Monday, September 28, 2009

The Secret of NYM

William Safire died over the weekend. He was an intelligent, eminently reasonable conservative, noted for deftly defining the subtle nuances of our language. Despite his right of center views, he worked for years at the New York Times, an alleged tool of the liberal establishment. Apparently he enjoyed being their lone ranger. In fact, Safire was hired to be and long enjoyed a career as The Times' resident contrarian, according to Charles Osgood on the radio this morning. Among his many skills as a journalist was a column for the Times Sunday Magazine entitled, appropriately, On Language. Thankfully, others have taken up the banner and will continue his penchant for interesting discourse detailing the ways we use and abuse the American version of English. Like I do. 
     Just yesterday, there was a column about phantonyms. A phantonym, according to Jack Rosenthal, who was pinch-hitting for Mr. Safire, is a word that looks as if it means one thing, but actually means another. For example, he points out that:
     Penultimate does not mean ultraultimate. It means next to last. 
Presently does not mean now but in a little while. 
Enervated does not mean energized, but weakened. 
Fortuitous does not mean fortunate, it means happening by chance. 
     Which got me to thinking about some words and phrases I'm familiar with:
     Donkey Kong was supposed to be Monkey Kong, but the Japanese translator screwed up. 
     A**hole has been a term of endearment for so long that its use as a flatulence expulsion release mechanism is now lost to history. 
     And people mistakenly think that to nail something means to hammer a long steel rod into a hole. Oh, wait, maybe that one hasn't changed. 
     Over at you can read about nine more words that don't mean what you think. Even better, unlike the New York Times, a family reading device, Cracked is pure unadulterated internet, so they give their "phantonyms" a "dick" rating. As in how big a dick are you if you insist people use it the right way? For example Cracked offers up the seemingly innocuous word, "deceptively."
     People think it means:
Nobody is sure.
     Actually means:
Nobody is sure.
     Specifically, we're talking about when the word is used with some other adjective. Like if somebody says, "The turd pool is deceptively shallow," does that mean it's deeper than it appears, or not as deep?
     If you're not sure, don't feel bad. The American Heritage Dictionary asked their word experts and they said they had no f**king idea, either. So ... nobody knows. 
    Dick rating: 10 [over a picture of Bill O'Reilly]. 
    Go read the whole article HERE with no asterisks where swear words should be. Author Tim Cameron deliberately includes plenty of girls with big boobs, and hilarious photos of guys who are world class "dicks."  Tom Cruise rates a "7."
     Frankly, for its laugh factor, Cracked's version beats the New York Times to death, and makes me wonder if the guy at the Times stole the idea, since the Cracked article was dated 2007, while "Phantonym" just appeared yesterday. But I have to say that "Phantonym" is truly one of the great made up words of all time. Up there with Watron -- a gender neutral word for someone who takes your order and brings your food and expects a really big tip. So I'll give those New York swells a pass on this one. 

1 comment:

Remo said...

Interesting stuff. What's a "Henweigh"?