Tuesday, May 29, 2007

From Bill Bryson's Dictionary of Troublesome Words 8 (Commonplace Book)

Pyrrhic victory is not, as is sometimes thought, a hollow triumph. It is one won at a huge cost to the victor.

Razed (to the ground). The ground is the only place that a building can be raised, and so the phrase is redundant. [By the way, just to show what kind of a dork I am, raze is one of my favorite words in English because its antonym is also its homonym].

Reason... is because. This is a redundant construction. "The reason she left New York is because..." would be better written "She left New York because...".

Replica is an exact copy built to the same scale and with the same materials, so you cannot say things such as "the exhibit contained a replica of the Taj Mahal made entirely out of toothpicks". Model, miniature or copy is often better. Exact replica is also redundant.

Respite. Brief respite and temporary respite are redundant, since respite contains the meaning of brief. Also respite rhymes with cesspit, not with despite.

Revert back: redundant; delete back.

Shakespeare: the Oxford English Dictionary, perversely and charmingly, but unhelpfully (Bryson's phrasing), insists on spelling the name Shakspere, a decision it bases on one of the six spellings Shakespeare himself used. It does acknowledge that Shakespeare is "perhaps" the commonest spelling now used.


Jason Powell said...

I had the worst English teacher for my freshman year of high school. One of the many things she did that annoyed me was to read Poe's "The Raven" to us out loud, and to pronounce "respite" as rhyming with "despite" in blatant, ignorant defiance of the poem's metrical scansion.

And she pronounced "quaff" as if it rhymed with "strafe."

neilshyminsky said...

Cute Shakespeare anedote with regard to the OED - is it possible that the OED went with that spelling in its first edition and have just refused to surrender it out of stubbornness or even a desire to seem self-consciously eccentric? Given that they admit the popular spelling is only 'perhaps' the most common? (One has to wonder if 'perhaps' is a bit tongue-in-cheek for precisely this reason.)

My own Shakespeare story - I did my MA in English and have some friends from the same program currently working on their PhDs. One of them shared an opening line from an undergraduate paper he was marking, which said something to the effect of "In the Shakespearean play King Lear..." My friend quite reasonably asked whether Shakespeare could himself be 'Shakespearean'; and if so, could he also be 'unShakespearean'? And which of Shakespeare's plays or poems would we call 'unShakespearean', anyway? (Despite these questions, he simply crossed out 'the Shakespearean' and wrote in 'Shakespeare's'.)

Erik Schark said...

My Shakespeare input: I actually have an old hardbound copy of the complete works of Shakespeare that was published about 150 years ago, and the spelling on the spine is "Shakspeare". I always thought it was a misprint.

Speaking of wrongly pronouncing respite, can we agree that the word formidable has its emphasis on the first syllable and not the second? My other bugaboo is affluent. I swear I haven't heard that pronounced correctly in years. It seems that people don't like first-syllable accents anymore.

Matt Brady said...

That's a funny story, Neil. It reminds me of the scene in The Squid and the Whale where the kid described The Metamorphosis as "Kafkaesque".

hcduvall said...

Not that I'd want to force recitations on anybody, I think there's actually a fair argument sometimes mispronounciations in poetry are actually purposeful.

Re: Shakespeare. The unShakespearian is version could be King Lear with a happy ending, which I believe was more common before he got to it. Which is my second favorite example of the sort of alteration that people have made to stories, and created versions so strong you wonder how they worked before. My first being Virgil's Orpheus and Eurydice, which also apparently mostly ended happy before.