Saturday, March 19, 2016

Words, phrases, etymological cages

Sir Ernest Gowers, or a second- or third-generation reviser, writing about what has come to be called the etymological fallacy, the mistaken idea that a word’s present meaning must be related to that word’s etymology:

[T]here is a point where it becomes idle pedantry to try to put back into their etymological cages words and phrases that escaped from them many years ago and have settled down firmly elsewhere. To do that is to start on a path on which there is no logical stopping-point short of such absurdities as insisting that the word anecdote can only be applied to a story never told before, whereas we all know that it is more likely to mean one told too often.

The Complete Plain Words , rev. Sidney Greenbaum and Janet Whitcut (Boston: David R. Godine, 1988).
This book is full of quick bits of wit.

Also from The Complete Plain Words
Buzz-phrase generator : “Falling into incongruity” : Thinking and writing

[Anecdote : from the Greek anekdota, unpublished items. A choice word to illustrate the etymological fallacy: decimate .]

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