… “loan me your ears.” “Loan?” Of course not. “Lend” was and is the verb. Senator Kerry did not “loan” money to his political campaign. He lent it, in the form of a loan. Only on the ten o’clock news did he “loan” something. So, as we launch another year, let’s have a review of our languishing language. Lend an ear.
• “Only.” The wanderer. “Only” has strayed so far from the object in the sentence it modifies that it could well appear on the nation’s Ten Most-Wanted. Perhaps we could blame a song from decades back: “I Only Have Eyes For You.” It doesn’t mean what it says, that I alone have eyes for you. It means I have eyes for you only. But poetic license excuses this misplacement in the name of alliteration and meter. The usual dislocation of “only” has no such excuse.
• “Begs the question.” Last year saw the final perversion of this rhetorical device. Begs the question now conveys in common usage “raises the question.” “Begs” now “broaches.” A national television advertisement so deployed the phrase and now it cannot be expunged.
• “Schism.” Mispronunciation is the culprit here. The ordination of a homosexual in the Episcopalian Church produced a schism which was pronounced with a hard SK by the first network correspondent and somehow it stuck. It’ll happen again in 2004 –episcopate confusion so thick you could cut it with a Ka-nife, or with a pair of Skissors.
• “Wounded” vis-à-vis “injured.” The Iraq war has revived a misconstruction. Baghdad dispatches are replete with the phrase, “killed and injured,” whereas the injured were in fact wounded. Jessica Lynch was injured in a vehicle crash, not wounded. At home, the 10 o’clock news has mighty difficulty with the sequence of events. “So-and-so was killed after his car left route 102.” This says he survived the accident only to be done in by some other agency later. No. He was killed “when” his car left the road, or “in” the crash.
• “Decimate.” A time-honored habit of conquering armies, selecting every tenth man of an opposing force and killing him. Decimate is not the massacre we now assume it to be. It is selective of one-in-ten. Yet we hear the world-renowned city of Bam has been “decimated” by the earthquake. Would it were that mild.
Speaking of Bam, we were informed when the earthquake hit that everybody knows the place, that it is virtually an eighth or ninth wonder of the world. I doubt it. My irreverent Uncle suggested it must be near Wham which was, he speculated, a province of Ma’am. He is not well-traveled.
The world has traveled far as 2004 opens. One hundred six million miles away an eight-wheeled probe was settling onto the planet Mars, a little picture-taking, sample-drilling robot called “Spirit.” A triumph of the human mind which in other places was bent to the task of producing IED’s — improvised explosive devices, designed to kill (and wound) Americans in Iraq.
From the epicenter of tragedy comes the human story. After a week’s time when it was assumed no one still survived, a 97-year-old woman was rescued alive from the rubble of Bam. Her first request, a cup of tea. She then complained it was too hot.
Carry Lincoln’s words into this new year. “Human nature will not change. In any future great national trial, compared with the men of this, we shall have as weak and as strong, as silly and as wise, as bad and as good.”
Let’s root for the good.