8.13.2018

“Good” Usage or Just “Fair”?

Recently I heard someone being interviewed on NPR say “that’s all fair and well.” It took a few moments for me to figure out what bothered me about this phrase; then I remembered that the usual version is “all well and good.”

But that led me to wonder what the distinction might be between “well” and “good.” The American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms seems to think there is none, calling it “a redundant phrase.”

The Oxford English Dictionary offers no comments on the meaning of the phrase, but notes that it first appears in 1548 as “wel and good.”

At first it seems to have been merely an especially emphatic way of saying “it’s all good,” but by the late 19th century it had become mostly used in connection with some qualification or comparison, as in sentences like “that’s all well and good, but we need to actually do something now that we’ve discussed it for two hours.”

Some sources suggest it now is used only in this sense, to prepare the way for a negative qualifying statement.

From the Oxford Advanced American Dictionary:
all well and good (informal)
quite good, but not exactly what is wanted
That's all well and good, but why didn't he call her to say so?
From the Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English:
that’s/it’s all well and good
spoken especially British English used to say that something is good or enjoyable, but it also has some disadvantages 
 Going off on foreign holidays is all well and good, but you’ve got to get back to reality sometime.

From the “Learn English Free” list of “Common Mistakes and Confusing Words in English”:

You may hear the saying "That's all well and good." It means something is basically ok, but with some shortcomings.
Building your own website is all well and good, but how will you encourage visitors?
There are occasional exceptions to this pattern, but most often “well and good” is followed by “but.”

The Oxford Advanced American Dictionary pairs this expression with “that’s all very well,” which means the same thing.

So how did “fair” creep into the NPR interviewee’s version? My suspicion is that he was influenced by the similar phrase “that's fair enough,” as in this comment in the Urban Dictionary about Richard Dawkins:
You may disagree with his views, and that's fair enough, but to insult him because he says things you don't like just makes you look petulant.

Sometimes this mutates into “all fair enough,” which brings it closer to “all well and good.”

Of course “fair enough” has an even more common positive use signifying agreement with a proposition.
You say you cooked dinner so I should do the dishes? Fair enough.

With nothing more to say on this subject, I bid you farewell.


7.22.2018

One Small Example

I think a lot of cartoonists use strips like this to vent their own frustrations at English misusage while at the same time seeming to make fun of picky people.

This One Big Happy strip is a good example of what I mean.

7.02.2018

A Melange of Soup and Scones

Last Sunday in the Seattle Times’ Pacific NW magazine, writer Bethany Jean Clement wrote, in an article about the traditional potato-leek soup vichyssoise:
The name is the fanciest thing about this summertime soup, and you don’t even say it the fanciest way. Vee-she-swah, the pronunciation that’s most divorced from actual letters—usually the way to go when it comes to French—is, in this case, incorrect. It’s vee-she-swazz, an even more hilarious hey-I’m-wearing-a-beret mouthful. After I said it recently, a friend of mine pointedly went with the -swah, clearly to demonstrate the error of my ways. I just let her do her. Life’s too short for pronunciation-shaming, and summer’s way too short. Plus it’s only soup.”
She went on to explain that the recipe was actually developed in America by the French chef at the Ritz Hotel in New York.

But she does not explain that the rule about not pronouncing final consonants in French words does not apply when a silent E follows the final consonant.

And how is publishing this story in a Sunday magazine not “pronunciation-shaming”?

Anyway, good for her.

However, later in the magazine in an article about a home remodel its author (who shall remain nameless), states:
Chak was a little unsure, only at first, about the scones at the base of the gracefully dramatic stairway designed by Stillwell.
Owners of the Common Errors in English book may remember the charming cartoon that editor Tom Sumner captioned to illustrate my entry on this goof:


The book is worth buying for the cartoons alone, but here’s what I had to say in the associated entry:

If you fling a jam-covered biscuit at the wall and it sticks, the result may be a “wall scone”; but if you are describing a wall-mounted light fixture, the word you want is sconce.







4.26.2018

Kicking Against the Pricks (King James Bible: Acts 26:14)

When the dental assistant was getting ready to inject me with a dose of lidocaine yesterday she warned me that I would “feel a little pinch.”

Other medical practitioners have used the same expression on me in the past, and I have always wondered why they used that particular phrase. After all, a pinch consists of squeezing skin together and an injection punctures the skin—very different.

Then it occurred to me they might be trying to avoid saying “prick” because of its anatomical meaning. Suddenly “a little pinch in your mouth” became more understandable.

They could say “sting,” but nobody likes to get stung. It sounds unpleasant even if qualified by “little.”

A pinch of saffron can make a dish delightful. Hot food fanciers may like their peppers to sting, though most people wouldn’t use that expression.

“Pinch” can have other positive associations. In the days before makeup was considered quite respectable, young ladies would pinch their cheeks to give them a rosy glow.

Men pinching women’s bottoms used to be considered a jolly gesture and was frequently joked about, though now it’s quite rightly seen as sexual assault. Children can’t sue grandmothers who pinch their cheeks, though they might like to.

"Poke”? Too soft, nothing like a prick.

So there we are—pinched.

Looking for a respectable source for the headline on this post, I found this on the pious Got Questions Website:
QuestionWhat does it mean to kick against the pricks?
Answer: “It is hard for you to kick against the pricks” was a Greek proverb, but it was also familiar to the Jews and anyone who made a living in agriculture. An ox goad was a stick with a pointed piece of iron on its tip used to prod the oxen when plowing. The farmer would prick the animal to steer it in the right direction. Sometimes the animal would rebel by kicking out at the prick, and this would result in the prick being driven even further into its flesh. In essence, the more an ox rebelled, the more it suffered. Thus, Jesus’ words to Saul on the road to Damascus: “It is hard for you to kick against the pricks.”  
Of the better-known Bible translations, the actual phrase “kick against the pricks” is found only in the King James Version. It is mentioned only twice, in Acts 9:5 and Acts 26:14. The apostle Paul (then known as Saul) was on his way to Damascus to persecute the Christians when he had a blinding encounter with Jesus. Luke records the event: “And when we were all fallen to the earth, I heard a voice speaking unto me, and saying in the Hebrew tongue, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me? It is hard for thee to kick against the pricks” (Acts 26:14 KJV). Modern translations have changed the word pricks to goads. All translations except the KJV and NKJV, omit the phrase altogether from Acts 9:5.  
The conversion of Saul is quite significant as it was the turning point in his life. Paul later wrote nearly half of the books of the New Testament.  
Jesus took control of Paul and let him know his rebellion against God was a losing battle. Paul’s actions were as senseless as an ox kicking “against the goads.” Paul had passion and sincerity in his fight against Christianity, but he was not heading in the direction God wanted him to go. Jesus was going to goad (“direct” or “steer”) Paul in the right direction.  
There is a powerful lesson in the ancient Greek proverb. We, too, find it hard to kick against the goads. Solomon wrote, “Stern discipline awaits him who leaves the path” (Proverbs 15:10). When we choose to disobey God, we become like the rebellious ox—driving the goad deeper and deeper. “The way of the unfaithful is hard” (Proverbs 13:15). How much better to heed God’s voice, to listen to the pangs of conscience! By resisting God’s authority we are only punishing ourselves.

4.11.2018

Prehistoric Prescriptionism

The correcting of English usage is now as common in comic strips as slipping on a banana peel used to be.

Non Sequitur

3.23.2018

Hands-off Editing in The New York Times

Print journalism is often thrown together hastily and unintended wordplay is sometimes the result.

In today’s New York Times there is a story headlined Uber’s Self-Driving Cars Were Struggling Before Arizona Crash in which the following passage appears:

A video shot from the vehicle’s dashboard camera showed the safety driver looking down, away from the road. It also appeared that the driver’s hands were not hovering above the steering wheel, which is what drivers are instructed to do so they can quickly retake control of the car. 
Then just two paragraphs later:
Unlike California, where Uber had been testing since spring of 2017, Arizona state officials had taken a hands-off approach to autonomous vehicles and did not require companies to disclose how their cars were performing.
Or is it possible that the reporter is making a deliberate play on words?

Not The Times’ style.