Tuesday, May 08, 2007

From Bill Bryson's Dictionary of Troublesome Words 5 (Commonplace Book)

More geekery from Bill Bryson.

Languid, Limpid. Often confused. The first means limp or listless. The second means clear, calm, untroubled. [EDIT: I WROTE THIS BACKWARDS AT FIRST AND HAVE NOW FIXED IT.]

Libel, Slander. Although almost all dictionaries define libel as merely as a statement that defames another person or damages his reputation, it is worth remembering that it must do so unreasonably or inaccurately. It is the wrongness of a contention that makes it libelous, not the harshness or hostility of it. Libel must be published (usually written, but drawings can also constitute libel); libel comes from the Latin libellus, meaning "little book". Slander is used when remarks are merely spoken.

Like, As. This rule will cover you most of the time: as and as if are always followed by a verb (he played as if his life depended on it"); like never is ("He played like an expert").

Meticulous: correctly used, this word has a pejorative tone.

Minute detail: tautological.

Moribund: this word does not mean sluggish or troubled or struggling. It means dying. To be moribund is to be critically -- irreversibly -- ill.

Mutual exchange: tautological.


Matt Brady said...

I had no idea "meticulous" was supposed to be pejorative. Most of the time I know of the "correct" usage of these words, but this one was new to me. I haven't been commenting on these entries of yours, but they always interest me. I usually feel like arguing, saying these might be the concrete dictionary definitions, but they've taken on other cultural meanings. But that's kind of the point of these entries, isn't it?

Anonymous said...

Surely 'limpid' means clear and 'languid' means listless?
Am I reading this wrongly? I'm drinking Shiraz.
I love these entries anyway.


Geoff Klock said...

Dougie: yeah, sorry about that. I fixed it now. Thanks for grabbing that.

Geoff Klock said...

matt: it is. If things are going to change fine, but let's at least be clear what they are changing from.

pat Moler said...

You're just so adorable, Geoff. Your like oe of my Chihuahuas. I just want to hug you and swing you around.

I just had to get that off my chest. haha