I fancy myself as an armchair etymologist, and thus I find myself in debates about the proper usage of words on a seemingly daily basis. Perhaps this comes from my background as an English major, or perhaps I just like to debate argue over semantics. Regardless, I seem to collect, from these debates, several “etymology bites.” In other words – a couple paragraphs worth of knowledge on a variety of words, phrases, and other language related things.
These individual etymology bites amongst themselves do not constitute an entire article, and so up until now, I have refrained from writing anything more than a Facebook post on these given subjects. However, I feel as that perhaps stringing four of these etymology bites together as some sort of quasi Voltron / Frankenstein like creature just might make for a fascinating read…So, let’s get to it!
Bite #1: The hot dog / sandwich debate.
Much has been said over the past few years about the hot dog, and if it constitutes a sandwich. 33 percent of Americans say the hot dog is indeed a sandwich. Well….33 percent of Americans are wrong! Wait, what does the hot dog sandwich debate have to do with etymology?
Picture yourself ordering a sandwich….say, a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. You actually use the word “sandwich.” In fact, almost all sandwiches will use the word “sandwich” as a descriptor. There are, of course a couple notable exceptions. Firstly, if you order say, a reuben, you usually may or may not say “sandwich.” Really, it depends upon your mood, as both “reuben” and “reuben sandwich” are widely accepted. Another exception, the hamburger. Usually, you do not say “hamburger sandwich.” However, if you do say use the word “sandwich” as a descriptor to “hamburger,” no one will look at you funny.
Now, take the same logic of these exceptions with a hot dog. Go anywhere and order a “hot dog sandwich.” See how the person at the counter reacts. Probably a little bemused. Also, ask how does it feel to say “hot dog sandwich?” To me, the phrase feels unnatural. Our American English dialect does not recognize the hot dog as a “sandwich.” “Hot dog” does not need, nor even want, any additional words to describe its basic form. Only if something is added (such as in a Chicago or Coney dog) do we add any other word. Still…we never, ever, add the word sandwich to “hot dog.”
By using etymology, I have thus proved that the hot dog is not a sandwich!
Bite #2: Adulting
I recently participated in an online debate about using the word “adult” as a verb. Example: “I’ve been adulting all day, I need to take a break and play around a bit.” The naysayers of the group said adulting sounds childish. These naysayers stated that everyone has to pay bills and go to the doctors, that’s just part of growing up. While these people are right about the second part, I disagree….the usage of “adulting” is not childish.” The usage of adult as a verb is actually childlike!
Wait….is there a difference between childish and childlike? Oh yes, a big difference! Childish means to act as a child in a negative way – throwing a temper tantrum, abandoning your responsibilities, and such. Childlike, however, means to act as a child in a positive way. Childlike means keeping your innocence, trust, and whatnot; to act childlike means you still handle your daily responsibilities, but you also keep the good qualities of childhood. In short, acting childish vs acting childlike has everything to do with maturity.
So, back to adulting, if you’re being childish – well….you probably would not be aduliting to begin with. After all, part of being childish means you abandon your responsibilities. However, to use “adult” as a verb means you are doing what you need to do, but you also make room for the innocent pleasures of life! You realize life is short, and while it is important to pay your bills and check your credit score and go to the doctor, it is also important to have fun in the little time we have on this Earth.
In short….go ahead and use the word “adult” as a verb.
Bite #3: And/but vs sentence structure.
Recently, I have noticed more and more articles online using “and” or “but” to begin a sentence. In rare instances, this breaking of traditions is perfectly fine. For instance, if this rule breaking helps pace your voice (or a character’s) in a story or article….then ok….start a sentence with “and” or “but.” However, do this sparingly! Seriously, “and” and “but” are conjunctions. These two words should primarily be used for stringing two pieces of a sentence (or sometimes a list of words) together. Has Schoolhouse Rock taught us nothing?
Of course….I use “and” or “but” at the beginning of sentences all the time, so I preach at myself. But guess what? Starting a sentence with a conjunction is lazy writing. And yes, I did just start that last sentence with “but?” That was a good example of tone of voice and pacing. You heard me get so excited in my writing that I did not follow grammatical rules properly.
Again, I read a lot of articles online from respected publishers. I see way too many sentences from the likes of (redacted technology site), (redacted arts and entertainment site), and even (redacted intellectual news and culture site) start sentences with “and” or “but.” I will not point out specific examples as I do not want to embarrass (or get sued by) these publishers. Still, these instances of conjunctions did not help the pace or voice of the article. Time to start hiring more copy editors guys! Oh, and I happen to be available!
Bite #4: The Epic Diva Effect
Ever use a trendy word without knowing what it actually means? Good job! You have just succumbed to the epic diva effect! The epic diva effect takes its name from the words “epic” and “diva,” and as the overuse of these (once) trendy words. Often times, the words will even change their meanings because of misuse. For instance, name a diva. If you said Cecilia Bartoli, you know opera. You also know the proper use of the word “diva” (which means operatic leading lady). If, however, you said some actress, fashionista, socialite, or anyone not involved with music, you my friend are wrong!
I will say that the diva, at least now, can probably include a pop singer. If you want to call Beyonce and Mariah Carey a diva, whatever. Kim Kardashian, however, is NOT a diva because she is not famous for singing. Hell, I still don’t understand where any of the Kardashian fame comes from, but I digress. The point being – Kim Kardashian is regarded as a diva because the users of the word do not understand what the word actually means! The writer of this article suffers from the epic diva effect.
Again, the epic diva effect does not have to use the term “epic” or “diva.” Words, such as “dude,” “nerd,” and “geek” have succumbed to the epic diva effect because no one really knows what the words actually mean anymore. People just have a vague inclination. Even the term “radical” at some points in the 80s was subject to the epic diva effect.
Why does this matter? Words change meaning all the time after all. The epic diva effect pollutes our already confusing American English dialect by misusing words in ways they don’t actually fit. Yes, language changes with time and culture. Yes, new meanings for old words can and should happen IF the word fits well. However, language should never change due to mindlessness. The epic diva effect simply promotes ignorance.
More Etymology Bites coming soon!
This feels like a good stopping place, especially after I lost half of you with the epic diva effect. But fear not (yes, this sentence begins with “but”), I will have more etymology bites in the future! I mentioned a controversial etymology issue a couple months back – perhaps I will finally tackle that one. Perhaps I will talk about the social justice issue with language and root words (yes, there is one). I am also open to suggestions, so float me a message if you want my take on other etymology bites. Till then, keep adulting, but remember to have fun. And be epic, you diva. Now I want a hot dog sandwich.