Archive for September, 2008

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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.

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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.

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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!