Thursday, May 29, 2008

I am just too nice of a person

My Wordcraft friends have roundly criticized me for using the phrase, "I am just too nice of a person." Apparently, it should be "too nice a person." Oh, they tried to sugarcoat their criticism by calling it a "midwestern dialect," perhaps "from German." But the tone was clear that it was a mistake. One person said he couldn't use the phrase as he is a perfectionist. Another said she is an editor and is taught to avoid "redundancies." Her reason for it being a mistake was: "If it's incorrect grammatically it might have something to do with the fact that it should be an adverbial phrase instead of a prepositional phrase."

Yet, the same criticizers admit that it would be: "I am just too much of a perfectionist." What is the difference?

Perhaps it is wrong. The more I look at it and say it, the more awkward (another word used by one of my critics) it sounds. Still. Was it necessary to make a big deal about it publically? It is a word board, so I suppose it was appropriate. Yet, it made me feel stupid. I guess that's what I don't like about prescriptivism.

Monday, May 26, 2008

This should do it!

Well, John Simpson, this should convince you. In your own online Times, this was printed on May 26th:

Adding to Terry’s personal pain was the thought that he had let everybody down. Still, our reaction tells us more about us than it does him. One side too empathetic – no, he does not deserve the England captaincy just as a pick-me-up for missing a penalty – the other too full of glee. We used to mock the Germans for having a word meaning delight in the misfortune of others, Schadenfreude, when one has existed in English all along: epicaricacy. Heaven knows why it has passed into obscurity, because we seem to have cornered the market in it of late. (Emphasis mine)

It's time, OED, to legitimize this word. Heck, when you do that, this Blog will have to sink to oblivion.

I have whined about "epicaricacy" so much on Wordcraft that I have promised myself I wouldn't post about it there anymore. I can't break my promise, but I sure want to with this quote!

Monday, May 19, 2008


Bob Hale on Wordcraft alerted us to a possible synonym for epicaricacy or Schadenfreude, and that is the verb, to gloat. In fact, I've always thought a verb form or an adjective form of epicaricacy would be useful. There it is, Bob says. But is he correct? I've always used gloat to mean taking excessive pleasure in your own success, to the point of being arrogant. Yet, here are some dictionary definitions:
  • To feel or express great, often malicious, pleasure or self-satisfaction: Don't gloat over your rival's misfortune.
  • To look at or think about with great or excessive, often smug or malicious, satisfaction: The opposing team gloated over our bad luck.

But even in those definitions, the definition itself seems slightly different from their examples. You can take great pleasure, even malicious pleasure, in your own fortune without considering a rival's misfortune, can't you?

I think gloat is similar to epicaricacy or Schadenfreude, but the difference is that Schadenfreude and epicaricacy are all about taking pleasure in another's misfortune, while gloating is all about taking excessive pleasure in your own success. Interestingly, neither Schadenfreude nor gloat are in's thesaurus; I wanted to see if gloat would be listed as a synonym for Schadenfreude.

I have to thank Bob, though, for the astute observation. What are your thoughts?

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Will Blogs ever be legitimate?

Do my readers (I've got to be kidding!) think that Blogs will ever be a legitimate source for lexicographers? Before the Internet, written materials, such as newspapers, books, magazines, etc. were the sources for words. Now that the Internet is racing away everyday, how important are Web sites, Blogs, discussion boards, etc., for describing the evolution or use of words in dictionary entries?

I ask the question because of my pet word, "epicaricacy." As I stroll through Google's 6,000 plus entries for the word, I find that it is discussed quite a bit. On this site where they make fun of Miss North Dakota (for heaven's sake!), ManofFireandLight says, "Epicaricacy is pretty much descriptive of the British sense of humour and the Japanese to an even greater extent." Not a brilliant comment of course, but the word seems to be used by non-linguaphiles.

Will it ever be cited in major dictionaries because of that? Or does it need to be cited in more important sources? Most likely the latter.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Now I know why!

There is a fun editorial in the Chicago Tribune today which absolutely explains why:

"yes, we're prone to eradicating caps in our own e-mails, for speed's sake and also because it just feels good to break the rules once in a while. capital letters are so authoritarian. "

aint it the truth?

Hee! Hee! It does feel good.

No wonder I start a few sentences with "and" or "but," though they are promptly changed by our editors. I find myself ending sentences with prepositions every so often, though, once again, that sentence is changed. I will slip in a comma or take out a comma, just to fluster everyone.

However, here was my favorite. One of my editors hates starting sentences with "however." "It's just not done! You have more emphasis if you say, 'here, however, was my favorite.'" Well, this particular critical writer moved my "however" to the inside of the sentence. I split the sentence in two (that really needed to be done) and then secretly slipped the "however" to the beginning of the sentence. When I got it back, I checked. Yes, the sentence stayed divided into 2 sentences. But, no, the "however" did not stay at the beginning of the sentence. can be fun working with a bunch of prescriptivists.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Voter Words: Are They Bigoted?

Dawn Turner Trice, whom I enjoy, wrote an article today about the how the media seem to think the "black vote" is non-descript. While the media divide the non-black vote ad nauseum, she says, we just seem to think all blacks will vote for Barack Obama. Yet, we know Condolezza Rice won't; nor will Clarence Thomas. Trice says the thinking is that the "black vote" has gone to Obama because of his race, and she says that's insulting. I agree.

Look at all these descriptors of assumed white voters:
  • latte-drinking liberals
  • blue collar voters
  • lunch bucket voters
  • hardworking working-class voters
  • soccer moms
  • NASCAR dads
  • values voters
  • suburbanites
  • conservatives
  • churchgoers

On Wordcraft, neveu recently used the phrase: " elitist Volvo-driving latte-sipping San Francisco-values not-real-Americans-like-NASCAR-fans-are people." Again, that's not a decriptor of African Americans.

Of course an African American could be a churchgoer or a blue collar voter, but Trice is right, I believe, that they are thought to be white voters. I wonder why the media lumps all the black voters together. Or do they? Are Trice and I too sensitive?

I don't think so, and, as a white, I think that it's insulting.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Less practice errors

With all my pontification, I may be a prescriptivist after all. Otherwise, what explains the feeling of fingernails on a chalkboard when I read this in a report: "The more competent and/or less stressed new RNs felt, the less practice errors they reported making." As I read it, I immediately changed it to "fewer," even though I know that, grammatically, it can be either. In fact we've discussed this on Wordcraft a number of times, and I've agreed that it can be "fewer" or "less."

Why then does it irritate me so? Is it my prescriptivist background? I used to recommend Strunk and White to my students, after all. Can you give up old ways? I thought so, but I am not so sure. I'd not change it if it were my student's paper (like I used to), but I'd want to! What is it, I wonder? I wonder if other supposed descriptivists feel the same way. Strange.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008


Nathan Bierma writes about Naomi Baron's new book, "Always On: Language in an Online and Mobile World." I've not read the book, and I doubt I will after hearing about her prescriptivistic attitude. She apparently cites the pace of our society, as well as its casualness, as being the causes of our "lowered standards." Balderdash! Her "evidence" is that advertisements have increased punctuation errors. Further, she explains why there has been an increase in typos in magazines and on the subway (I've not noticed that) here: "The issue, I suggest, is not just a devolution of proofreading skills but a quiet revolution in social attitudes toward linguistic consistency." Oh. my.

BTW, my husband and I did see a new book on Yiddish that's out. Now that looks good!

Monday, May 5, 2008


There have been lots of good discussions on Wordcraft about "Schadenfreude," from its meaning to its history to its pronunciation. Indeed, when you search for the word on Wordcraft, there are 187 citations! Of course there are 292 citations for "epicaricacy." Considering that Wordcraft has only been in operation since July of 2002, that's not too bad.

This 2004 discussion was particulary interesting because jheem brings up a Greek word that is quite similar to "epicaricacy," and that is, "nemesetikos." This Greek word means, "disposed to indignation at anyone's undeserved good or ill fortune." It's not quite the same as taking pleasure in another's misery, but similar.

Even more interesting in that discussion is that we don't seem to have an opposite word of "epicaricacy," do we? That is, does English have a word that means "taking joy in anothers' pleasure?"

Friday, May 2, 2008

Odds and ends about language and "the word"

The Wall Street Journal can drive me nuts on political issues. Nuts, I say! On the other hand, it has some of the best researched articles in the world, when they stay off their political high-horse. I remember an article I once read, giving the minute details of the infamous McDonald's "hot coffee" lawsuit. McDonald's must have done a wonderful job of PR in keeping the "real" details out of the news. However, the excellent article in the WSJ convinced anyone who read it (including the skeptical Richard English!) that, indeed, the woman deserved every single penny of that award.

Today they printed an excellent article on language, reporting on research and interviewing linguists. Interestingly, they say that people can be dyslexic in one language, but not in another. Further, dyslexia is twice as prevalent in the U.S., affecting 10M children, than it is in Italy. One reason, they said, could be that in Italian the written word corresponds more closely to the spoken sound than English does.
For the "epicaricacy" lovers here (very few, I am sure!), who might also speak German, I found this article using the e-word. Whatever it says seems to link "epicaricacy" with "Schadenfreude," and they mention something about Wikipedia. While written in German, in the middle of the article, they write this: "„Pleasure derived from the misfortunes of others“. Any German translators out there? Also, what are those funny little quotes before "pleasure?"

Thursday, May 1, 2008

What is a Word?

Ever since Wordcraft started in 2002, an ongoing question has been, "What is a word?" Unfortunately Bob's essay in that thread now can't be accessed; I'd love to read it again. In Shu's OED link, which still is accessible, the OED staff says, "To determine whether a word has caught on, we normally require several independent examples of the word being used, and also evidence that the word has been in use for a reasonable span of time." Really? Why, then, are there so many words in OED that have only been included in dictionaries or cited once? Wordcrafter tells me there are 14,000 such words. That's really the question behind "epicaricacy." Is it really a word? Even the original citation in Bailey's 1700s dictionary included a very different spelling. Yet, many words have evolved in their spelling, haven't they?

Shouldn't there be a neat, tidy definition of a word? I suppose the best might be its inclusion in OED, but mere mortals make mistakes. Maybe it's just that people use the groups of letters. I don't know, but it has been an ongoing conversation on Wordcraft and will be one here, too. Linguists haven't, I don't think, answered this question. But that's okay because we in the medical sciences haven't answered a lot of questions either.