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  Issue 158, page 4

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Sez You...

From Darin Johnson:

a reader complained recently that only dentist and gast. doctors should use the word "impact".

What is the position of TWOFI on using Merriam-Webster dictionary as a valid reference source.  I looked up impact in MW and there were several definitions that made the impact whiner appear to be feculent. just curious.

Um, Darin, what is your position on punctuation?  Need we say more? (We copied your message exactly as it was received.)  Oh, and it's TOWFI.  You are, however, to be commended on your use of the word feculent!

Actually, we do need to say more.  Occasionally we don't correct a Guestmudgeon on one wrong (or partially wrong) complaint among several valid ones.  We leave it up to our readers.  However, in this case, as with many curmudgeonly complaints, Jim Schuler is simply expressing a matter of taste.  We personally don't like to hear impacted used in place of had an impact on, either.  We think "The shareholders' report had an impact on the stock value" sounds much better than "The shareholders' report impacted the stock value".  The latter sounds like someone threw the report at the stock and made a direct hit!

From Jesse S. Summers

In reference to Jim Schuler's comments in "Sez you" in issue 157, while "impact" as a verb may be objectionable for aesthetic reasons or because of its close connection to "adminispeak," it cannot be considered a "noun turned verb" as tasked and conferenced are. In fact, the verb dates from at least the 17th century, and, if I remember my etymology correctly (I knew I should have brought at least my Fowler with me to France), the verb actually predates the noun, though it did fall into disuse for a time.

See our reply above.

In general, while one may certainly express one's own verbal preferences in speech, a blanket objection to newly coined verbs that derive from nouns misses much of the beauty of a dynamic language. To take an obvious example, "to police" an area, which I believe derives from the noun form, expresses an action not as easily or as concisely expressed otherwise and adds to the language in so doing, regardless of any one person's proclivity to use or avoid the word in his or her own speech. There is certainly a difference between incorrect usage and evolving usage, except when speaking of a dead language. If a verb is derived from a noun to take the place of another verb that already expresses the same idea, it is then to be regretted that some of the richness of the language is being overlooked; however, if a word with a new sense, even one only subtly different, is introduced into the language in this way, this is an occasion for celebrating the vibrancy of our language, not for muttering derisively and searching out a dog-eared copy of Beowulf for comfort.  With much appreciation of your work on the web site (your "websiting"?)

Thanks Jesse.  While what you write is true, it misses the point of curmudgeonry in general!

From Brad Daniels:

While there are certainly many verbed nouns that are simply awkward substitutes for pre-existing verbs, I do not consider "impact" one of them. It means "to affect, usually adversely." The implication that the effect will be adverse makes it a distinct and more precise term than "affect", regardless of the term's meaning in a medical context. The intent is always clear from context, as is the fact that the verb usage is simply re-derived from "impact".

Similarly, "pushback" or "push-back" means roughly "feedback in opposition to an idea or proposal". The other choices, a simple use of "feedback", "resistance", or "opposition", would not convey the exact same sense. 

Similarly, to "conference someone in" means to enable someone to participate in a meeting by telephone, either by adding them to an existing conference call or by connecting them to a speaker phone in a meeting room with other people. Can you think of a more concise and clear way to convey that meaning? I can't.

When a new coinage conveys a different meaning than existing words, it absolutely constitutes a legitimate example of language evolution. I would also say that neologisms that constitute more concise ways of expressing ideas are usually legitimate. Even "tasked [with]", and "transitioning" are defensible by that standard, since each is slightly more concise than its alternative ("given the task of", or "making a transition").

An eloquent discussion, but most curmudgeons will disagree with you.  That's just what they do!

From Steve Whitelaw:

Re: Jim Shuler's "Sez You" comment on push-back, I hear that term used quite often, but usually to mean "resistance". Example: "We're getting some push-back on our proposal to introduce chocolate-coated sponges."

Interesting!  We hadn't heard that one!

From Chuck Royalty:

Regarding comments on what roads are called:  In issue 157 from Joshua:

"The 5" is also used in western Washington State, and I always figured that "the" was used to pay homage to the fact that Interstate 5 is the jugular of the west coast. This is because I have never heard anyone say "the 90" referring to the other important Interstate in the area. People also say "I-5", but "the 5" sounds a bit more like slang, allowing those who use it to forget that they are office workers or hot-tub salesmen and instead imagine that they are members of a wily street gang. Thank you for your educational site. 

You respond: "Could there be a large enclave of former SoCal folks in Washington?" 

And the answer is indeed there are a large number, although I don't think there's an enclave, per se. The real fuss over the "californication" of Washington was more like a decade ago. These days it's that we have the 3rd worst traffic in the nation and all the industry is going to leave. 

In any event, the standard nomenclature for our freeways (especially if traffic reporters set the "standard") is "I-5", "I-405" (I-four-oh-five), and I-90; not a "the" in the lot.

Thanks for that clarification.  Joshua must be hanging with some Californians!

From Roger Whitehead:

 Gordon Brown's complaint about "What was your name?" reminded me of a similar habit, encountered in Britain at least. When people want to find out your occupation, they commonly ask, "What do you actually do". I have, in a spirit of curmudgeonliness, sometimes replied "You mean, as opposed to what I pretend to do?" but get only baffled looks.

If they are talking to someone on television, the question is nearly always: "So, what do you actually do". One would think that adding the preliminary "so" to almost any interview question is taught at scriptwriting school, it's that frequently found.


From Marina T. Stern:

Sheri Martin, who thinks "Christopher Columbus Transcontinental Highway" is a ridiculous name for the 10, needs to get a map. It IS transcontinental. It goes to Florida. She also needs to use the local idiom, if she hopes to get accurate directions from native Angelenos, such as myself. That's all the article before freeway numbers is-- a local idiom. Get used to it.

You are certainly living up to your name in this instance, Marina!  Well, you've got to admit that referring to Interstate 10 as the "Christopher Columbus Transcontinental Highway" sounds a bit pompous (not to mention offensive to some Native Americans) since I-10 already has local names in different cities. For example, it's the Santa Monica Freeway in parts of the L.A. area and the Katy Freeway in the Houston, Texas area.  And as for using the local idiom, we're pretty sure people will still understand Sheri if she says "Do I take 10 to Ontario*?" versus "Do I take the 10 to Ontario?"  It may be a local idiom but it's an odd one, hence the lengthy discussions herein.

*Ontario in this example is a town in the greater L.A. area

From Barry Lord:

[From our companion e-mail newsletter last week, explaining the publishing delay:]

>...One of us was a bit under the weather ... so we're a day behind.

It's wonderful that you manage to do a whole issue each week - it looks like a lot of work.

I'm sure no one minds if it's a day or two late. If you send out the e-mail when the page is ready, we can click on the link, knowing that the page is already there.

What a nice note!  It is a lot of work, Barry, and we appreciate you noticing as much as we appreciate your encouragement.


Or read last week's issue to see what all of these people are talking about!

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Last Updated 06/22/02 09:43 PM