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Home » Dave’s DiegesesAugust 2005 » Dave’s Diegesis: Third Word War

Dave’s Diegesis: Third Word War

It is more fun to talk with someone who doesn’t use long, difficult words but rather short, easy words like “What about lunch?”
A. A. Milne, Winnie the Pooh

From time to time I’ve been accused of being verbose, tedious, and perhaps even a bit highfaluting. I don’t intend to put on airs, of course, that’s just the way I use words. Words are the essential utterances that distinguish us from all known creatures, and I value them above any earthly riches. Language grants form to the amorphous and brings order to the inchoate. It can unify, but just as quickly mystifies. While Mike Remlinger has had time to retreat from his infinite ERA, during my retreat I’ve plumbed the mines of language devotees and discovered some wordplay gems that I’d prefer to share rather than hoard. Sort of how Remlinger is so generous with earned runs.

In the study of linguistics, metanalysis is not some sort of French postmodernist theory but rather the process in which a phrase is changed so that a part of one word fuses onto the other. A famous example is “a nadder” evolving into “an adder.” Baseball has a metanalyzed word of its own with “umpire.” In Middle English, an arbiter was called a “noumpere,” someone who was impartial because he was “not a peer” of the parties in dispute. Tell that to Bob Watson.

Another language quirk is the mondegreen, introduced to us by Sylvia Wright. Wright misheard the last words of the lay “The Bonny Earl O’Murray” as “Lady Mondegreen” rather than “hae laid him on the green.” A more recent offshoot of this effect is the mishearing of popular song lyrics, many which have been collected in books and websites. I’m guilty of one that still amuses my mom to this day. On a long drive, I stared out of the car window, absentmindedly singing “Cheese and spice. Cheese and spice!” Mom looked over baffled and asked what I was singing. I told her it was that cheese and spice song, the one that we heard on the radio that was part of an advertisement for a production at the local theater. “Jesus Christ Superstar” was being performed by the island theater group at the time.

In 1775, Richard Sheridan released a play entitled The Rivals that featured a character named Mrs. Malaprop. Malaprop, from the French “mal à propos” meaning “ill to purpose,” would use pompous words incorrectly much to audience ’s delight. The trait was so notorious it became the basis for malapropisms, which are the unwitting misuses of a word in place of another. One of her famously tortured sentences was, “If I reprehend any thing in this world, it is the use of my oracular tongue, and a nice derangement of epitaphs!” She meant to use apprehend, vernacular, arrangement, and epithets. A common one you will even find in the New York Times is “prosperity” for “posterity.”

Lest you think fictional female characters are the only folk to be immortalized as a word quirk, let us not forget the Reverand William Archibald Spooner. Where mondegreens are slips of the ear, spoonerisms are trips of the tongue in which the initial consonants are switched to humorous effect. “The Lord is a shoving leopard,” is, possibly apocryphally, ascribed to Spooner.

With the advent of the internet and chat programs, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the comic mistypings I’ve witnessed. In our 30-second attention span society, everyone is guilty, so no one person should be singled out with these drifts of the hands and minds. One particularly memorable one I heard was someone typing “manstring” instead of “hamstring” in the Royal Rooters game chat.

For further reading and enjoyment, I recommend:

There might be a conspiracy to convince me that the extra “s” style is unseemly given these names. At any rate, join the lettered cabal. All it costs is time.

Every Friday, Dave McCarty will join us to discuss a topic of interest to him and probably no one else but the author of this site and other lone linguistics-loving geeks trying to get a word in edgewise.


I just noticed your disclaimer:

"David McCarty does not write Dave’s Diegeses and is not affiliated with this site. "

I'm crushed. Here I am thinking, 'Wow, I had no idea DM was so profound. I thought he was just a good-glove, no-hit, wanna-pitch, DFA'd, hoping-to-break-into-TV work, ex-member of the World Champion Boston Red Sox. How come he always sounded like a dope in the rare television interviews?'

But there is a Santa Claus; he pitches from our bullpen. Except he's Bad Santa and he had an ERA of infinity until a few days ago.

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