Factoids and other questions that should not be begged.

English is a complex and fascinating language. While not the most difficult to write and speak fluently, it certainly has more than its share of speed bumps. There are plenty of references to trace back origins of words and phrases; the butchering of said words and phrases isn’t quite so clear cut. There are some that leave me scratching my head at best. At worst, I am brought to the brink of gnashing my teeth as I attempt silence or a diplomatic correction. Here are several examples of ignorance and apathy in colloquialisms.

Avoid the factoid

I suppose I can sympathize with this one. It sounds like it might be a small fact. However, that was not the intent of this word. The suffix -oid means something that may contain aspects of the original, but not completely, e.g. humanoid is not quite human. Therefore, a factoid is an unsubstantiated claim. Somehow, someway, some boob took a broom and with one bold stroke, made it mean something else. It is generally an innocuous incorrect usage, but say it in front of ones in the know then, Look out! If Timmy falls down the well and you announce it as a factoid, don’t be surprised if his rescue team challenges you. Lassie would probably be barking a fact, but it won’t matter. Timmy will die if you do not get your facts and factoids straight. 

Itchy and Scratchy 

I show no mercy with this one. An itch occurs and is treated with a scratch, perhaps an ointment. A scratch has the privilege of being a thing, an action, and possibly a consequence of that action. An itch is just an itch. It is a noun, not a verb. This verbal goof should have been left at the steps before entering middle school. Don’t vex me with such a disingenuous display of childhood innocence. You should know better.

Tinfoiled again

It’s aluminum foil. Reynolds says so. Let’s apply a premise of economics to this: the high demand for this product requires a more frugal way to supply it. Tin has not been used for this household wonder since World War II—so says Wikipedia. I don’t care that the Brits still use the name. Let’s call a spade a spade, and a multi-functional wrap aluminum foil.

They say what?

My tolerance of this depends on my mood and familiarity of the present company. “They say . . . “. Who might “they” be? Experts? Plumbers? Your neighbors? Zoo animals? Ghosts? Aliens? I don’t get it. How can anyone put faith in a claim from some unknown, disembodied entity? I certainly can’t. Prove it. Give me names; show me witnesses, and then maybe we will discuss that factoid. 

Basically basic

In an effort to conserve space, I’ll give you a two-for-one here. I had an instructor e-mail me that he would not make the class, as he was very sick. “Basically, I was throwing up all night.” I don’t know, that doesn’t sound too basic to me. It sounds like a night of Hell spewing a complex soup into the porcelain commode. Why do people feel compelled to preface or top off a sentence with that word? It is so overused that it lost its glimmer long ago. The word has been rendered meaningless by its common use as a space-filler to give the impression that the person knows whereof he or she speaks. Personally, I’d take “um” over “basically” any day.

As for the second bird, refer to the first sentence of this post. Our language is vast with myriad synonyms, giving us an almost daunting menu of words for seemingly endless combinations and ways to communicate. Please don’t be redundant, it makes me peevish. I have read at least three authors’ works where someone’s eyes were described as “blue, blue”. Oh, I was assuming the character’s eyes were grayish until you doubled up on that adjective. Thanks for clearing that up for me. How about “intensely blue” or “cobalt blue”? Please, anything but “blue, blue”. While we’re at it, you may have gone to your drawing class to draw a drawing with drawing pencils, but I’d much prefer that you go to your art class and focus on your pencil drawing so that you don’t annoy me with your redundancy. Just as an example. 

Know what? 

No, I don’t know. And quit asking me. Just finish talking so I can get some peace.

Europeans and Asians have a point

If you ever get indignant when cultures residing in other parts of the globe look down on us as commoners, aim the mirror on our society. Notice its maddening habit of taking their words and phrases and westernizing them in a misguided attempt to be hip and trendy. 

Somehow, someway, someone (probably the same boob who crucified factoid) noticed the similarity in Hara-kiri, the Japanese suicide ritual, and Harry Caray, the sports announcer. Outside of that, I can’t connect the dots with this one. But wouldn’t it be cute to substitute the latter for the former, just for poops and snickers? I assure you, no, it would not. In fact, what sounded initially like a slip of the tongue from lack of sleep now comes across as an overreaching effort to be funny. Yes, let’s make light of the honor- killing of thousands of Japanese soldiers over the centuries by referring to it as a geriatric, dough-faced, and mumble-assed media personality. He is dead, and so should the bastardized namesake be, as well.  

The morphing of laissez-faire into lazy fare was unexpectedly poetic, albeit still stupid. The French term’s application is mainly in the political, and literally means to “let it be”. Ergo, you can let people change that one up to mean absolutely nothing except to confirm that they are too lazy to pronounce it correctly, much less spell it. Why is being stupid considered cool? Lazy fare is indeed everywhere.

It isn’t ironic

Alanis, you ignorant slut. How dare you encourage the improper usage of the word irony? Having 10,000 spoons when all you need is a knife is annoying. I hurt for you in that regard. But don’t call it irony. The figurative is different from the literal. It can be loosely defined as sarcasm, even. You made millions of dollars on a mediocre song with lyrics that fly in the face of logical thought. Awesome!

Now that’s irony.

Get on your knees and raise a question

I left the best for last, i.e., the one that causes me the most unrest. Does anyone know what “begs the question” really means? Apparently not, because I hear it several times a week, and it never ceases to annoy the crap out of me. Anyone who knows me well, knows that this really sets my teeth on edge.  

If an actual question is being introduced, the question is raised. Raised, not begged. Okay okay, I’ll give a little. I understand how it seems if a question is just screaming to be asked, it must be begging, as well. I was in that place many years ago, but then I saw the light. When something begs the question, it is not followed by a specific question.

        Begs the question: a conclusion based on an assumption.

Sarah Palin is a good Christian, therefore God will love me if I vote for her in 2012. A cold day in Hell aside, this is an example of a statement that begs the question. Meaning, it is a specious declaration open to be challenged. The conclusion: God will love me if I vote for Palin in 2012, is based on the assumption: she is a good Christian. Prove it. What makes her a good Christian? Even if she is, how does that mean that God will love me for supporting her? If Timmy fell down an Alaskan well, my guess is that Palin would not be part of that skeptical search party. She’d be in a helicopter, hunting down Lassie.

Okay, that might have begged the question.

About Diane Bushemi

My name is Diane and am an aspiring artist, songwriter, and fiction writer. While I currently make my living in a rather safe manner as a manager in an accounting department, it is merely to feed what I am really passionate about. I have been blessed with the ability to express myself creatively, and somewhat plagued with the aptitude in more than one artistic medium. My life is a constant juggling act to fulfill all the basic needs with the less tangible ones, i.e., those necessary to live and the ones that remind me that I'm alive.

Posted on May 20, 2010, in Pedagogy. Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. Okay, so if we can’t call aluminum foil, tin foil because there is no tin, why can we still call nickels, nickels?

  2. Sorry that I’m just finding this little gem.
    Great blog entry! Butchery of the English language is a pet peeve of mine as well. In fact, when I first started working in my current position, I harassed one of my co-workers until he finally acquiesced and stopped using “basically” as a crutch-word. To me, “basically” means you don’t know the specifics, and thus should probably stop where you are and not half-teach the point. Now, how a person can be “basically throwing up all night,” I’m not sure. Perhaps what he meant was “I’ll spare you the gory details,” but then that’s probably what he should have said. I’ve never been spare with vocabulary, but especially not when a shorter sentence would be misleading.
    And the itch/scratch thing! Argh! I don’t care that dictionary.com apparently sanctions it, it’s just wrong!

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