A few weeks back, I told the saga of Heidi, my dachshund whose manners were bad, and in an effort to train the dog, my friend Bob McIntosh suggested we have Heidi meet and live with Bob’s Great Dane, “Duke,” the canine with perfect manners.
There was a doggone education that followed, but I don’t think Bob ever forgave me for owning a dog that passed her bad culinary habits on to Duke.
“I knew just where that was going when I read the first few lines,” said Mayor Alfonso Ortiz. And Travis Reames told me that dog-teaching-dog scenario couldn’t have ended happily. It’s a doggy-dog world.
So our grandiose experiment failed. Mixing the dogs wasn’t my idea, and how was I to know that Duke would learn food-gobbling manners from Heidi, instead of the other way around?
The pooch experiment is akin to lots of unexpected learning that people also do. Case in point: When I’m around teeny-boppers, I soon begin to speak the way they do. “Am I really overusing ‘ya know’? I ask myself? Obviously, I can’t like be immune to the cant of teens.
Let me explain:
For those who really listen, it’s amazing how carelessly some people use the language. But first, let me explain that I’m not indicting only youth. Some of the more seasoned speakers often pick up expressions that to them sound all right but have different meanings. Before they disbursed after the last GOP debate, some politicians took liberties with the language.
In the context of setting up camp on the moon, presidential candidate Newt Gingrich defended his use of “grandiose.” And he put himself in good company when he ascribed to some of our great leaders as also being grandiose. He said, just recently, “I would just want you to note: Lincoln standing at Council Bluffs was grandiose. The Wright Brothers standing at Kitty Hawk were grandiose. John F. Kennedy was grandiose. I accept the charge that I am grandiose and that Americans are instinctively grandiose.”
Nice try, Mr. Speaker, but you need to realize that grandiose really means “impressive or magnificent in appearance or style, exaggerated importance, especially pretentiously so.” Taking such license with the Mother Tongue might make us suspect you’re disassembling, or even trying to flaunt the rules of good grammar.
Gingrich’s choice of words is reminiscent of the cover of an AARP magazine on Condi Rice, the erstwhile Secretary of State. The headline on the cover described her as “being filled with bravado.” And the article inside was exceedingly complimentary. So why, then, did the editors use “bravado”? That word, not to be confused with “brave” or “courageous,” refers to bluster, or as the dictionary has it, “a bold manner or a show of boldness intended to impress or intimidate.”
Was the content of the article, quite complementary, intended as a blessing in the skies? And do we need to call out the Calvary to punish the magazine’s editors? It’s easy to confuse the cavalcade of horse riders for the place outside of Jerusalem, where Jesus was cruciformed.
When I refer either to Calvary or to Cavalry, I need to stop and think.
Some of the expressions I refer to are of words evoked not by logic or meaning but by their similarity in sound to another word.
In language-learning commercials you’ve probably heard someone asking the Spanish word for “pregnant.” And though Hispanophiles like my sister, Dorothy Maestas, will come up with “encinta” and “preñada,” the word our mothers used was “embarazada.”
Embarrassed about being pregnant? There must have been a time in recent history when a pregnant woman kept to her bed and didn’t dare use the actual word for her condition, lest someone become offended.
That might be the reason why there remain several euphemisms for pregnant, including “in the family way,” “with child,” or simply “expecting.” Expecting what? Expecting that people will faint when they discover the hideous truth? Expecting that childbirth is eminent?
Especially in politics, creative use of the language has fermented much ill will. And that means speakers should treat the language with almost care, as others might be going over the language with a fine-tuned comb.
Newt Gingrich defends his use of “grandiose,” and he’s been losing ground to Mitt Romney. It appears Newt, with his station-building plans on the moon, might end up receiving the constellation prize.
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Where have all the freeway lights gone? Drive by all three Las Vegas exits at night to observe a dearth of what used to be safe, properly illuminated lights.
It’s ironic that we talk about an archway to attract visitors to our friendly town, and we have a spiffed-up Grand Avenue. But the three exits off Interstate 25 are nightmarish. And they’ve been off for several days. Let’s hope there are no accidents before officials turn the lights back on.
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Before you leave: This column has several planted misuses of the language. Can you find them?
Art Trujillo is a copy editor at the Optic and a contributing member of the newspaper’s Editorial Board. He may be reached by calling 425-6796 or by e-mail to email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.