Do you notice anything odd in these sentences?
- A gentleman approached me to ask directions and then held me up at gunpoint.
- I saw two gentlemen approach the boy, and then they beat him to a pulp.
Well, in case you don’t – would you ever define a gentleman as someone who holds up a person at gunpoint or beats someone to a pulp? No, I didn’t think so.
Yet, I can’t believe how often I hear people on the news referring to criminals (and mean, rude, or otherwise unsavory males) as gentlemen. Usually it’s just bystanders providing filler for TV news stories. But this past week, even a psychologist commentator on NPR referred to Aaron Alexis, the Navy Yard shooter, this way. (Granted, one might cut some slack to the mentally ill, but still…)
I’m sure people use the word gentleman because they are trying to be politically correct, or polite, and don’t want to offend anyone. But here’s the thing – calling someone a man is not politically incorrect or impolite, so why can’t people just leave it at that?
Please, let’s save gentleman for men who really exhibit the qualities of one.
The English language is constantly evolving. Definitions change, nouns become verbs, spelling changes, and so on. It’s also only natural that we should misuse words we borrow from other languages. However, sometimes a word is in an awkward stage between correct, original usage and accepted new usage. “Walla” is one of these words, and it’s like fingernails on a blackboard when I hear people say it.
“Look at this hat. It’s empty. I tap three times, and walla! A rabbit comes out!”
The real word is voilà (sounds like vwah-lah). It’s French, and it means “see there.”
“Out of buttermilk for your pancakes? Combine a tablespoon of lemon juice and 15 tablespoons of milk, let sit five minutes, stir, and voilà! You’ve got buttermilk.”
Ahhh… doesn’t that feel better?
Now here’s how you can change the future: Correct your friends when they say walla. Tell them that the word they intend to use is voilà. And then they can correct their friends, and so on. Correct usage will win and we will all sound smarter.
Are there any foreign words you find people misusing? Do tell!
As I said in my post about serial/cereal commas, I love puns. My aunt Mary gave me this recipe 35 or so years ago, and though of course I have never actually made it, I’ve always loved it. She was very artistic and funny, and every time I read this, it brings a smile to my face. I remember how much fun we had together, creating puppets out of pizza boxes, making beaded earrings, weaving stories about forest animals, and learning about Mae West’s bust while rowboating on Oregon lakes…
1 elephant, medium size
2 rabbits, optional
Brown gravy, lots
Salt and pepper to taste
- Cut elephant into bite-size pieces. This will take about two months. Reserve the trunk; you will need something to store the pieces in.
- Add enough brown gravy to cover.
- Add salt and pepper.
- Cook over kerosene fire for about four weeks at 465° F.
- Serves 3,800. If more are expected, two rabbits may be added, but do this only as necessary, as most people do not like to find hare in their stew.
Actually, I might try a version of this someday, with hare as the main ingredient, and skipping the pachyderm.