Phrasing… Quit ‘fucking it up’!

Firmament Moments… As defined by a small group of my friends, these are moments when somebody says something so far outside the bounds of what you consider acceptable that it makes you cringe (and perhaps a bit murderous). This phrase itself came about due to a specific individual’s (let’s call this specific individual Noodle) reaction to someone saying something along the lines of “how’s that possible with the firmament?” when Noodle was talking about Elon Musk launching satellites… It became a firmament moment because of Noodle’s reaction. Even though the comment was said in jest, Noodle couldn’t fathom it. The look of disgust on Noodle’s face and Noodle’s immediate reaction and launch into a rant on how “there is no firmament” made the phrase “firmament moment” possible. Now anytime someone says something that is beyond our ability to accept, even when said in jest, it is a firmament moment for that person.

That said, whilst hanging with this small group of friends at our favourite Boba Tea Shop, we spend a fair amount of time trying to find each others’ firmament moments, or the things that set us off. For me, two distinct things have been defined: Riff Raff lyrics, and improperly used phrases and words.

The former of my two aforementioned firmament moments, IMHO, is self explanatory. The latter however may need some explanation and a few examples to get the ball rolling.

American English is one of the most difficult languages to master. Not just because of the plethora of grammatical rules, but because it borrows so much from so many other languages. Phrases that do not have a direct translation in English are often left in their original language form, but are understood regardless. Many words have roots in Latin, Germanic, and other various languages. The irregular words we use are learned through wrote memorization.

American English also has a vast repository of words that came into being because they were invented in America (usually as result of American industry). Words like “modem,” “codec,” and “WiFi,” found their origins in the American technological industry. These words themselves are portmanteaus (words made from pieces of other words). “Modem” for example is made from the words “Modulator” and Demodulator.” The root of the word “modulator” comes from the Latin root “modulus” which means “small measure.” The suffix “-ator” is an extension of the suffix “-ate” which is added to verbs ending in -ate to form nouns, with the meaning “person or thing that does or performs (the action of the verb)” So “module” (a noun) becomes “modulate” (a verb) which becomes “modulator” (a noun).

Affixes are parts of words added to the words to change their meaning. Prefixes come at the beginning of the word, suffixes at the end. The prefix “de” in “demodulator” is borrowed from Latin and is used to indicate privation, removal, and separation, negation, descent, reversal, or intensity. In the case of “demodulator” it is used specifically to indicate reversal of “modulator.”

As you can see, American English-made words usually have origins in other languages… Hopefully now you can begin to see the layers of complexity of American English. Like all languages the world has to offer, parts of words carry meaning and it is important for us to understand meaning of those parts of words so we can clearly communicate what we intend to communicate without confusion. So let’s get in to how all y’all are fucking it up! And if there’s time, we’ll get in to the origin of the phrase “all y’all.”

The first example deals with the morphology of the words healthful and healthy. To start, the root of both words is “health,” the two suffixes “ful” and “y” carry a very different meanings though. “-ful” from Proto-Germanic “fullaz” (“full”) modifies a noun to give the meaning “full of” or “containing.” “-y” on the other hand is a native English suffix of adjectives meaning “characterized by or inclined to” the substance or action of the word or stem to which the suffix is attached. In modern American English, the word “healthy” has assimilated the meaning of the word “healthful.” As such, it is understood that when you say “I want to eat a healthy meal,” you do not mean you want to eat a live chicken that is bound (probably gagged) and writhing on your plate waiting to be eaten. Rather you mean you want to eat a dead chicken that is full of health or has properties that promote your own health. In this case, chicken is understood to be generally low-fat, high in protein, and generally a more healthful option than say, fried Twinkies. Illustrating this point further (not “farther”), when you see someones’ new baby, you’d appropriately say “that’s a a healthy baby.” You’d never say “that’s a healthful baby.” The latter not only sounds weird, but implies (for our purposes here) that the baby would possibly make a good meal! Mayhaps this is acceptable in cannibalistic societies, but… let’s not go there just yet. It’s time to move on to phrases.

Like words, parts of phrases carry meaning. If a word in a phrase is replaced, it changes the meaning of the phrase itself. I often find myself somewhat beside myself when I hear people (whom I had believed to be well educated) misspeak phrases. One such phrase that illustrates this well is the phrase “moot point.” I can easily recall no less than 10 instances where I have heard people (with college degrees) say “mute point.” On a few occasions, even argued with them what the actual phrase is. In this scenario, it is easy to see the leap from “moot” to “mute” in that they are phonetically similar, and how the meaning of the word “mute” can make a sensible alternative to the original depending on what the speaker intended to convey. The original word “moot” means “subject to debate, dispute, or uncertainty.” If you are arguing a moot point, this usually means you are trying to argue something of which neither party in the argument can come to an agreement upon because the facts of the argument are debatable and each party in the argument has a different interpretation of the facts. In this case each side has stated their opinion and the other has conceded to understand the other party’s opinion but still continues to argue their opinion. When these conditions are met, the point being argued becomes “moot.” A “mute point” on the other hand was described best by my friend as “a bunch of mutes playing basketball and scoring points.’ Although we may have inappropriately chuckled in a non PC sort of way at this thought, I agreed with her that mutes may actually be more efficient at playing basketball due to the use of sign language on the court.

Other friends have argued that a “mute point” is a point that has fallen silent. is no longer open to debate, or that there is no longer any uncertainty to the outcome of the argument. But this still has a meaning different from the original phrase. Quite the opposite in fact. So instead of pontificating any further I’ll end this rant by listing a few words and phrases that all y’all fuck-up regularly, and politely ask that you google them to understand their proper use, history, and meaning. If you can articulate to me that you truly understand those things and still want to argue a potential new phrase, more power to you! That is how language evolves and I’m all for it!

Commonly misused words:

  • Healthy for healthful
  • Your for You’re
  • Were for We’re
  • To for Too (and vice versa)
  • Farther for Further (and vice versa)
  • They’re for Their or There (and vice versa – for fuck sake! Understand contractions people!!!)
  • Actually, going to stop here. this list is upsetting me.

Commonly misused phrases:

  • Wrong: Mute point. Right: Moot point.
  • Wrong: Pool shark. Right: Pool sharp.
  • Wrong: A long road to hoe. Right: A long row to hoe.
  • This list will grow as I silently judge you and add your misused phrases to this list… but for now, this will suffice.
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3 Replies to “Phrasing… Quit ‘fucking it up’!”

    1. Princess Dakkar must be the friend that described the mutes playing basketball. An obvious stab at giving Taco another firmament moment, has more exquisitely exceeded in failing to grasp the concept either in jest or fact. I could easily have shot this native, within close range, but I believed it better to wait for really hostile behaviour. When dealing with savages, it is better for the Europeans to riposte, rather than attack first.

       

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