Starting the year as we mean to go on

I have occasionally been worrying about my tendency to grumpiness in my blogging. But my New Year’s Resolution is this: I have realised that I am officially a Grumpy Old Bag now that I’m 40, so this is gonna be a Grumpy Old Blog whenever I feel like it.

Anyways… we have the latest Linguistic Luddites List* (H-T), or the ‘List of Words Banished from the Queen’s English for Misuse, Overuse and General Uselessness’ from some university you’ve never heard of (publicity stunt much?).

Now there are always many, many new coinages out there that I detest (usually the latest ugly offerings from bureaucrats and middle management), but you know, the thing about a language is that it continually evolves and grows in unpredictable and not necessarily pretty ways or it dies, and if you’re going to object to neologisms you’ve got to have a better reason than ‘Ugh! Don’t like!’ or ‘The kids/damned Yanks/common people use it!’ or ‘We’ve got a word for that already!’.

I am particularly taken by this one, for idiocy:

AUTHORED — “In one of former TV commentator Edwin Newman’s books, he wonders if it would be correct to say that someone ‘paintered’ a picture?”

Firstly, ‘author’ as a verb is hardly new. The OED has examples of author as a verb going back to the 16th century, which makes it a couple of centuries younger than the noun.

And then the logic that the nouns ‘author’ and ‘painter’ must follow exactly the same grammatical rules? Why? Just because words sound in part similar doesn’t mean they were originally formed in exactly the same way or that they have to develop in lockstep thereafter. We don’t spell it ‘auther’, do we?

(Updated to note: Among verbs formed from nouns, I have my own little pet hates, so I’m as guilty as anyone. But I’m not sure why back-formation of this kind tends to generate so much opprobrium.)


* I know, this is unfair on Luddites, but we all love a little alliteration, don’t we?

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4 Responses to Starting the year as we mean to go on

  1. zhoen says:

    Has “Dis” disappeared, yet? To make ‘disrespectful’ a catchall slight, make it a verb, and truncate it as well, always seemed weak and meaningless.

  2. Sharon says:

    I don’t mind ‘Dis’ – it does something slightly different to, say, ‘insult’ and I can’t say the truncation bothers me. It’s not a word I could imagine actually using without a large dose of irony, mind you, not being down with the kids in the ‘hood. (And it’s not a back-formation from disrespectful by the look of it: disrespect as a verb has earlier OED dates than disrespectful (by 60 years) and disrespect as a noun.)

  3. Gavin says:

    Respect looks like it comes from a Latin verb, probably respicio.

    Going slightly off topic, I think language snobs who insist on using Latin-esque plurals for words ending in -us or -um should be made to use the correct case endings… which I suspect many of them probably wouldn’t know.

  4. Sharon says:


    (I’m useless at remembering Latin case endings myself.)

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