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!
I wish everyone would stop saying “work hard, play hard.” I’ve seen it a million times in job postings and Internet dating profiles. What does it really mean?
If I see “work hard, play hard” in a job posting, I think, great, they’re going to make me work 12 hours a day and then at the end of the day we’ll all go out and get shit-faced. Or maybe they’ll make me work 60 hours a week and then will expect us all to partake in extreme sports on the weekend. If the company is trying to say they have high work expectations but then respect the employees’ time off, why not just say so? After all, how many applicants will be excited about the prospect of giving their valuable “play” time to the company? I don’t know about you, but I’m fine with working hard – but I also want my “play” time to be my own.
And what the heck does “work hard, play hard” mean in a dating profile? Will I never see the guy because he’s working late every night and partying hard with his friends on the weekends? Or is the phrase supposed to be cool? How? Is it supposed to make me think he has brains, beauty and popularity, all in one package? Well, the brains part isn’t believable if he has to resort to clichés like this.
The solution is simple: stop saying “work hard, play hard” and just say what you really mean. And for that matter, be a good friend and don’t let your friends say it, either.