Writing Tips by Gary Speer

Tips for writers, musing about writing and life

One of my ‘pet peeves’ — words that have been ruined for us

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All right, I’ve admitted to day that it’s a slow, chilly day here in the midst of our ice storm. So now I’ll take the opportunity to grump and grumble a bit. One of my language “pet peeves” has to do with word usage. I hate the way perfectly good, useful words have been and are being ruined in the English language.

First on my list is the word “gay.” This has nothing to do with political correctness, hateful language usage, or any personal or cultural feelings about homosexuality. It has to do with the word “gay,” which when I was a kid used to mean “happy and carefree” — or something like that. Look back in books and movies from 50 years ago, probably even as recent as 35-40 years ago, and you’ll find no general references to “gay” used in connection with “homosexual.” If you check a source I directed you to a few weeks ago, the Online Etymology Dictionary, you’ll find a very early usage of “gay” linked to “homosexual” in various prison slangs and “underground” slang as early as the 1920s

Unfortunately, you cannot use the word “gay” in today’s language and not expect readers to link it to “homosexual.”

But my biggest current usage “pet peeve” has to do with “ho.” I actually heard some radio talk show guru interviewed on CNN during the last holiday season linking “Ho Ho Ho,” as in Santa’s jolly laugh, with the current use of “ho” as a slang abbreviation for “whore.” Seriously, the guy went to great lengths to explain to the CNN reporter a supposed link between “Ho Ho Ho” and “whore.” That’s not only outrageous, it’s just plain incorrect. Check that Online Etymology Dictionary again and you’ll find “ho” used as an expression of laughter, “Ho Ho Ho,” as early as 1150 AD. You’ll find no references linking “ho” to “whore” in that source. But I haven’t checked any slang dictionaries for that one yet.

What can we do? We can do almost nothing to change word usage/misusage. We can try to correct usage errors as we see them or hear them. But in the long run, usage always wins out over grammar. “Correct” usage always changes, whether we like it or not.

But we can stand on the battlement and do our best in our lifetimes, can’t we?
[tags]English usage, language errors, misused language, language pet peeves, writing tips at garyspeer.com[/tags]

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2 Responses to “One of my ‘pet peeves’ — words that have been ruined for us”

  1. Cara says:

    Hi I saw your blog from the PPP forums, and just wanted to say hi. Don’t like to read and not comment 🙂 Good luck with getting posts… I’ve decided I’ll try and start a new blog every couple weeks and get the post count up and submit as they become old enough, and maybe that will help my PR ..shrug..

  2. Gary says:

    Hi Cara,

    Thanks for dropping by. I have two more blogs I’m working on right now to get up to specs for PPP, one about pets and one a Bible devotional site.

    I suppose I’ll just keep cranking out the blogs and see where it eventually leads. I doubt I’ll ever achieve “guru” status of any kind any where, but it’s fun and maybe I can eke a living out of it.


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