Posts Tagged ‘English’

Today’s English rant is about the occasional confusion writers display in using the word replete in place of the more appropriate word complete.

To date, I have not heard the word replete used correctly, and until I looked it up in a dictionary, had no idea of its meaning.  The character Matthew in the 1994 movie Four Weddings and a Funeral, describes his late partner Gareth as having been replete.  I have no clue what he could have meant by this.

The next time I stumbled across the word was just the other day on the English website for the Likud faction Manhigut Yehudit (the Jewish Leadership Movement).  Under the heading, "The secular roots of Zionism," is the following sentence: "Miraculously, the Zionist movement succeeded in building the complete infrastructure of a modern state—replete with a strong army, high tech, immigration absorption etc. out of the wilderness."

Thinking that the word complete sounded more natural than replete in this context, I headed for the dictionary.  Indeed, the American Heritage (which I like for its frequent acknowledgment of the rampant misuse of words) defines the commonly used word complete as follows: adj. 1. Having all necessary or normal parts; entire; whole. 2. Botany. Having all characteristic floral parts, including sepals, petals, stamens, and a pistil.  3. Concluded; ended.  4. Thorough; consummate; perfect.

And what, you may ask, is the definition of repleteAdj. 1. Plentifully supplied; abounding.  Used with with.  2. Filled to satiation; gorged.  UsageReplete stresses great abundance.  It is not the equivalent of complete or equipped (with), for which replete is often used loosely.

So in other words, the coffee brand Chock Full O’ Nuts could be described as replete with nuts, since abundance is clearly implied here.  However, to say that the Zionist Paradise is replete with an army and high tech is hyperbolic; and while Israel has successfully absorbed millions of Jews from the rest of the world, one still hears kvetching from the government and the Jewish Agency that not enough Jews are choosing Israel over their home countries.  

So why did the writer of this position paper choose the low road in using replete?  Possibilities include the following:
1. The writer is primarily a Hebrew speaker and just muffed this one.  (Not likely; there are plenty of English speakers in Manhigut Yehudit, and aside from this gaffe, this one wrote fairly competently.)
2. He’d already used complete earlier in the sentence and didn’t want to be repetitive.  (Quite possible.)
3. The two words sound similar enough that they must mean the same thing.  (Not logical—and not true in this case—but certainly possible.)
4. Everyone else is doing it, so why not?  (I have no response to this, except to say, "If everyone else were eating eyeball soup, would you join in?")

This rant plays nicely into my new motto regarding word use: "Look it up before you f*** it up."


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Helicopter parenting

A friend’s blog entry recently included the expression "helicopter parenting."  The Cap’n and I took a wager about what this expression meant, then Googled it.  Very interesting results.

It seems that over-protective parenting (the short definition) has given rise to a number of expressions, many of them coined by education professionals who find themselves the victims of parental "involvement" in their students’ education.   A "helicopter parent" goes beyond being concerned about his or her children’s development and education and rushes "to prevent any harm or failure from befalling them and will not let them learn from their own mistakes, sometimes even contrary to the children’s wishes."  This apparently includes calling college professors to complain about their child’s grade in class, and even employers to try to negotiate their children’s salaries.  Remember the Israeli soldier who got 21 days in the clink, and his mother’s claim to have called and complained to his commanders?  Painful as it is, this helps explain the section below Wikipedia’s definition, "See also: Jewish mother stereotype."  Incidentally, some parents’ behavior even goes beyond the "helicopter parenting" definition of being a nudge and a pest, and enters the unethical zone of writing their children’s college application essays for them.  This type of parent is dubbed a "Black Hawk parent" (after the military aircraft).  

Other expressions for this style of overbearing parenting include "lawnmower parenting" (to describe parents who attempt to smooth any obstacles that their child might encounter and—heaven forbid—actually learn from) and similarly, in Scandinavia, "curling parents" (same idea: sweepers of obstacles from their children’s path) defined here and shown in action here.  (I think the fact that such a phenomenon exists outside the United States is both discouraging and validating.)

After reading this stuff, I’m left scratching my head.  I’m not a fabulous parent, but I do think kids often learn much more from making their own mistakes than from being told what to do all the time.  Doesn’t insinuating one’s parental self into a child’s life to this extent leave the child unskilled and inadequately prepared for life?  Doesn’t it rob a child of any feeling of personal achievement if the parent can take credit for any and all outcomes of the child’s experiences?  What ever happened to "natural consequences" where a child actually gets to see what results from his or her own actions?  If a parent tries to justify over-involvement in a child’s college career as "protecting one’s investment," shouldn’t one perhaps recall that academic subjects and grades are only a part of what the child learns in college?  And if the parent had his or her own turn learning to be a responsible adult, when does the child get that same turn?  To deny the (adult) child the opportunity to have these experiences is to deny him or her the chance to learn responsibility, organization, motivation, confidence, and self-reliance.  

I think all this points to the fact that it’s not only important for a parent to know when it’s important to teach a child; it’s just as important to know when to let others (other adults, children, or experience) teach that same child.  The image of a child as an amoeba swimming in a parental pond cannot apply to a child’s entire life; at some point the child must crawl out of that parental ooze, dry off, and strike out on its own.  As a child reaches adulthood, it’s time for that child to enter the take-charge, independent phase of life (that will last the rest of his or her life).  At the same time, the parent must enter the hands-off, supporting-without-interfering stage.  

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One feature of this blog will be my occasional rants about the abuse of the English language.  I hope to make my posts as informative and light-hearted as possible, but if you find yourself getting defensive about your own English usage, perhaps it’s for the best.

Today’s rant is about the frequency with which I have noticed people confusing the words flaunt and flout.  Last year, a regular columnist with the Jerusalem Post used the expression “to flaunt the Torah,” meaning to mock it, to spit in its face.  Dov Bear has a post on his blog where he similarly confuses the two words: “Unless Mr. Rosenblum is saying that the ban is likely to fail, and that he expects all of Haredi society to be openly flaunting it within two generations, he should not say…”

Flout means “to show contempt for; scoff at; scorn” (American Heritage Dictionary), “to mock or insult; to treat with contempt” (Webster’s New International Dictionary, Second Edition), and, for the snobs who believe the Oxford English Dictionary to be the only true authority on the English language,
1. trans.  To mock, jeer, insult; to express contempt for, either in word or action.
2. intrans.  To behave with disdain or contumely, to mock, jeer, scoff; to express contempt either by action or speech.
3. ? erroneous use (or ? another word).  To ruffle (a bird’s feathers).

Here is the definition of flaunt:
1. To wave or flutter showily

2. To move ostentatiously; to make a showy appearance; to be boastfully gaudy; …transitive: To display ostentatiously; to make an impudent show of; to parade; as, to flaunt one’s vices. (Webster)
…and, again, for the snooty, the OED’s definition:
1. intr.  Of plumes, banners, etc.: To wave gaily or proudly.  Of plants: To wave to as to display their beauty.
2. a. Of persons: To walk or move about so as to display one’s finery; to display oneself in unbecomingly splendid or gaudy attire; to obtrude oneself boastfully, impudently, or defiantly on the public view.  b. Of things: To be extravagantly gaudy or glaringly conspicuous in appearance.
3.  trans.  To display ostentatiously or obstrusively; to flourish, parade, show off.

These definitions should, I think, make clear that we are dealing with two distinct meanings, however similar the spellings of the words.  One flaunts a diamond; one flouts a lover’s feelings by pawning that diamond, taking the cash, and taking off on a two-week holiday with someone else.  One flaunts one’s flawless lulav and etrog at Sukkot; one flouts the Torah by tying them with twine to the grille of one’s automobile and going joyriding on Yom Tov.

In defense of the malapropists, the American Heritage Dictionary offers a second, “nonstandard” definition which acknowledges the use of flaunt to mean flout:
2. Nonstandard.  To flout: “Our English tradition of capitalizing all name-derivatives is so firmly established…that it seems a futile gesture to flaunt it” (Robert A. Hall, Jr.)
There is also a note regarding this confusion:
Usage: Flaunt in the sense of flout (to show contempt or conspicuous disregard for) is rejected by 91 per cent of the Usage Panel.  A dissenting member of the Panel observes that it “is in too general usage to be ignored.” However, although its appearance in print since the 1930s (especially in the United States) is widely attested, flaunt in this sense remains a malapropism in the judgment of most writers and editors.

Thus, if one is truly insistent on misusing the word flaunt, one can always point to the defeated observation of a lonely surrender-monkey on the American Heritage Usage Panel.

To my great relief, Wolfish Musings refreshingly uses the expression “flaunt the Torah” correctly in the following passage:  “The point is that everyone has a calling… and while fulfilling your calling, do it in the most humble way possible. If you’re a talmid chochom, don’t flaunt your Torah knowledge for personal aggrandizement. If you’re a businessman, don’t brag about your latest deal — recognize that Hashem had a part in helping you with your success.”

If one has been unwittingly misusing these words, speaker, correct thyself.  If one has been willfully flaunting one’s ignorance by flouting the basic laws of diction, well, I have nothing more to say.  My feathers have been flouted enough.

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