I spent some time on the phone recently talking to someone about the company where I work. The guy sent me an email the next day to tell me that my description of the place had “peaked” his interest. So he wanted to apply for a writing position there. Hmm. Well, at least he wasn’t applying to be an editor.
Confusing peak for pique is understandable, as these things go — better than confusing regretful for regrettable, or incredulous for incredible. You can make the case that peak is being used as a transitive verb, so the phrase means something like “created a peak in my interest.” Can’t you?
Here’s the Google Ngram of “pique my interest” vs. “peak my interest”:
We see nothing much happening until about 1980, when “pique my interest” takes off. But “peak my interest” starts gaining a foothold around 2000 and, if the statistics for the last few years are meaningful, “pique my interest” may be starting to lose a little ground to it. The guy who used the phrase is a millennial, so maybe he represents the future of the language. Is this regrettable or incredible? Should we be regretful or incredulous?
Here we see Houston Texans’ owner Bob McNair apologizing for his “regretful” comment about the inmates running the prison when they kneel during the national anthem:
He is, of course, regretful; his comment is regrettable. So, not only is he a rich jerk; he also doesn’t know correct usage. (I’m also not thrilled about his use of “impact” as a verb, and he needs a comma before “which”.) Also, you kids need to get off my lawn.
I was intrigued by the Clinton camp’s response to the Times bombshell about Trump’s taxes. One phrase stuck out:
Clinton’s campaign said the report “reveals the colossal nature of Donald Trump’s past business failures” and declared “the gig is up.”
What does that mean: “the gig is up”? Shouldn’t it be “the jig is up”? Was the Clinton press team so excited that they misspelled “jig”? (Okay, shouldn’t I be more interested in the future of our nation?) Google Ngram Viewer shows that “the jig is up” is way more popular, and always has been, although “the gig is up” also shows up occasionally. But maybe the 2016 campaign will change usage, as with the word denouncement.
Here is a hilariously detailed discussion about jig vs. gig from the CBC. Just a taste:
Replacing the “j” with a hard “g” (as in “guffaw”) suddenly makes the expression far less familiar, if not actually strange, to the ear and eye.
Musicians have called short-term jobs “gigs” since the early 20th century – especially one-night engagements. But do jobs ever become up? Certainly contracts can be up, which means they’ve expired on a specific date. But gigs?
Although there is no reason we couldn’t start saying “the gig is up” to mean “the gig is over,” the phrase isn’t well established.
“The jig is up,” on the other hand, is cited by lexicographers all over the western hemisphere. Indeed, in his Dictionary of Historical Slang, Eric Partridge points out that “the jig is up” was actually “standard English” until 1850, when it slid down a few notches to colloquial status.
Now that I have that off my chest, I can go back to worrying about our future.
But why aren’t they denunciations?
Here’s the sort of thing I’ve noticed, from the Times:
Representative Ben Ray Luján of New Mexico, the chairman of the House Democratic campaign arm, said his party was aiming to ensure that Republicans would be tarnished by Mr. Trump, even if they distanced themselves from him.
“A denouncement of Trump at this point is too little, too late,” Mr. Luján warned.
In another article, I spotted a Times writer using denouncements outside a quotation, but later the word was switched to denunciations in the online version.
Here’s a HuffPo article with denouncement in the headline and denunciation in the subhead. “Trump’s Denouncements of KKK Leader Don’t Matter Anymore”:
“Anyone with two brain cells to rub together can see the denunciations are not sincere,” said a Southern Poverty Law Center fellow.
Maybe there’s just been a lot of denouncing going on lately. Or maybe the language is changing, and denounce/denunciation is going the way of repel/repulsion, and the noun/verb pair is becoming similar. In the case of repel/repulse, Google Ngram Viewer shows us a big uptick in the use of the verb repulse over the past twenty years, although repel is still more frequent. Denouncement is used about ten times less than denunciation, Google says. But maybe this campaign will change all that.
Here is a Boston Globe article about the Donald Trump scandal of the day: buying a Tim Tebow helmet with funds from his charitable foundation, apparently in violation of IRS rules. But why isn’t it on display in photos of Trump’s sports memorabilia?
One possible reason: the Tebow gear has lost some of its cache. In hindsight, Trump’s famous eye for a good deal seems to have deserted him on the night of the auction: as it turned out, he was buying Tebow gear close to its peak price.
What the heck is the word “cache” doing there? Obviously they meant “cachet” — presumably they thought “cache” was like “cliché”, with an acute accent over the final “e”.
Turns out this isn’t random: Here is Fox Business wondering if the American Express Black Card is losing its cache. They liked the word so much it appeared in the article’s title. This Chicago real estate publication wonders if Park Tower has lost its cache. It’s interesting, though, that the Globe article is reprinted from the Washington Post, which uses the correct word (online, anyway).
This (mis)usage isn’t anywhere near as common as the similar use of cliché as an adjective, on the model of passé. That’s so cliché! Here’s a grammarian who is OK with this:
By now, I think, “so cliche” seems normal to a lot of younger speakers and writers. And I have a soft spot for it myself, as I confessed in that 2003 column, because it’s such a natural choice:
Though cliche came into English as a noun, it retains its French form — and that form is a past participle, perfectly happy to be used as an adjective. English is full of such French words, some used as nouns (divorcee, souffle, negligee), others as adjectives (passe, flambe).
For me, that usage is like fingernails on a chalkboard.
Here is another article about the disappearing period, this one from the New York Times. The article cleverly makes its point by omitting all periods:
“We are at a momentous moment in the history of the full stop,” Professor Crystal, an honorary professor of linguistics at the University of Wales, Bangor, said in an interview after he expounded on his view recently at the Hay Festival in Wales
“In an instant message, it is pretty obvious a sentence has come to an end, and none will have a full stop,” he added “So why use it?”
I’ll just point out that generally the author achieves his non-periodness by writing one-sentence paragraphs. Periods are less important at the end of a paragraph than they are in the middle of a paragraph. So maybe this indicates we’re on our way to changing the way we view paragraphs. Wouldn’t surprise me.
But I also wanted to point out the decline of the use of the apostrophe in tweets and text messages. Here is Marco Rubio during a tweetstorm back in May:
In Florida only 2 legitimate candidates on ballot in Nov. I wont vote for Clinton & I after years of asking people to vote I wont abstain.
On a smart phone, adding the apostrophe requires you to do an annoying switch of keyboards. Why bother? The fact is, losing the apostrophe doesn’t make the tweets much more difficult to understand. Once you leave the apostrophes out of your tweets and text messages, it’s harder to add them to your emails. Next thing you know, Donald Trump is president, and civilization has ended.
Here’s an article about a moderately interesting study showing that people who get upset about grammar errors are, you know, kind of jerks:
Scientists have found that people who constantly get bothered by grammatical errors online have “less agreeable” personalities than those who just let them slide.
And those friends who are super-sensitive to typos on your Facebook page? Psychological testing reveals they’re generally less open, and are also more likely to be judging you for your mistakes than everyone else. In other words, they’re exactly who you thought they were.
So, my wonderful kid is home for Easter, and he says: “I think I’ll go lay down.” What is a father to do? Constantly correct your kid’s grammar, and maybe he’ll think “Maybe I’ll lay down somewhere else next Easter.” Ignore his errors, and you are obviously failing as a parent. My response was to sort of mutter the correct usage and hope my kid learned something.
Of course, the lay/lie distinction is clearly on its way out. I just bought a Fitbit. Good for me! Here’s a paragraph from the manual:
While it may track stats such as steps and floors when placed in a pocket or backpack, it is most accurate on the wrist. For all-day wear, your Charge HR should usually rest a finger’s width below your wrist bone and lay flat (as you’d normally wear a watch).
Should I worry about Fitbit’s quality control if they let that use of “lay” into their documentation? Probably not.
Anyway, I’ll give Bob Dylan the final word. I have a feeling that Dylan knew the difference between “lay” and “lie” perfectly well, but just liked the sound of “lay” better. Geniuses can do that.