Nora Raum's NPR essay

Arnold M. Zwicky zwicky at CSLI.STANFORD.EDU
Tue Dec 5 21:38:51 UTC 2006

On Dec 5, 2006, at 11:21 AM, Michael Adams wrote:

> Like Matt, I heard Nora Raum's little prescriptivist essay on NPR,
> the one in which she decried the development of other than
> etymological senses of words -- you can't say "half of the
> population was decimated" because the "deci-" is 10%; you should
> only use "massive" to describe mountain ranges, which have mass,
> but not headaches, which don't.

"decimate" is an old complaint, but even sticklers like Garner and
Fiske admit the 'destroy a large part of' sense (while objecting to
the 'destroy (totally)' sense, which is the one in the expression
Raum quotes); the extension from 10% to a lot of was firmly in place
by the late 19th century.  "massive" is a new one on me; i've never
heard anyone (else) insisting on the "mass" in it being taken
literally.  the OED has clearly extended senses of the adjective back
to the 16th century.

> She complained that people say "literally" when they're not being
> remotely literal; she complained about "ironically" used in any
> loose sense. Then she concluded by admitting that maybe she is too
> "anal," but I didn't know how to take that -- literally or ironically.

yes, that was delicious.  anyone who tries to insist that Etymology
Is Destiny is going to run aground very quickly, since historically
extended senses are everywhere.  hence:

> A perfect example of McKean's Law in operation, I think.

i'd managed to miss it on sunday, but now, thanks to ADS-L i've been
able to appreciate it in all its pigheaded silliness.


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