Steven Pinker's list of the 58 most-abused English words and phrases

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Holy Fuck did I enjoy that one!

Pardon my French…


With all the discussion of the Presidential debates, I’m astounded at how many people who speak for a profession continually use the word podium, when they actually mean lectern. You stand on a podium. You stand behind a lectern.


Pfffff. When I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean - neither more nor less.


Ambivalent. It doesn’t mean you don’t care – it means you do care, but are torn between the alternatives.


I’d add “unprepossessing”.

It sounds like it means humble and unassuming, but it actually means ugly. I almost used it to describe a person I was nominating for an award - glad I looked it up before hitting send. :-0


It’s Steven with a ‘V’


Well, irregardless of when all is said and done, I think you should all pissed off and fuck yourselves too, literally. Buncha oxymorons, enough to give me another me grain, correcting me all the thyme when I’m just making commonsense.


The difference between misuse of “begs the question” and “nonplussed” or “bemused” is that the latter misuses carry useful nuance. There’s no good substitute that conveys “boredly unimpressed” or “quietly, patronizingly entertained, as by a small child’s antics.” The evolution of those words enriches the common tongue, whereas “begs the question” simply reduces the meanings available to it. We’ve already got “raises the question,” “asks the question,” “brings up the issue,” and a host of other perfectly serviceable exact synonyms; we don’t have any other phrases for “assuming the unspoken truth of a premise.” So when someone misuses “begging the question,” they’re outright stealing from our common vocabulary. The fact that it’s done out of lazy slackjawed ignorance (if not obnoxious contrarian fartlery) is all the more reason not to surrender. Pick away at prescriptivism all you want, get “lol” and assorted emoji into the OED if that’s the kind of shattered civilization you want to leave future generations, but this is where I draw the line.


Pinker appears to be turning into Kingsley Amis.

Perhaps next he will take ‘They have a word for it’ / ‘The Meaning of Tingo’ / all those other book-shaped lists of ‘useful or mode-up words like Schadenfreude’, and sign his name to that as well.


Something I’ve found increasingly grating here in New Zealand is people using “premise” when they are taking about premises.


Yeah - sad about Pinker.

Re the street sign…


I dunno, this way at least he’s not smearing his stupid all over linguistics.

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Oh, this again.

I thoroughly recommend people go and read The Unfolding of Language, a (mostly) very well written book about how language has evolved.

What surprised me most was how often words and phrases have completely switched their meaning.


Yeah. Thinking just about how the word ambivalent is constructed the definition makes sense.

Ambi-means something like both sides same root for amphibian

Valent means proximal. Like valence.

Just my mnemonic. I recognize I almost certainly have the etymology wrong, since I didn’t look it up.

Or maybe it’s better broken down as am-bivalence since bivalence would mean proximal to two areas


But then you have to explain the ‘am’?

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I am bivalent to the choice


“OTOH”, he said, ambidextrously …


It should be clear from my posting here that I’m no wordsmith. I just have tons and tons of mnemonics for the words I know. Even if the mnemonic is wrong, if I construct it knowing the definition already, then it still works.

Like that kid in the Wayside School books who did math completely wrong, but always ended up at the correct answer anyway.