Posted by: Jack Henry | June 20, 2017

Editor’s Corner: Babble

It’s been some time since I’ve shared one of Richard Lederer’s articles with you. The following excerpt is from his article on April 22, 2017 titled “Confusable words build a sky-high Tower of Babble.” You can see the full article here.

I once heard a Department of Defense official insist that “America must have the penultimate defense system!” But penultimate doesn’t mean “the very best.” [KC – See Ben’s article from
June 6, 2017.] Derived from the Latin paene, “almost,” and ultimus, “last,” penultimate actually means “next to the last.” The last thing we want is a penultimate defense system.

Building on that, I present my tower of more babbling words:

· Anchorite means “a person who lives in seclusion,” not “a sailor.”

· Antebellum means “before the war,” not “against war.”

· Apiary is not a place where apes are kept but where bees are kept.

· Cupidity means “a strong desire for wealth,” not “a strong desire for love.”

· Disinterested means “unbiased,” not “bored.”

· Friable means “easily crumbled,” not “easily fried.”

· Hoi polloi means “the masses,” not “the upper crust.”

· Meretricious means “falsely attractive,” not “worthy.”

· Presently means “soon,” not “now.”

· Prosody means “the study of verse,” not “the study of prose.”

· Restive means “fidgety,” not “serene.”

· Risible means “disposed to laugh,” not “easily lifted.”

· Scarify means “to criticize cuttingly,” not “to frighten.”

· Toothsome means “palatable,” not “displaying prominent teeth.”

And wherefore means “why,” not “where.” In William Shakespeare’s tragedy, Romeo and Juliet, when the heroine sighs, “O Romeo, Romeo! Wherefore art thou Romeo?” she is not trying to locate her new squeeze. Rather Juliet, a Capulet, is lamenting that the hunk she’s jonesing for turns out to be a member of a rival and despised family, the Montagues. This interpretation is clarified by the lines that follow:

Deny thy father and refuse thy name;
Or, if thou wilt not, be but sworn my love,
And I’ll no longer be a Capulet.

Kara Church

Technical Editor, Advisory

619-542-6773 | Ext: 766773

Symitar Documentation Services

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