Words Mean Things

I was in a situation the other day at work where someone was interchanging one word for the other.  They were similar, job-specific words, but they meant different things.  The context of how they were used is what allowed the listener to distinguish the difference.  And it wasn’t complicated.  Until the person who needed to know the difference didn’t.  Then it became important which word was being used and to what each applied.  At that point it was even more important that the correct word was inserted.  For example, if you have two welders in addition to a crew of thirteen mechanics, then referring to the whole body of fifteen as mechanics might not mean much, unless you’re talking about a welding task specifically, or trying to figure out how many welders you need for every however-many mechanics in order to make the whole place run more efficiently.

It was that kind of thing, like saying ‘container’ instead of a more specific ‘hamper’, ‘cart’, ‘box’, ‘bucket’, etc.

I often say things incorrectly, and I am often vague in my speech.  I don’t like it when I’m called on my lack of specificity either.  I figure that if you knew what I meant when I said it, then I have successfully accomplished my efforts to communicate.  If I mention that I put creamer in my coffee, your choices are limited to what’s available in the refrigerator.  Interrupting me to clarify that singular point only pisses me off.  To make the sentence make sense, it is not important to know exactly what flavor creamer I have just used, nor its particular brand.

“I had just put creamer in my coffee when I saw a mouse, jumped, and spilled both the creamer and my coffee.”  The real problem here is the mouse.  Forget about my brand or flavor of creamer and get rid of the rodent.  It matters not that I have just spilled some Cold Stone brand Sweet Cream coffee creamer.

Unless there is no more, in which case we have another problem.

Sometimes I do use the right word, I just don’t pronounce it correctly.  Like with ‘winder’, ‘winda’, and ‘window’.  When my grandmother said, “Look out the winder, younguns, it’s snowin’,” we all knew what she meant.  My kids laugh at me still for my pronunciations of ‘winda’, ‘minna’, and ‘pilla’.  Maybe they wouldn’t if they knew that I actually spent some quality time teaching myself to take the ‘r’ off the end of my words.  But it was before they were born, a time when time didn’t exist for them, so it’s impossible to appreciate my efforts.

Husband is from the north.  He pronounces things correctly.

All the time.

And then there are those words that completely drive me batty.  Please stop using ‘insure’ when it should be ‘ensure’, saying ‘irregardless’, and putting the emphasis on the ‘co’, and then pronouncing it with a long ‘o’, for ‘colander’. Saying it that way makes it sound as if only two people live on dry land, and the speaker is talking about only one of them.  I want to correct the speaker, but I don’t.  It’s an intentional refrain that expends some genuine effort on my part.  I often wish that people around me would exercise the same level of restraint.  I know how difficult it is.  I recognize how badly I must sound to you.

Last night, Husband and I were talking about someone’s bad behavior, and I said, “A feller ort not act like that.”  Only instead of ‘ort not’, it came out ‘ortn’t’.  I’ve heard it pronounced ‘art’.  I know it’s spelled ‘ought’.

The ‘r’ in ‘fellow’ was strictly accidental.  I must’ve been really ‘tarred’.

Yesterday, I mentioned to Husband that I had borrowed a book from my boss.  Before I could tell him why or for what purpose he said, “Did you just say ‘bar-reed’”?  Yeah, I did.  He knew what I meant and he didn’t need an interpreter.  I had effectively communicated.

I know; I’m just as guilty.  I should pay more attention to my own speech choices rather than condemn others for theirs.

Because words mean things.

By the way, the book that I borrowed was a copy of Black’s Law Dictionary.  Yeah, I know.  What’s a holler-honey like me who can’t speak properly doing with an interest in a book like that, right?

The other day, Husband and I were watching a documentary about Wiki-leaks. One of the people being interviewed kept using the word ‘literally’ incorrectly.  The interviewer must have thought he had a real pistol with her because he kept coming back to her for more information, even though she kept talking about things that couldn’t possibly have happened.  I don’t think the interviewer understood how dumb she was making the whole process.

  • “My hair literally stood on end.”
  • “My jaw literally hit the floor.”
  • “That glass literally shattered into a million pieces.”
  • “My face was literally beet red.”

By the time it occurred to me to start counting the number of times she said it, way too many instances had already gone by.  At one point I just had to walk out of the room.  I couldn’t take it anymore.  I would have preferred cleaning out a septic line with my bare hands, while dressed in a ball gown, completely adorned with diamond jewelry, than to listen to another minute of all the things that literally couldn’t possibly have happened.

I came back into the room a little while later and asked Husband what she was literally doing now.  He said he thought we were about to watch her go bald, because she had just said that she was literally about to pull her hair out.

Good.  I could stay to see that.  But only if she ensured she got every strand, regardless of how much she had still attached to her scalp, because I wanted to see every single strand literally fall to the floor.

I mighta even a hepped her if she’dda jest asked.




Filed under Daily Life

5 responses to “Words Mean Things

  1. I think I’ve told you before that I’m a half-breed of sorts. My “people” are second-generation Americans and Southerners, both of whom focus on proper speech. When I was young, my mother worked so hard to keep the twang from me, so that I would sound smart. In my 20’s, I recognized this as the language of power, vs the language of home. In my 30’s, I moved to Georgia and I let it all go. I won’t take it back. I don’t want the baggage.
    Now I have the pleasure of online interaction with my mother, where we speak the “tarred” language, the lazy language. I speak 5 languages (including back woods) to my own children, and they’ve never failed to pick up any of it.
    I now presume the rest of the world understands me, and if they want to pick a bone with me about it, that’s their problem. If they think speech patterns make anyone less intelligent, they can sell that there snake oil somewhere else, cause I ain’t buyin it.

  2. Mellissa

    I betcha I drive ya crazy then….will be more careful~oh who am I kidding~that would run our time and perhaps the opportunity for stories…as for that black law book, you can read and write latin, so borrow if you must for one day you will own the latest edition of that book and well thumb/used it will be….:)

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