Happy Holidays” is a pretty simple grammatical construction, as are “Merry Christmas,” “Happy Hanukkah,” “Happy New Year” and various other celebratory sayings. But we use “Many Happy Returns” without, at least in my case, understanding what it means.
I’m a weirdo who’s lived way too long for my meager abilities and accomplishments, but my 39th birthday (being celebrating for something like the 39th time) arrives this Sunday, on Christmas Eve. Now I follow astrology, numerology, Buddhism, Friedrich Nietzsche, the Akashic Records, The Lotus Sutra and Tao te Ching (The Way) as guides to my life and basically the meaning of existence.
It wouldn’t be my choice, but a poll by Marist College determined that “whatever” is the most annoying word in the American lexicon for the ninth straight year.
The poll was conducted Nov. 6-9 of 1,074 adults with an error factor of 3 percent.
Now, if I were asked to pick the most annoying (and meaningless) word in use by most Americans, I’d say it’s “awesome.” The use of “awesome” appears to be a substitute for people who can’t formulate a sentence around what they really feel.
“How was the movie?” “Awesome.”
“How was dinner?” “Awesome.”
“How was your death?” “Awesome.”
Anyway, you get the idea.
The rest of the list of the top five, in order, consists of “fake news,” “no offense,” “literally,” and “you know what I mean.”
No heads turn when someone says, “Everyone is bringing their own lunch.”
Except … it should be, grammatically speaking, “Everyone is bringing his own lunch.”
This brings up the whole question of our ubiquitous use of they and their as singular pronouns and possessives. As I noted, no heads turn when people use the plural to modify a singular antecedent.
I mention this after reading an interesting article in the New York Times, “Toppling the Grammar Patriarchy,” which describes French teachers’ rebellion over defaulting to masculine forms even when the subject includes both male and female.
This was way back in the Pleistocene when I was in high school, but I remember to this day arguing with an English teacher over the pronunciation of the word clique. I said click; he said cleek.
There was no Internet back then. In fact, electricity itself was pretty new, so we grabbed our classroom dictionary (probably Webster’s, but who knows?), and sure enough, cleek was the only choice for pronunciation. I had lost our gentlemen’s bet.
My, how the times have changed. I just checked dictionary dot com and the pronunciations (now two) were given in this order: kleek, then klick.
A mysterious tweet by Donald Trump — “Despite the negative press covfefe” — went viral for about five-and-a-half hours earlier today, leading to all kinds of humor and speculation on the social media.
I sometimes end up making mysterious words and sentences when I put my cell phone in my pocket while it’s still on. Bodily movements and hand-in-pocket gyrations make for weird words and sentences, but this tweet seemed to start out straight and end with a new word.
Coming soon to a market near you, a new candy bar called Covfefe.
Here’s where people can show some real stupidity, but let me give some background first.
I was just watching the World Baseball Classic on TV when an announcer, discussing the anniversary of outfielder Roberto Clemente’s elevation to the Hall of Fame in 1973, referred to him as “the penultimate Puerto Rican baseball player.”
I’m sure he thought penultimate meant beyond ultimate.
Egads, folks, penultimate means “next to last,” while ultimate means “beyond, tops.”
In origin, penultimate comes from the Latin paene, meaning “almost,’ plus ultimas “last.” So penultimate means literally “almost last.”
Unfortunately, in modern vernacular to many non-discriminating speakers and writers, penultimate has taken on the meaning of “beyond ultimate.”