Using the wrong word

Discussion in 'Linguistics' started by Oli, Apr 3, 2009.

  1. StrangerInAStrangeLand SubQuantum Mechanic Valued Senior Member

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    -=-

    He went outside to get the mail in his underwear.
     
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  3. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

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    I've never heard anyone use the word "birthday" to mean "the day I was born."
    That horse is too dead to beat. If "may" only meant "is permitted to," the distinction would be strong enough to teach. But "may" is also used to form the conditional and perhaps even the subjunctive (another distinction that has been almost lost in American English). "She may speak" doesn't just mean that she has permission to speak, it can (may? there ya go!) also mean that the probability of her speaking is neither zero nor certainty, but somewhere between.
    Wow, we used to say that when I was a kid in the 1950s, but I haven't heard it in decades.
     
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  5. StrangerInAStrangeLand SubQuantum Mechanic Valued Senior Member

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    It should be "I hope he does not try TO rape me".
     
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  7. Repo Man Valued Senior Member

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    The word pedophile is being ruined by improper popular usage. The idiots they catch on Dateline are usually referred to as pedophiles, but since a pedophile is someone attracted to prepubescent children, and those men think they are there to see a teenage girl, this is incorrect. Those girls are too old to interest an honest to goodness pedophile. Some of them may be ephebophiles, but I think most of them are just losers trying to take advantage of young and naive girls. I'm not trying to defend them, they deserve the trouble they get. But they shouldn't be confused with the sort of person who would try to have sex with a seven year old.
     
  8. StrangerInAStrangeLand SubQuantum Mechanic Valued Senior Member

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  9. Ophiolite Valued Senior Member

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    I applaud your clarification of terminology, something that has long confused the public and the world's legislative bodies (who have established age of consent laws ranging from very low teens to twenty one). However, you are guilty of another piece of improper usage. Your first definition is correct -a pedophile is someone attracted to prepubescent children. You then go on to incorrectly extend that definition by implying that pedophiles necessarily act on their inclinations - the sort of person who would try to have sex with a seven year old. I believe there is a body of research that shows many (most) pedophiles never act on their inclinations.
     
  10. Repo Man Valued Senior Member

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    Ophiolite, you're absolutely correct. Not all pedophiles are child molesters. And further, not all child molesters are pedophiles.
     
  11. StrangerInAStrangeLand SubQuantum Mechanic Valued Senior Member

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    Many muddled minds unfortunately utter "All pedophiles are not child molesters" rather than the above.
     
  12. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

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    And apparently everyone is comfortable with "molester" as a euphemism for "rapist." This is the engine that created "drumstick" for "leg," "breast" for "teat," "groin" for "scrotum," and "pro-life" for "anti-abortion."
     
  13. Serafina_tikklya Registered Member

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    I wish you guys would just borrow me a dictionary so I can look up your words....
     
  14. Ophiolite Valued Senior Member

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    Apparently not.

    Apparently most people understand that there is a distinct difference between molestation and its subset of rape. The differences are legal, linguistic and, to the victim, highly personal.

    While 'molester' could be used as a euphemism for 'rapist' I see little evidence that is how it has been applied in this thread. Apparently posters are acknowledging the traumatic effects of non-penetrative molestation and thus are expressing a rigorous honesty, rather than a self deceiving euphemism.
     
  15. codanblad a love of bridges Registered Senior Member

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    for syntactic ambiguity thats a pretty weak example, pretty safe to assume the meaning is that they fear a rape attempt. the first part doesn't even make sense, "i hope he does not try", unless the sentence before it was "my friend is participating in a rape-athon, i hope he doesn't try (to win) and rape me".
     
  16. StrangerInAStrangeLand SubQuantum Mechanic Valued Senior Member

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    It's an appropriate example of the countless times people say and when they mean to.
     
  17. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

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    The preposition: the second most useless part of speech in the English language. Only articles convey less information than prepositions, and it's so roundabout that it's nearly worthless. Conjunctions aren't much better, here's one being pressed into service as a replacement for a preposition. It's become fairly standard in colloquial speech and I even hear it occasionally in presentations.

    This is a perfect illustration. A foreigner struggling with English could probably substitute any preposition for "to" in that sentence--or even omit it entirely--and we would all know precisely what he meant.

    A few months ago I wrote an entire sentence here, replacing all the prepositions with bork or something like that. Only one person complained about loss of understanding in only one instance.
     
  18. iceaura Valued Senior Member

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    A native speaker's ability to work out the intended meaning of a misformation does not imply a lack of meaning in use for the actually appropriate form.

    Or lack in meaning for use on the actually appropriate form.

    Or lack meaning the use of actually appropriate form.

    It's misleading to point to isolated examples in which the context carries over for the missing sense, and take that as evidence for superfluity of the missing. In (not "on" or "under") most complaints about the way English is spoken or written, a context of wellformed English seems too often assumed - a language which possesses a variety of capabilities it would not, were all these changes made universal.
     
  19. StrangerInAStrangeLand SubQuantum Mechanic Valued Senior Member

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    Calling someone single when they've been sleeping in the same bed with, romanticly & sexually involved with & living in the same house with the same person for over 20 years.
     
  20. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

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    I'm not insisting that the information content of prepositions is zero in all cases. But I do insist that it is zero in many cases, perhaps a majority, and that in all but a few cases it is very low.
    The presence and placement of a preposition does indeed help us parse the sentence. Chinese does the same thing more honestly, with the universal particle de4. It has no meaning; it only identifies where one phrase or compound word ends and the next begins. The absence of prepositions in your second example does indeed make the sentence rather inscrutable. But the presence of the wrong prepositions in the first example is not much of an impediment--run it by a speaker of Indian English, a perfectly respectable dialect, and he might not even notice the discrepancies.

    As for your interesting substitution of articles for prepositions, it illustrates only the function of both parts of speech as placeholders and the inability of one to replace the other. And articles are arguably even less useful and necessary than prepositions in English. We routinely encounter signs in which the articles have been compressed out to save space, and it doesn't seem to bother anyone except for the occasional joke that it looks like the government has staffed its sign-painting department entirely with Russians.

    Unlawful to Pass School Bus Stopped for Children. Trains to Baltimore on Opposite Platform. Parking Reserved for Handicapped. Dial 911 in Emergency. Left Turn on Left Arrow Only.

    Wait... they've also omitted the verb "to be" from all of those signs. Maybe they really were painted by Russians. Or maybe "to be" is also superfluous. Chinese gets by just fine without it except in its equative mode, "Father is (a) teacher."
     
  21. Ophiolite Valued Senior Member

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    Fraggle,
    I had been led to believe you had qualifications, professional or amateur, in linguistics. Perhaps I have been misled. Your entire argument appears to completely ignore the central element of redundancy in communication. Your argument works for an ideal world in which every speaker constructs a perfect sentence and every listener interprets it proficiently.

    The world is not ideal. Prepositions are one of the tools English uses to deal with that. In short, you are wrong.
     
  22. iceaura Valued Senior Member

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    Regardless of whether it impedes, it changes the meaning.
    My suspicion is that you would have more difficulty than you think, illustrating that by example.

    You appear to think that the informational content of the difference between "on time" and "in time" is very low, for an instance here. I don't.

    Without the framing - "this is a traffic sign" - the meanings would change quite a bit depending on the context brought by the reader.

    I once read the following note to me, hand scrawled on an orange notepad with a ballpoint pen, without difficulty: "Lingkoghn 1_ _ [] SPL". It was an address. The address was "100 Lincoln Square, Saint Paul, Minnesota". Had I not known it was an address, not had familiarity with similar messages from the source, and in general not brought the entire correct context to bear, I doubt I could have read it easily (while driving to the address, drinking coffee, and mentally reviewing the gear etc available to me).

    And this general situation seems common whenever people start talking about trimming the inessentials from English - they tend to assume a context, for any given change, in which their other desired changes have not been made, and generally current standard English is assumed to be framing the desired change. Couple that with the often overlooked difficulty of imagining the possibilities of going wrong, or the losses of possibility incurred, and all such proposed changes become dubious until proven otherwise.

    Overall, this seems to me to belong to a large category of spectra in which the greatest flexibility and largest number of possibilities is found in the middle of the range of the scale. Neither the most ornate, complex grammar with its myriad specified forms, nor the pared down much-evolved lingo with its one or two tenses and absence of things like prepositions, makes the most useful and adaptable and powerful language. The midlevel language is the sweet spot.

    (Combinatorial math provides a touchstone example: in a set of ten things, the most combinations are of 4, 5, 6 items. The least number of different possibilities are found in choosing 1 or 2, 8 or 9, from the ten. )
     
  23. Repo Man Valued Senior Member

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    This isn't a case of a wrong word, but instead one that time has made anachronistic. Specifying unleaded gasoline. It has been at least fifteen years since you could buy gasoline containing tetraethyl lead for passenger cars (other than racing gasoline, which you have to buy in drums). You don't need to say "regular unleaded", because there is no chance of getting regular leaded gasoline by mistake. But it lives on for some reason.
     

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