Stewardship of language

We who love the language and have toiled for years in its vineyards sometimes feel an almost irresistible urge to correct others’ misuse of it. Today, I will yield to the temptation but will address only a few of the sins recently observed. The respected Oxford American Dictionary (OED) will serve as our authority.

We begin with awesome. Awe is a noun meaning respect combined with fear or wonder. Awesome is its adjective, which means causing awe. Thus, those things or experiences we describe as awesome are those we respect and fill us with fear or wonder. Really? Yes, I know, we choose this overworked noun because we wish to emphasize the respect or pleasure we derive from it, but it’s overreach. Few things are worthy of being considered truly awesome.

We turn next to athleticism, a non-word coined by grammar-starved announcers who cover sporting events on television and radio. As a lifetime sports fan, I watch and listen to coverage of countless sporting events. I hear far too much butchered language from these folks, many of them college educated. Their profession, if we can call it that, requires them to communicate clearly in the shared language of their viewers and listeners. How can we explain the disdain so many of them display for the language they are called to serve? Athleticism is among their favorite terms when they wish to describe athletic ability.

Let’s remember that ism is a suffix used to form nouns meaning action, as in baptism, or condition or conduct, as in heroism. It shows up commonly in words identifying a system or belief, as in conservatism, Protestantism and communism. Only one of these definitions, condition or conduct, fits athleticism, and it would be a stretch.

OED defines the noun regime as a method or system of government or administration. It should not be confused with regimen, which is a prescribed course of exercise  or way of life, as a diet regimen.

We can’t leave this without a favorite misused word: podium. A podium is simply a pedestal or platform. It is NOT a lectern, which is a stand with a sloping top to hold a book or notes for a reader or speaker. Think of podiatrist, a physician who treats foot problems. One stands, that is, places one’s feet, on a podium. That wouldn’t work on a lectern. We’d fall.

We will explore others in future blogs. Have fun with these. Impress your friends.



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