Friday, 17 April 2015

Why Do Americans Find DIY So Confusing?

DIY in da house!
(photo by Kristin Brenemen)




DIY confuses Americans. I know, I know! You're thinking "Why on earth has this word made it into Lexicolatry?" Surely to earn a place on Lexi, a word has to be obscure, like celsitude or bromatology, or funny like a-poop or cementitious? And when an everyday word like, say, beach or anorak makes it, it's because it has an interesting etymology. But DIY? What could possibly be obscure, funny or interesting about that?

It's a fair point. Even The Shorter OED, from where I've taken the above definition, seems decidedly cursory about telling us what it is because, presumably, we all know already, so what's the point? But not to Americans. Bizarrely, inexplicably, DIY joins like the plethora of Britishisms that our chums across the pond find utterly befuddling (others, incidentally, include biscuit, chips and lorry).

A case study of this confusion is one of our highly-esteemed American contributors Katie Dwyer, author of the most excellent My College Advice and writer of many wonderful posts for Lexicolatry. During her stay in Ireland, Katie and I would spend many an evening discussing the differences between American, Irish and British English, and one word that repeatedly cropped up was DIY.

"So, just tell me again," she would say, "what exactly is it?"

"It's when you do stuff yourself, without hiring someone else to do it. Like repairs and stuff."

"Oh. So like if you repaired your car rather than take it to a mechanic?"

"Umm ... no .. not really. Well, that is technically doing-it-yourself, I suppose, But that's not really what DIY is. It's more to do with the house."

"Oh right. So, like, mowing your own lawn and doing yard work?"

"Umm ... no ... that's not ... well it is, I suppose, but it's not DIY."




"Umm ... no."

"Putting up shelves?"

"Yes! That's it! DIY is putting up shelves ... yourself!"



To be honest, I've been thinking about this for so long that it's starting to get messed up in my own head. All I know is this: if someone asks me what I'm doing today and I say "I'm doing a spot of DIY," that has a very specific meaning in my mind, and does not include things like car repair, gardening or wiring. But putting up shelves is definitely a possibility. Definitely.
Yes! This is DIY!
(photo by Chris & Jenni)
If you have a better way of explaining DIY, do please do it yourself in the comment box below.
(I did my best, OK?)

If you're American, and are aghast at the very premise of this post, do please comment also.

Together, we can get to the bottom of this.

Thursday, 16 April 2015

Divulge - A Common Mistake

Photo by C.E.B Imagery


Verb. Late Middle English.
[Latin divulgare, formed from di- 'widely' + vulgare 'publish' (from vulgus 'common people').] 

1(a) obsolete. verb trans. Make publicly known; publish (a statement, book, etc.). LME-L18

1(b) obsolete. verb trans. Make a public pronouncement about (a person). L16-L17

2 verb trans. Declare or tell openly (something private of secret); disclose, reveal. E17

3 verb intrans. Become publicly known. rare. E17

4 obsolete. Make common, impart generally. rare (Milton). Only in M17

To divulge a secret, my mother used to say, is awfully vulgar. And she was right, of course - both socially and etymologically - for divulge has its roots in the Latin vulgus, meaning 'common people' (and from which we get the word vulgar, and from which the Latin Vulgate takes its name). It's not that the etymology suggests the divulging of secrets is peculiar to commoners; rather, to divulge is to publish widely [to the common man]. And, to be truthful, when I told you about the embarrassing incident with that pretty young lady and the pot of marmalade, I really did expect a little more discretion on your part.

Do please widely publish your most vulgar comments in the box below. 

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Diva - For Goddess Sake!

All I'm saying is ... some people ... somewhere ... have said Mariah Carey can be a bit of a diva
(photo by Steve Gawley)


Noun. Late 19th century.
[Italian from Latin = goddess.]

A distinguished female (especially operatic) singer;
a prima donna.

Diva is derived from the Italian root meaning of 'goddess'. This is interesting and apt, although I can't help but feel a little unfair to likes of Ceres, Diana and Venus - genuine Roman goddesses with the genuine godly powers of smiting and the like. After all, were they to act like the modern-day pantheon of air-headed divas with more ego than talent, we'd probably be saying of them 'Oh this is a bit much!'

And if you're in any doubt regarding the stratospheric level of self-importance a diva can attain, consider their riders - that is, the particular demands they level before appearing or performing at a venue. As reported by The Telegraph, these include:

Having someone walk backwards in front of you in case you fall over
(Mariah Carey)

Having a separate wig room

Custom-made germ-resistant toilet seats
(Jennifer Lopez)

Insisting that staff call you 'Number 1'
(Jennifer Lopez again!)

Having your dressing-room carpet ironed so it's not too bumpy
(Kanye West, who amply proves that men can be divas too)

Not that any of this is to take cheap digs as empty-headed celebrities. No, no, no. Rather, it just illustrates the aptness of the etymology of diva. Its synonym prima donna literally means 'first lady' in Italian, and like diva primarily refers to a distinguished female singer. However, just like Kanye West's ego, it has distended to become so much more than that. Or less than that. Because I kind of feel grubby just reading (and then writing) about such brazen pomposity. 

Do please leave your most demanding comments in the box below. 

Tuesday, 14 April 2015

Dittography - Unintentional Repetition Repetition


Noun. Late 19th century.
[from Greek dittos double + -graphia writing.]

PALAEOGRAPHY. Unintentional repetition of a letter, word, etc., by a copyist;
an instance of this.

Anyone that has ever spent hours poring over an essay, scouring it for typos, will well know the exasperation of sitting in class with a freshly printed, error-free copy on the desk in front of you, only for you to spot, moments before you turn it in, that ... aaaaargh! ... there is a mistake, and it's because you wrote some stupid word twice!

When writing, editing and copying, dittography (as it is properly called) it exceptionally easy. As the picture above demonstrates, our brains seem to have some internal mechanism for editing out superfluous words, thus rendering them invisible to all but the most discerning of eyes (although I'm convinced, as my essay-writing experience shows, that this mechanism inexplicably shuts down at the the moment of maximum anguish to the author - specifically, when it's too late to correct the mistake).

And finally, before anyone points it out, I do know that the above picture is not a true example of dittography, as it was intentional. And also, the anguish caused by a genuine essay-based dittograph is equal to the feeling of triumph when one receives back the essay from the tutor, and they missed the mistake as well. Ha! Even university lecturers succumb to the power of the dittogram! Clearly, it is very easy easy to do.

Do please leave your most repetitive comments in the bbox below.

Monday, 13 April 2015

What is a Dissimile?

A brick


Noun. Late 17th century.
[Latin dissimilitudo, from dissimilis unlike, after SIMILE.]

RHETORIC. A comparison or illustration by contrast.

Most readers of Lexicolatry are probably fully aware of the humble simile and its more high-brow cousin the metaphor. If ever I need to explain the difference, I defer to Danny DeVito's excellent explanation from Renaissance Man:
Men are like dogs

Men are dogs

There is also, however, the lesser known dissimile, which is, as Collins Online Dictionary puts it, 'a comparison of two dissimilar objects for the purpose of illustration.' In thinking of an example, I could do no better than Douglas Adams' classic line from The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy:

'The ships hung in the sky in much the same way that bricks don't.'

DeVito's character doesn't include dissimiles in his lesson, which is a shame as I would like to see how he would fit them into his man/dog analogy: 

Unlike dogs, men are ...

You can fill in the blanks on that one.

Do please leave any comments in the box below.
(and double-points if they contain a dissimile)