I didn’t get your note until 10.45, to be precise.
Don’t be precise—and don’t worry.
As helpful advice goes, some people might find it pretty encouraging, but that advice would never fly with me, as I derive great satisfaction from being precise.
I recently read through an interesting—albeit rather technical—book, and one sentence leapt out at me (no, not literally) (although it literally made me laugh out loud, thereby proving my point about the source of true wellness): “The big word in the industry right now is unquestionably one of its most annoying, ‘wellness,’ a trend that has seen a rise of ingredients like green tea and chai and exploits the widespread myth that the forest wants to heal you.”
Ha, ha! I literally cringe (yes, literally, as in, my forehead furrows in a palpable wince and my fingers twitch with perceptible clenching) when I hear (or read) of people saying things such as “literally LOL.” Literally laughing out loud? If that really happened as frequently as people claimed, we would all be a whole lot healthier, as laughter is indubitably the best, etc. etc.
Understanding the precise difference between mondegreens and malapropisms can go a long way toward establishing what is properly funny and what is just a goofy mistake. I’ve always thought that if you’re going to mangle a turn of phrase, you might as well be intentional and humorous about it, to wit: “You may think I have a heart of stone, but I will not be taken for granite!” Ha, ha!
And whenever I hear anyone talk about anything being decimated (ranks, usually), I want to start counting up to see if the ranks (as it were) really were reduced by ten percent. I mean, even when thinning plants, you usually go for fifty percent. Who would even want to literally decimate, say, an army of ants? Why not just destroy them outright?
Differentiating between palindromes and anagrams is another perpetual source of happiness to me. Both concepts involve sets of interchangeable symbols—usually letters or numbers—but anagrams rely on simple rearrangement of the symbols to form a new word or phrase, usually with some meaning that bears significant relation to the original text, while palindromes are directly reversible words or phrases.
Neither one need necessarily be funny, although the more brilliant and clever the anecdote, the more satisfying it is to repeat, as in, “Aha! And so pleased was I with this witty remark that I said it again, only this time backwards: Aha!” Anagrams, for their part, can range from the profound (decimal point: I’m a dot in place) to the political (Disraeli: “I lead, sir!”) to the personal (Rose Focht: Echo frost). Of course one must exercise caution, when tinkering with personalized anagrams, not to develop an Andre Pujon complex.
Some people actually avoid using any words with which they are not entirely familiar or conversant, so keenly do they fear suffering the mortification of using a word incorrectly. However, they shouldn’t worry, either. As a recent discussion around the dinner table pointed out, while mortification is used colloquially to delineate great shame, chagrin, or embarrassment, mortification literally means “putting the flesh to death,” and isn’t as common an end as many people seem to think. In fact, Nabal is about the only person in history I can think of who was literally dismayed to death (I Samuel 25). Apparently, being embarrassed to death isn’t really such a widespread threat, after all.
So don’t worry. Be precise—and be happy!
Photo Credit: First image graphic design by Charity Klicka; All other images by Rose Focht.