August 22, 2012

I’ve been away from this blog for almost three years now, but I’m considering bringing it back from the dead. At the very least, it allows me to re-familiarize myself with WordPress, which seems to have implemented a lot of nifty features in my absence.

What would you like to see discussed on the WordWatcher blog?  You can browse my category descriptions and find something that suits the theme, or you can suggest a new topic.

Thanks for sticking with me here at WordWatcher!


ConNotes #2: ‘Gift’

November 22, 2008
Gift Box

Gift Box (Photo credit: Maeflower72)

In a LiveJournal community I frequent, a poster described a situation where she had been invited to a baby shower and that the invitation had included instructions on which gift she was expected to buy.

To me, the woman holding the baby shower has mangled the meaning of the word ‘gift.’ I feel that the choice of a gift, including whether or not to even give a gift, is entirely within the domain of the giver.

On the other hand, at least in the United States, with certain events come the expectation that at least some attendees will bring presents. These actions fall under the umbrella of ‘tradition’, and we all know that traditions have a funny way of changing the meaning of many things, up to and including their own origins. So how far are people stretching the word ‘gift’, and its meaning, really?

It’s possible that this boils down to etiquette and not the interpretation of a single word. I think that it wouldn’t be an issue of etiquette if different people weren’t assigning different definitions to the same word, so it’s still a matter worth discussing on Word Watcher.

What do you think? Has the meaning of the word gift changed sufficiently for people to expect to receive one at a party/shower without qualification? How about instructing each person attending that party to buy a specific gift?


Words On the Street: Tattoos

October 6, 2008

Truth be told, much of the meaning we convey to others is extracted from nonverbals rather than words. It’s generally accepted that words are secondary to just about everything else as a communication medium. And, even as a word-a-holic, I’ll be the first to admit that a wink or a smile can condense into a single gesture meaning that would ordinarily take paragraphs or maybe even an entire essay to convey. This is especially true of establishing and publicizing our identity; it can be tough to try and squish our entire consciousness and self-image into the one-dimensional format of words. That’s why so many people turn to graphic symbolization to convey identity. Tattoos are one of the many popular ways to advertise your philosophy, your personality, and even your whole identity on the surface, without so much as a single spoken word.

That doesn’t mean that words don’t have their place in the world of body art, however. Quite the contrary. Many people drawn to tattoos also find that the most important things to them can, in fact, be summarized in a single word or a quotation. That’s when we get word tattoos.

Loyalty tattoo.  From 2tattoodesigns.com.

Loyalty tattoo. From 2tattoodesigns.com.

For your pleasure, I’ve provided a few links related to word tattoos. Please enjoy these galleries, and make sure to post a picture of your own word tattoos in the comments of this entry or, if you don’t have a picture handy, or if the picture is NSFW, just describe the tattoo and tell us what it means to you and how central it is to expressing your identity.

Here are the links:

Word Tattoo Designs. Make sure to check out their other categories if you’re a tattoo fan, as well.

Check Out My Ink: Tag “Word”. There are quite a few tattoos tagged with “word” but not all of them feature words…so it takes some sifting. Still really incredible.

Blog mentions:
Darren Barefoot, Textual Tattoos

In the news
Tattoo Story. An author writes a story and then invites others to tattoo a single word from the story on their body. Fascinating stuff!


Synonym Smash #1: ‘intelligent’ and ‘knowledgeable’

October 1, 2008

Image by A.K. Photography

Image by A.K. Photography

Intelligence is an amorphous concept that is difficult to measure. This may contribute to the confusion between the terms ‘intelligent’ and ‘knowledgeable’; if our best and brightest minds continue to argue about the nature of intelligence, how can the rest of the populace pin it down?

Even the APA dedicated an entire task force to searching for answers to the biggest questions about intelligence and their only conclusion was that “finding the answers will require a shared an sustained effort as well as the commitment of substantial scientific resources.”

In the meantime, many psychological researchers continue to use standardized intelligence quotient scores to measure intelligence for purposes of study. To define intelligence, they usually use some variation of this tautology: intelligence is what intelligence tests measure. Great – that’s no help at all. What aspect of human intellect is isolated and represented by IQs? Originally, IQ tests were intended to determine academic performance, and though intelligence measurement has undergone countless revisions since that time, some of the principles are still the same. Verbal, spatial and mathematical ability are central to determining intelligence using modern scales.

But is that intelligence? Many people in the general population and great minds that specialize in intelligence research would disagree, and the latter do so vigorously. These evaluations of intelligence are felt to be an incomplete snapshot of human intellect, only capturing a single aspect: knowledge! That’s where the term ‘knowledgable’ comes in. Can someone be intelligent without being knowledgeable? What about the other way around? The answer is “Yes,” on both accounts.

A knowledgable person has a bank of experience or information available to them that they can use to resolve problems. Any specialist will testify that it takes a lot of experience or studying to reach their level of expertise. Let’s even say that this specialist is considered to be quite intelligent by peers and the general population alike. However, that same specialist can probably point you to a colleague or rival with the same bank of experience that they think is about as sharp as a boulder. Intelligence and knowledge do not always overlap.

Gardner, founder of the Multiple Intelligences Theory, would argue that an engineer and a talented musician are equally intelligent, but in different ways. There’s a good chance that standardized tests would disagree. In the end, intelligence scales measure something less than intelligence and more than knowledge, but they do help us draw the line between the two.

I’ll leave you with the dictionary’s definition for both terms so you can compare and contrast:

1. having good understanding or a high mental capacity; quick to comprehend, as persons or animals: an intelligent student.
2. displaying or characterized by quickness of understanding, sound thought, or good judgment: an intelligent reply.
3. having the faculty of reasoning and understanding; possessing intelligence: intelligent beings in outer space.
4. Computers. pertaining to the ability to do data processing locally; smart: An intelligent terminal can edit input before transmission to a host computer. Compare dumb (def. 8).
5. Archaic. having understanding or knowledge (usually fol. by of).

Note the archaic definition.

1. highly educated; having extensive information or understanding; “knowing instructors”; “a knowledgeable critic”; “a knowledgeable audience” [syn: knowing]
2. alert and fully informed; “a knowing collector of rare books”; “surprisingly knowledgeable about what was going on”
3. thoroughly acquainted through study or experience; “this girl, so intimate with nature”-W.H.Hudson; “knowledgeable about the technique of painting”- Herbert Read [syn: intimate]

We have debated the nature of intelligence for decades and will continue to do so for decades more. The important thing to take away from this Synonym Smash is this: using the word ‘intelligent’ in conversation or writing will leave the meaning open and abstract. If you want to peg down a more specific feature of human intellect, the term ‘knowledgeable’ does the job.

Put that on your intelligence test, Binet!


Word Seeds #1: “Moot”

September 30, 2008

debating moot points You’ve been arguing with your best friend for twenty minutes about whether Firefly deserved to be cancelled or whether it should have continued into a second season, when finally your friend throws up his or her hands and says, “Forget it. It’s a moot point, anyway.”

The understood meaning of the word ‘moot’ is that the subject is purely academic and that arguing about it will serve no further purpose. The argument is effectively closed; in this circumstance, Firefly has been cancelled, and discussing whether or not this was justified will not bring the show back.

This is the accepted common usage. However, even Dictionary.com‘s usage panel hardly agree on this; only 59 percent of the panel felt that the current contextual use of the word was acceptable. Why is that? Perhaps because the word originally meant something very different indeed.

The Anglo-Saxon mot referred to a meeting or assembly, and the term moot arose from its ashes as an adjective to describe something debatable or unresolved. The connotations of insignificance had not yet been attached to it; this happened when 16th century law jargon came to include the phrase ‘moot case.’ A moot case was a hypothetical law case that students would debate in order to sharpen their skills. It adhered to the original meaning of the word because it involved debate, but unlike your typical debate, the arguments presented in a moot case carried no relevance in the real world.

Should this be a case of Mistaken Identity? No, because if you tried to use the word moot in academic writing to mean both arguable and of practical value, you would certainly be criticized or looked down upon by your readers.

It’s amazing how the application of a word to describe a single circumstance, such as a hypothetical law case, can change the future of that word permanently. Should this word return to its original usage? Should we discard the modern meaning in favor of the original? The point is moot – and what I mean by that is completely up to you.


ConNotes #1: Husband and Wife

September 22, 2008

As my wedding swiftly approaches, I often find myself contemplating the nature of marriage. Family members and friends are quick to tell me that my life will be irrevocably altered by this union, and many of them imply that the alteration will be for the worse rather than the better. “He won’t hold the door for you anymore when you’re married,” they say, or “Don’t get used to him complimenting you like he does – marriage will change that.”

My fiancée and I have cohabitated for five years and we’ve been friends much longer, so it’s difficult for me to see our relationship undergoing any dramatic transformation simply by changing our referential titles to ‘husband’ and ‘wife.’ But then, when I more closely examine these words, it occurs to me that I do not have many positive associations with them. Both ‘husband’ and ‘wife’ are loaded with unpleasant stereotypes in my mind thanks to my exposure to broken relationships in the media and in my own household growing up. Recognizing my own negative interpretations of these words helped me identify the power that these titles hold over the people they are bestowed upon. Someone’s notions about a particular role in a relationship can shape how that relationship develops. This may be how many people come to see marriage as the genesis of spite or frigidity: they are influenced by their unconscious associations with their title as ‘husband’ or ‘wife.’ On the reverse side, the power of these words may also be the key to nurturing very successful relationships, especially if the people involved can harness that power and make it their own.

How have your perceptions of the words ‘husband’ and ‘wife’ shaped your perceptions of marriage? What does it mean to you to be a husband or a wife? Do you adulate or condemn marriage, or something in between? Remember: this isn’t about right or wrong. This is about sharing your interpretations and reading those of your fellow word watchers. You never know: you might learn something.


Word Watcher’s debut

September 22, 2008

Welcome to Word Watcher, the best blog for deepening your connection with the English language.

My name is Christina and I’ll be your Word Watcher tour guide.

For more information about some of Word Watcher’s featurettes, please visit our “About” page.  I won’t always stick to familiar territory, so the featurettes are by no means a comprehensive list of everything you’ll find on the Word Watcher blog.  They do serve as useful guidelines, though; everything on Word Watcher pertains to words, their roots, and their denotations and connotations. The world of words is exotic and beautiful, and we are the people who recognize its richness.

Thanks for joining us on our word watching expedition.  Join in the discussion and contribute your unique knowledge to our community.

Word watchers unite!