Columns » Words

It's out of touch

by

comment

"What, pray tell, happened to our dear old friend, the intransitive verb 'disappeared'? Went missing, you say? Replaced by just another fingernail scratch on our cultural chalkboard. Oh, chalkboards went missing too?"

I share the writer's sense of loss for disappeared (and vanished). But I've long railed about went missing, and it's flourished under my disapproval, so I've gone off-rail on that subject. For awhile, anyway.

In this excerpt from a letter to the editor, I found it interesting that a writer who waxed nostalgic over disappeared, himself used the word chalkboard. I don't know his age or where he's from, but in the Arkansas schools of my youth there were no chalkboards, only blackboards.

Random House says that a chalkboard is "a blackboard, especially a green or other light-colored one," and that the word is an Americanism that first appeared in the period 1935-40. A blackboard is "a sheet of smooth, hard material, especially dark slate, used in schools, lecture rooms, etc., for writing or drawing on with chalk." Blackboard came along in 1815-25.

"E-mails released Thursday night show that the Obama administration privately worried about the effect a default by Solyndra Inc. would have on the president's re-election campaign. 'The optics of a Solyndra default will be bad,' an official from the Office of Management and budget wrote ... "

Optics in my dictionary is "the branch of physical science that deals with the properties and phenomena of both visible and invisible light and with vision." The unnamed government official seems to be using it as a synonym for appearances. This must be a fairly new usage. I couldn't find it even in a couple of on-line slang dictionaries. Used in the traditional sense, optics takes a singular verb. I don't know if that holds true for the new version. "The optics of the senator's conviction is/are bad."

From an opinion of the Second Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals in New York:

"Mrs. Powers asked them to remain outside while she talked to her husband. Shortly thereafter, Mrs. Powers' sister waived the officers in." And she waived good-bye when they left.

Add a comment

Clicky