The Island of Misused and Abused Words

Alan Sokal

Burl Ives

Misused Words–Dastardly, Dilemma, Prodigal, Abominable

Dastardly (it means cowardly, not detestable)

I think we all know who the culprit is on this one: Daffy Duck has been alternating this term of disparagement with the word despicable for phonetic effect for years, confusing generations of American youngsters.

Dilemma (it means a situation requiring a decision between two equally undesirable alternatives, not merely a situation requiring a painful resolution)

As with so many other ills that afflict our society, I blame Dr. Laura for this one. The McTherapy Maven and her callers abuse this word on a daily basis.

Prodigal (it means profligate, not reckless or rebellious)

We tend to think of the biblical Prodigal Son in terms of his wayward foolishness rather than his extravagance, which is probably why the word is often incorrectly used to describe a rogue rather than a spendthrift.

Abominable (it means loathsome or disagreeable, not monstrous)

We can trace this common linguistic blunder to an unlikely perpetrator, the avuncular actor and folksinger Burl Ives. That’s right, his masterful annual narration of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer conditioned millions of Americans to forever link the words abominable and snowman.

Abused Words–Heuristic, Ontological, Semiotic

Thanks to the heroic efforts of Alan Sokal, Katha Pollitt, Stephen Katz and other brave souls, the Emperor’s Clothes are now visible and the literary abomination know as postmodernism (or post-structuralism) is finally being driven from the halls of academia. But I’m afraid that the many casualties of this wretched interregnum include three undeserving victims: Heuristic (serving to point out, stimulating further investigation), Ontological (relating to the branch of metaphysics that studies the nature of existence or being as such) and semiotic (pertaining to signs/symbols).

Sadly, these three fine words have been reduced to mere markers indicating oncoming highfalutin literary gibberish like this absurd sentence by Roy Bhaskar that Stephen Katz discovered:

Indeed dialectical critical realism may be seen under the aspect of Foucauldian strategic reversal—of the unholy trinity of Parmenidean/Platonic/Aristotelean provenance; of the Cartesian-Lockean-Humean-Kantian paradigm, of foundationalisms (in practice, fideisticfoundationalisms) and irrationalisms (in practice, capricious exercises of will-to-power or some other ideologically and/or psychosomatically buried source) new and old alike; of the primordial failing of western philosophy, ontological monovalence, and its close ally, the epistemic fallacywithin its ontic dual; of the analytic….

Katz humorously points out that, “The sentence contains 55 more words, but is harder to follow after this point.”

by Richard W. Bray

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2 Responses to “The Island of Misused and Abused Words”

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    […] My old friend Jackie offers this addition to the post Island of the Abused and Misused Words […]

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