like the aforementioned carpenter or singer.
Get over it, I strongly advise myself. But do I listen? Of course not. Who do I think I am telling myself to get over it?
It’s this bad. I can tell you the month and year and city where I first heard the word “grow” used to describe something other than a living thing. You know. Our hair grows. Or a flower. We grow old. This CEO keynoting a 1985 convention in Washington, D.C., proclaims, “We’re going to grow this industry…” To punctuate his point, he had a pitchfork at his side.
PUNCTURED BY PITCHFORK
I’m sure nobody else in the audience thought twice about what they heard. Of course, to my gossamer ears, it was like being punctured by a pitchfork.
You don’t “grow” an industry, or a company, I said to myself. Well, now we do. I’ve given up fighting that battle. But suffice to say that renegade usage never will grow on me. I actually try to avoid using it, and sometimes I even succeed.
Another time I can virtually pinpoint having my ears assaulted with an unconventional word use was when we lived in Philadelphia in the 1980s (clearly not my decade, word-wise.) My wife Elyse came home from her marketing job and, in telling me about her day at work, casually remarked that her boss told the staff that losing a client “will greatly impact us.”
What is he, a dentist? I snarkily said to her, explaining impact isn’t a verb. It’s a noun, or an adjective, as in an impacted tooth.
Alas, Merriam-Webster isn’t even on the side of word nerds like me on this topic. It points out that while fussbudgets like yours truly stubbornly don’t like to acknowledge impact as a verb (affect has a friendlier ring to it, no?), in fact impact originally was a verb a few centuries ago, before it reverted to more popular use strictly as a noun, only to in recent decades resume its verb-osity.
Let’s move on to a few words about which I feel on firma terra … I think.
NO ON ‘ENORMITY’
I once heard a Yankee sportscaster use “enormity” to describe a critical game that would determine the team’s post-season eligibility. Not quite, by a long shot. It also is not a synonym simply for something that is enormous in size.
The word has a sacrosanct meaning limited to describe evil or immorality on a grand scale. Sorry, but a baseball game doesn’t quite make the cut.
As long as we’re talking sports, the same guy said “penultimate” in reference to the ninth inning. Except that would signify the 8th inning, since penultimate means not last, but next to last.
Don’t ask me why that is. I only word here.
To be continued in future columns… in the meantime, if you’d like to have a word with me, my contact points are below.
Bruce Apar is a writer, actor, consultant, and community volunteer. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org; 914-275-6887.