I love learning them, love learning about them, love using the exact right one, love using far more of them than are, strictly speaking, necessary. There are, however, some that, if offered the chance, I would beat the living shit out of in an Applebee’s parking lot at 2am like James Kirk would William Shatner. Some of these are defensible by dint of actual definition versus popular usage, but I am a descriptivist and believe that use dictates propriety; language is a tool that belongs to the user, and its correctness is determined only by its ability to serve its intended function: the transmission of information to the intended recipient. If an outside party can’t parse the use of language, that’s a failure of minding their own damn business, not of the speakers. Furthermore, policing ‘proper’ language is unhelpful and ignorant of socioeconomic and historical factors at best, and actively classist and racist at worst; if you think “ain’t” sounds sexy coming from a cowboy but trashy coming from a rapper, maybe consider that your problem isn’t with the word.
But there are other words, which have done me no detectable wrong but which I would, nevertheless, trap in a corn-maze and watch slowly dehydrate and beg my forgiveness from the comfort of my nearby observatory, straw boater shading me from the sun, iced carafe of Sharkleberry Fin at hand.
When I contemplate these words, two thoughts generally occur to me after I stop punching everything that couldn’t get away when I remember the word ‘packet’ exists:
- That sounds a lot like a sign of a mild mental illness, and
- Hey, I bet other people have it too!
This is actually recognized as a trait called logomisia, and it seemed unlikely that I’d be the only one with some etymological enemies besides the usual, agreed-upon words despised for reasons of medical or intellectual grossness (mucus, moist, clogged, sesh/delish/convo, panties) and thought I’d share a few of mine with all of you, and see what sick bastards you all have on your most wanted lists so if they’re ever seen darkening my vocabulary I’ll be able to lose track of this metaphor.
And so, I present to you, with all apologies to Al Yankovic, my:
Individualizing Undifferentiated Nouns
“Now, Bageler me old sport,” you might reasonably ask, “what the fuck is one of those and what have they done to earn your hatred, which would be so much better spent on the real villains of the world like thinly-veiled fascists, emails from your boss, and Michel Bublé?”
Well, first I’ll remind you that by my own admission I cannot begin to guess at why these words and phrases fill me with the white-hot nuclear hatred of a thousand like, hella grumpy supernovæ. But what I mean by this is when a noun, most frequently a type of food, is referred to in the singular when popular, intuitive usage clearly treats it like a substance, not an object. An example here would be when my local café advertised ‘homemade soups’ and the Mesa Fire Department had to pull my car from the ruins of yet another abandoned Masonic Lodge. If this makes no sense to you, you’re correct, and you’d be best served by another article of mine like this one on how to get more reading done before whatever the fuck makes me this way infects you too.
But those of you who do get it, like…that’s not how you describe goddamn soup, right? If you have Baked Potato, Tomato Bisque, and Autumn Squash, you don’t say you have three soups, a phrase I had to go throw up after writing, you say you have three kinds of soup. THE SOUP IS ONE, THE SOUP IS WHOLE, THE SOUP IS PURE AND REMAINS SO IN ITS INFINITE VARIETIES.
Like, you wouldn’t say three golds, you’d say three pieces of gold will be your price for ridding the village of its fart-wraith infestation, because every piece of gold represents a discrete amount of the finite whole, entire gold supply in the world.
This linguistic disease is unfortunately not merely a pathogen of the modern world, but can be seen as far back as Sherlock Holmes times, when megafaunæ roamed the streets and swamps of London, solving crimes and doing enormous rips of cretaceous cocaine:
“The doorsteps were worn into curves,—The Adventure Of The Sussex Vampire
and the ancient tiles which lined the porch were marked with the rebus of a cheese and a man after the original builder.”
One imagines that must’ve been prior to Uncle Rebus being permanently re-secured inside the Bizney Vault.
Listen: Arthur Conan Doyle was a respected doctor, an accomplished sailor, a pretty good doodler, and is one of the bestselling authors in history, who created a character so great and so beloved that an overwhelming majority of the world recognizes his name, and a significant percentage of those who do think he was real.
But ACD was wrong about this: Like gold, cheese is part of a spiritual whole, a asiago aggregate, so piece of cheese, wedge of cheese, slice or chunk or cube or drizzle of cheese, yes, these are all well within the boundaries of good taste set by society and our many gods, but referring to individual whole units of cheese is tainted by a wrongness that approaches the moral event horizon and would require the sacrifice of a beloved mayor or three just okay council-members to cleanse from a community’s soul.
Undifferentiated Noun Individualization: not even once.
Now, this is obviously done in other places and for whatever reason no, it doesn’t bother me in those. Butters? Marginal (OR MARGARINAL, IF YOU WILL); I would personally say ‘stick/little thing from IHOP of butter’ (which, by the way, are the perfect amount for making eggs), but I’m not prepared to get persnickety about it. I can’t imagine where I’d be right now if I had to take the time to say ‘can of Coke’ instead of just ‘a coke’ for my onescore-and-thirteen years. Juices? Uh, right here please, juice-jockey.
I have no explanation for this inconsistency in my reasoning, but I do have an excuse for why I’m allowed to have and yell about it, and it is called my receipt for this website.
I had originally intended to list several of these but y’know, you get a thing between your teeth and just need to shake it until you feel its neck snap, so it looks like this is going to be a recurring feature. But we caught this sick bastard and wrung him for all he was worth. Consider this case closed, and the judgment rendered: I am obviously extremely correct.
SUSPECT #1 STATUS:
ONLY HAVING ONE KIND OF SOUP FOR THE REST OF YOUR LIFE.
ALSO, AN ESSAY ON WHETHER SHERLOCK HOLMES WAS REAL OR NOT.
So that was this bullshit, and now I’m mad. Grumble! Et cetera! So forth! Rue the day!
What about you all, what stupid wrong words piss you off with their sheer gall? Lemme know in the comments, about that, and about how you could never pin down what exactly about Panera’s menu seemed so untrustworthy to you, and what else you think Arthur Conan Doyle might’ve been secretly good at.
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