Monday, December 1, 2014

Say it again, Sam (or don't)

Since my last (non-food) post was about stupid questions, it seems a reasonable progression to have my next post be about stupid phrases. Yes, today I'll be taking on the persona of Li'l Language Lady and sharing my thoughts on superfluous verbiage!

I am not at all a fan of saying the same thing twice (you should hear the hostile "nothing" I have perfected for when my boyfriend has asked "what?" too many times in a conversation!). And I get just slightly, almost imperceptibly, annoyed by sentences which could be several words shorter and still say the same thing (you'd think that someone who's so fond of rambling asides would have a little more tolerance for the inefficient sentences of the world, but life is full of inconsistencies, eh?).

Take, for example, double self-referencing. People love to stick the word self in front of other verbs as a way of indicating that the action is directed towards the actor—a prime example: self-diagnose, which is common in this age of Internet medical reference and accessible hypochondria. There's nothing wrong with using self- as a prefix, but I do take issue when it is also used as a suffix, as in, "Self-diagnose oneself." Almost as bad as the dreaded double negative, the second "self" in this phrase is just dead weight and should be jettisoned. Think of it as a practical impossibility—one can not have two selves. Unless, maybe, one is part of a sci-fi story.

One particular circumstance in which duplication of words seems to happen a lot is when using acronyms in a sentence. People don't always seem to know the words behind the letters they speak, resulting in superfluous meanings like "Self-contained underwater breathing apparatus gear" or "Automatic teller machine machine" or "Personal identification number number."

One of my favorite misused acronyms to rag on is RSVP. Commonly seen at the bottom of invitations, asking the recipient to note whether he or she will be coming, RSVP comes from the French "Répondez s'il vous plaît," or, "please reply." Somehow, in common English, RSVP became a verb for "tell us whether you're coming," and so gets commonly used in phrases like, "Please RSVP." Translated literally, this means, "Please, please, reply," which sounds just a bit desperate. When used as a noun meaning "an indication of whether you're coming," RSVP becomes even more weird—e.g. "Indicate your meal preference on your please reply." I try not to use this abbreviation in such a corrupted way, but I'll admit that even I have trouble avoiding it—there's just no good alternative word that packs in all that commonly accepted meaning in such short four letters!

Maybe we should just reduce the conclusion by using our own English language. From now on, maybe I'll start closing my invitations with TUWYC (Tell us whether you're coming.)


Ray Hoy said...

Guilty as charged on ATM machine. PIN is not always a number. It's often mixed characters. In fact, I recently had a login failure due to alpha characters being included in what the offenders called a PIN "number". I'll better you never write BASIC code... or use HTML language. :-)