I get a chuckle when people modify absolute words, such as unique – it means one of a kind, so how can it be really unique or very unique? Either it’s unique or it isn’t. In the movie Princess Bride, poor Wesley was pronounced mostly dead. Sorry – you’re dead or you’re not. You may be almost dead, but mostly dead would signify that some of you was dead which of course can’t be or all of you would be dead. Perfect is another one of these words. If the show was perfect with a few exceptions, then, of course it wasn’t perfect was it? Again mostly perfect – nope! Almost perfect – sure! Here are a few more words that can’t be modified: absolute, straight, identical, infinite and mortal!
Let’s get them right:
Recently, my interlocutor– the person I was speaking with, (I just had to use that word) commented that what we were discussing was a mute point. Mute means unable to speak whereas moot means irrelevant. The word moot often heard in legal discussions where a decision has already been made, there’s no point discussing it further- it is moot.
Adverse and averse: I find that people often use these two words interchangeably. Although they sound alike, they are very different in meaning. Adverse means contrary, hostile or in active opposition to (think adversary) while averse means unwilling, disinclined (think aversion).
Decimate versus devastate: I hear people referring to the destruction of something as being decimated. The macabre roots of this word are in Latin where a Roman punishment was to kill one in ten men, so when something is decimated it is ten percent destroyed. If you are looking for a total wipe out the word is devastate. It means to destroy, demolish, ravage and generally make a total mess of things.
Ultimate and penultimate: Ultimate is probably one of the most misused words. Ask anyone, they’ll tell you it’s the best, the highest, the most wonderful! Actually it means the last in a list of items. If you saved the best to the last, then you could say the ultimate was the best but alas ultimate cannot stand alone. Recently I heard a sportscaster go on at great length describing the final game of the season as the penultimate match. Well it does sound sexier than plain old ultimate but alas it is even less than ultimate. Penultimate means the second from the last. Perhaps he should have stayed with the words ‘final match’ and stayed out of trouble.
Today’s Canadian challenges: Dazzle your friends at your next party and say: Quesnel – kw’Nell; Skidegate on Haida Gwaii – skid-i-git (equal stress on all syllables); Saskatchewan – locals know if you’re from elsewhere if you pronounce it Saskatchew-wan, to fit in make it Sas-KAT-chewin; In Manitoba we have The Pas– the paw; La belle province Quebec is Ke-Bek; Quidi Vidi Newfoundland – kiddi viddi – and Newfoundland pronounced as newfun-land (rhymes with understand); and finally Iqaluit (formerly Frobisher Bay) ee-Kallo-wit, stress on the second syllable.
So as they say in Quiddi Viddi, Stay where you’re at and I’ll come where you’re to!
Ciao for now!