{a palaver on lingo}

The other day, I heard myself say something about a “palaver,” as in, “so we had a palaver about the whole thing,” which, when I used it, meant an annoying, big-fat-hairy-deal conversation. The Scots usage that I echoed means “a big fuss”or “a bother,” and the West African/Portuguese original usage, from whence the word originates (Portuguese palavra or ‘word,’ from Latin parabola or ‘comparison’) in the mid-18th century meant “trader talk,” or the linga franca used by tribal folk and traders. (Is this another example of what Adrienne calls my “weirdly specific knowledge”? Why, yes, I think it is…) Isn’t it interesting that my meaning of the word was halfway between two other meanings? I’m always intrigued by the “separated by a common language” aspect of the English language. I read a lot of books – and see a lot of what I perceive to be as misuses of that language, or, at least, odd uses.

But, perhaps, none so odd as the misused and egregious banged up homophone.


♦ The suffix, sapient = wise, so homo sapiens are those of the wisdom, or the Latin words for “wise men” – and refers to human beings.

♦ The suffix, geneous (not genous, sorry) = type or kind, thus homogenous, in chemistry, refers to the same type.

♦ The suffix -nym easily gives us its meaning of “name” thus homonyms are words in biology which are namesakes, and in linguistics/English are words which have the same sound, but have different spellings and meanings. See also homophone, (or homographs or heteronyms, which sound different, but are spelled the same, i.e., lead the metal, lead, as in leading the way.)

English, my people. My language is known to be hard to learn, but it sort of galls me when MY PEOPLE don’t know it. How did we all miss the whole idea that “homo” is merely a prefix, and not a bad word? Oh, wait? You’re still operating under that juvenile and egregious means of calling people homos, and meaning, offensively, that you’re accusing them of being gay? Really!??

… may I ask you to GROW UP!?

By now, myriad people the world over have heard of the Provo, Utah based ESL center who fired a blogger because he had the nerve to blog about homophones… and the school feared that people would associate their school with a GLBTQ people, or a “homophonic agenda.” OH, I cringe. I dramatically slap my forehead. I am tempted to dramatically slap their foreheads. But, people are comfortable in their ignorance; even knowing that the word has nothing to do with gay or lesbian people, the Utah language school’s belief is that even writing “homo” is wrong. Homo=gay, because REASONS. Elementary school, immature, confused REASONS.

And so, my fantasy letter begins:

Dear Book and Word World,

I write, because I CARE. I care about how words are used, by people who actually publish things. I care, because… we only have one English language (if you ignore the British Commonwealth) and we need to actually use it properly. To wit:

Cavalry, Calvary and Calgary? Are three vastly different things… The first is a herd on horses, the second is a Hill, and the third is a city in Canada. Listen carefully, pronounce properly, and spell specifically. Please and THANK YOU.

Your and You’re are a tiny bit over the pet-peeve line, much like there and their and they’re — but these can almost be seen as typos, and we ALL do this one sometimes… even people with multiple English degrees. A friend and I laughed just last week over discrete and discreet — it happens. But…

Reign, rein, and rain? Why am I running across this one so frequently? Three separate things, darlings, and the words are in such uncommon usage that this should be one that we catch. Only the first has to do with kings and princes.

I’m pretty sure I’ve fussed before about Peak and Peek and Pique. Only one has elevation – and the one with the q – that you rarely use – is annoyance. The other you know, right?

And if you don’t know the difference between taught and taut, I suggest a return to school. No, really. Even night classes could help.

Lightening? Lightning? Which one relates to weather?

It’s not that I’m trying to call anyone stupid, not at all. But sloppy, hasty, and lacking beta readers? Insisting that words mean what you think they do, instead of looking them up, and understanding that words have meanings that came along before you? Oh, yes, I’m calling you out on that, book people. Loudly. (Additionally, Tech Boy would like you to know that though Adverse and Averse sound alike, they’re not interchangeable.)

Writers, Bloggers and Copy Editors, Unite! Subvert the homophonic agenda. Or, whatever it is.

2 Replies to “{a palaver on lingo}”

  1. The one from a book that sticks most painful vividness in my mind is an author who spoke of the “plush” vegetation. But I am quite, quite sure I am guilty of sad things of my own….

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