Shifts of Language

I’ve always known that languages evolve. But I didn’t realize how many changes I would be able to perceive in one short lifetime. Now, at the age of 57, I can personally report on some changes I’ve observed in English that I don’t consider helpful. Here are a few that spring to mind, in alphabetical order:

  • Another thing coming: It’s easy to see how this happened. Originally, the phrase was “another think coming”. But it’s hard to distinguish the ‘k’ sound at the end of “think” and the initial ‘c’ sound of “coming” from the combination of the ‘g’ at the end of “thing” with the ‘c’. There’s also the unusual usage of “think” as a noun rather than a verb, which reduces the likelihood of it being recognized.
  • As best as: The phrase “as best”, as in “to do as best one can”, sounds a bit awkward to modern ears, and many people feel a need to add another “as”, thus bringing the construction into line with that of similar phrases, such as “as good as” or “as well as”. But when you stop to think about it, there is a logic to it: “best” is superlative and needs nothing alongside it for comparison, unlike “good [as]” or “better [than]”.
  • Besides the point: The original phrase was “beside the point”, but this seems to have gotten mixed up with the word “besides”.
  • Comprised of: This has been an issue for a long time, maybe even all of my life. But it’s just not right.
  • Could care less: When people say they “could care less”, what they really mean is that they couldn’t care less — literally the opposite. The point is supposed to be that your level of caring is so low, it can’t possibly go any lower.
  • Doggie dog: I’m not sure I’ve actually heard this “in the wild”, but I’ve seen the reports, which are chilling enough. It’s supposed to be “dog-eat-dog”.
  • Flush out: This is often used when “flesh out” is really what’s meant. For example, “Let’s flesh out these requirements.”
  • More so: Increasingly, I hear “more so” when a simple “more” would do. Example: “It’s not so much the hours, but more so the work environment that bothers me.” The word “so” is supposed to refer to something earlier, as in “Being hungry makes me irritable, and all the more so if I haven’t been sleeping well.”
  • Step foot: More and more, to enter a room or space isn’t to set foot in it, it’s to step foot. Seems a bit redundant, and makes “step” into a transitive verb, where previously it had only been intransitive.
  • Supposably: Should be supposedly.
  • Verse: Almost everyone under the age of 45 seems to pronounce “vs.” as “verse”. It actually stands for “versus”. I’ve also heard that some people use “verse” as a verb, meaning “to go against”.

Oh, well. Such are the travails of getting older. I’m not sure if any of these can be restored to their more sensible original understandings. I may just have to bite the bullet and learn to live with them.

But before then, I can complain about it.

Author: Dan Eckam

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