Columns » Words

Words

by

comment

Lawyers gone wild:

“But despite their legal victory, the Chungs still face devastating losses. [From a $54 million lawsuit filed against their dry-cleaning shop by a Washington lawyer who said they gave him the wrong pants.] Their attorneys’ fees are well north of $100,000, said Christopher Manning, who handled their case at a reduced rate. Business has suffered; Pearson papered nearby telephone polls with fliers asking residents to come forth with complaints about the shop.”

He’ll file a $54 million lawsuit for you if you run your car into one of those telephone polls.

Plurals gone wild:

“Some witnesses believe this may have served as the impetus for what happened: a melee involving fleeing skateboarders, tackles, headlocks, shouting and profanities.”

A movement’s afoot to pluralize every noun, especially where there’s no need for it, as here. Profanity would cover the situation nicely, even if more than one rude word was uttered. (And if we’re going to turn profanity into profanities, shouldn’t we make shouting into shoutings?) I suppose no convict gets time off for good behavior these days. Good behaviors are required now. And when an inmate finally is allowed to leave the prison, he’s cautioned to stay out of troubles.

Here’s Hoi:

“In your recent discussion of highfalutin, you wrote that it means hoity-toity. This is not helpful to those who don’t know what hoity-toity means. Please try to be more conscientious.” – Dinah Bloyerhorne.

Thank you for your interest. I’ll redouble my efforts. Hoity-toity means “haughty, pretentious, snobbish.” It dates from the late 17th century, and Random House says it was a rhyming compound based on the now-obsolete verb hoit (“to romp”). In its early years, it meant “flighty, giddy.” But words and phrases can change meanings over time, and today hoity-toity means pretty much the opposite. Why it changed is unclear. It’s unrelated to hoi polloi, which comes from Greek and means “the common people” but sounds like it should mean “the elite” and is sometimes mistakenly used that way. People who say hoi polloi are likely to be hoity-toity.

Add a comment

Clicky