Saunders

Saunders: English needs YOU

Staff WriterFebruary 19, 2011 

For generations, Smokey Bear has helped keep our woods safe by reminding us that "Only YOU can prevent forest fires."

Do you reckon we could enlist Smokey's cousin, Snooky, to help us fight another threat to our well-being - the entrance of made-up, nonsensical words into the English language? His motto could be "Only YOU can prevent fake words."

Remember a year or so ago when, heartsick with regret, I informed you that "conversate" - the bane of English lovers everywhere and a word that instantly identifies its users as persons of pretense or low education - had been accepted into respectable dictionaries? As a public service, I warned women what to do whenever a fellow sidles up and expresses a desire to conversate with them: RUN! Trust me on this, ladies: you'll never regret not giving your digits to a man who wants to conversate with you.

It's now too late to stop that one, but it's not too late to stop an equally annoying "word" that has been cropping up lately - ginormous.

Its origins, I found, go back to at least 1948, when it was used in Britain. It never caught on here, thank goodness, although a friend recently tried to sneak it into a conversation.

Most troubling, though, "ginormous" is now being used in an ad for a sandwich - it is, what else? ginormous - and in one for the travel service Expedia to describe your potential savings. The fear here is that if enough people respond positively to the ads - that is, avail themselves of the companies' services - Expedia and other companies will be further encouraged to contaminate the language with such drivel.

Here's the deal, Expedia: the savings from using your site would have to be gigantic and enormous - the two words your ad writers have bastardized - for me to use your services until you retire ginormous.

Anybody can look at me and tell that I love myself some Dairy Queen. One day while buying my weekly banana split from one of DQ's establishments in Gary, Ind., the employee behind the counter said I could get a free ice cream bar by merely saying the word "scrumpdillyicious."

There are lots of things I'll do to save a few coins. Just ask the cashier at Golden Corral or the ticket seller at the multiplex, both of whom know I'm not really 80 but who play along so I can save 90 cents off a meal or a movie.

But utter "scrumpdillyicious"? No, thanks. I'd rather pay the money.

The problem may not even be with the companies or the ad writers they employ to create words that stick in our minds.

The real culprits most likely are the dictionary editors who, in an apparent effort to be hip and inclusive, have lowered their standards.

That's the only rational reason words like conversate, ginormous and "bootylicious" have made the cut in recent years.

Even the noted linguist and songwriter Beyoncé was embarrassed after being informed that that word - the title of a hit song she wrote - had been put in the dictionary.

If ridiculicious isn't a word, perhaps it should be after that.

barry.saunders@newsobserver.com or 919-836-2811

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