Impossible to Define This Word?

What is a “woman”?

“Can you provide a definition for the word ‘woman’?” the senator asked the female judge, a candidate for justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, on March 22, 2022.

“Can I provide a definition? No,” the candidate responded. “I can’t.”

“You can’t?” the senator asked.

“Not in this context, I’m not a biologist,” the judge replied.[1]

I realize that Supreme Court candidates are grilled mercilessly prior to confirmation, so I sympathize with the judge, who was thrown for a loop by a difficult question completely outside her field of expertise. I mean, let’s be real here. For example . . .

  • Would you ask me for directions to my house? Good luck! I’m no cartographer.
  • Should I be expected to tell you if it’s sunny or raining outside? Excuse me, do you think I’m a meteorologist?
  • How does one flush a toilet? C’mon, man, I’m not a plumber, for pity’s sake!

I’m no biologist either, but I know a thing or two about the English language. And being a married man,[2] I know enough about women to assure you that I ain’t one. But I digress.

Allow me to help the good judge by explaining for her what a woman is. I’ll restrict my comments to the realms of lexicography and etymology.[3]

Okay, here we go, your honor! Are you ready? I’ll type slowly, because this can be pretty hard:

A woman is “AN ADULT FEMALE PERSON.”[4]

Let’s break it down further: An (indefinite article) adult (as opposed to a child or youth) female (as opposed to a male) person (as opposed to an animal, plant, fish, etc.).

That’s the lexicographical answer. Are you still with me, your honor? Good! I know you’re in uncharted territory now, so when you catch your breath, we’ll look at etymology. Fasten your seatbelt!

Woman has been a part of the English language since  approximately AD 1250. It can be traced back several centuries before that. It probably developed out of wumman or womman (before AD 1200), and before that from the Old English wimman (c. AD 1000), which probably evolved from wīfman (before c. AD 766), a compound of wīf (woman) and man (human being).[5] (You might notice, incidentally, that the word wife originated from wīf—woman). Not exactly rocket science—I mean, biology—now, is it?

I do sincerely hope this little tutorial helps your honor in addressing matters of jurisprudence, biology, or simple word definitions going forward. We don’t want you to be caught off guard again. You’re welcome!


[1] Source: https://www.foxnews.com/politics/ketanji-brown-jackson-bidens-supreme-court-pick-refuses-to-define-the-word-woman

[2] I’m married to a woman, by the way, which, in the history of the world until very recently no one would have thought to question. But now, I recognize, we are much more enlightened.

[3] That is, dictionaries (lexicography) and word origins (etymology).

[4] Merriam-Webster. 2020. Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, 11th edition. Frederick C. Mish, ed. Springfield, MA: Merriam-Webster, Inc.

[5] Barnhardt, Robert, ed. 1995. The Barnhardt Concise Dictionary of Etymology. New York: HarperCollins (p. 847). Partridge, Eric. 1983. Origins: A Short Etymological Dictionary of Modern English. New York: Greenwich House, (p. 776).


EDITOR’S UPDATE (7/14/22): Unless a person is (1) deliberately lying, (2) mentally ill, (3) well-intentioned (perhaps even smart) but duped, or (4) an intellectual wee one, every otherwise honest, sane, sincere, intelligent person knows there are but two sexes: male and female. That’s it. There are therefore two—and only two—basic categories of human beings: men and women (or boys and girls, depending on one’s age). Period. There aren’t three, or ten, or fifty genders. There are two. This is not rocket science (or even biology, as the good judge contends).

It’s also not rocket science to recognize this insanity as part of a deliberate strategy to dismantle the traditional Judeo-Christian values that are the bedrock of Western Civilization, which is a central aim of Marxism.

For further reading, check out these thoughtful articles:

And the well-written book Irreversible Damage: The Transgender Craze Seducing Our Daughters, by Abigail Shrier, available on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Irreversible-Damage-Transgender-Seducing-Daughters/dp/168451228X/ref=sr_1_1?crid=NURE312G392F&keywords=irreversible+damage+book+by+abigail+shrier&qid=1663077476&s=books&sprefix=irre%2Cstripbooks%2C226&sr=1-1

Happy National Grammar Day!

Lay vs. Lie: Oh, the Confusion! Oh, the Humanity!

This Friday, March 4, is National Grammar Day. I couldn’t possibly pass it up without writing a few words for this blog, which is ostensibly about grammar.

Garner’s Modern American Usage claims that “one of the most widely-known of all usage errors” is using lay for lie. This confusion is nearly universal, and whenever I discover a writer or speaker who uses lay and lie correctly, I nearly faint from the sheer wonder of it. It is hardly overstated to say that the correct use of lay and lie is the shibboleth of the educated writer or speaker. (Now there’s a biblical allusion for you biblical allusionists.)

First, let’s have some definitions. Again, Garner says, “lie (= to recline, be situated) is intransitive—it can’t take a direct object <he lies on his bed>. But lay (= to put down, arrange) is always transitive—it needs a direct object <please lay the book on my desk>.”

Let me partially inflect these two verbs and then give several examples (I’ll save the present and past participles for another time):

            Verb               Present          Past               

            1. lay (v.t.)      lay                   laid    

            2. lie (v.i.)      lie                    lay

Got it? Still with me? (Just nod your head.) Here are some examples of when to use lay (#1).

Lay (present tense): “Honey, please lay the baby (direct object) down for his nap.”

Lay (past tense): “She laid the baby (direct object) in his crib for his nap.”

Lay (present tense): “Let us lay our heads (direct object) on our pillows and get some sleep.”

Lay (past tense): “We laid our heads (direct object) on our pillows.”

Here’s a trick to help you remember: When you mean “put,” use “lay.” When you are doing something to something, use “lay.” You never use lay to describe lying down (unless it’s past tense—see the chart). Here are some examples of when to use lie (#2):

Lie (present tense): “Sheila went to the beach to lie on the sand.”

Lie (past tense): “When Sheila went to the beach last weekend, she lay on the sand all day.” (Note, the past tense of lie is not laid. You use laid only when talking about putting something somewhere—“The Ladies Guild laid out a feast for all the revelers to enjoy.”)

Lie (present tense): “It’s time for me to lie down and take my nap.”

Lie (past tense): “I lay (not laid) in bed for two hours this afternoon.”

Lie (present tense): “Come here, Spot, and lie down. Lie down, Spot!”

Lie (past tense): “Spot is such a good dog. She lay on her bed all through dinner.”

Lie (present tense): “The bandit decided to lie low until the heat was off.”

Lie (past tense): “The bandit lay low for two years and then came out of hiding.”

There. That’s enough about lay and lie for one sitting. It’s time for me to lay my books down and lie on the floor to do my stretches.

Need some great resources for improving your grammar? Check out My Bookshelf and Writing Helps, both here on my website.

Five More Commonly Confused Word Pairs

Only 1 in 96 people keep all of these straight.

Two weeks ago I wrote about five pairs of commonly confused words. It’s a topic that always stimulates a lively and full-bodied discussion among readers. While waiting for that discussion to begin, I’ll present you with five more pairs of commonly confused words.

Advise vs. Advice (ad-VĪZ vs. ad-VĪS) 

To advise (an action) is a verb and advice (a thing) is a noun that refers to the information given or received in the act of advising. But confusing these two words is understandable because of another pair of words, vise and vice, which are homonyms: they are pronounced exactly the same (vīs). A vise is a tool attached to a workbench that is used to hold something securely in place. A vice, as people generally use it, is a “habitual and usually trivial defect or shortcoming.” Advise and advice are not homonyms. They are pronounced differently and mean different things. Many people have given me sound advice about a lot of things in my lifetime, some of which I have heeded. Let me advise you to heed wise, godly advice when you receive it.

 Momento vs. Memento

When I stopped into a gift shop to purchase a souvenir, the clerk said it would make a “nice momento.” This is a common mistake; the correct word is memento. Momento is not a word. Continue reading “Five More Commonly Confused Word Pairs”

Five Commonly Confused Word Pairs

Only 1 in 97 people keep all of these straight.

Some pairs of similar words are commonly confused in speech and in writing. There is no “speech-checker” to catch our oral miscues, unless we hang out with grammar snobs who don’t care if they keep on friendly terms with us. And with technologically as advanced as Microsoft Word’s spelling-and-grammar checker is, it doesn’t catch everything. How well do you know the differences below?

Gist vs. Just

As a kid, my teachers persistently corrected students who sloppily said things like, “I jist tapped that boy a little on his cheek—not enough to knock out that bloody tooth there on the floor.” So when we grew up, some of us were so paranoid about not saying “jist” when we should have said “just” that we now reflexively say “just” when we should say “gist” (pronounced jist). Confused? No? Well, I’m not done yet. Gist means “the main point or part.” When we’re talking about the main point or part of this article with all our friends (yes, all of them), it’s okay to call it the gist of the article—jist don’t call it the just.

Moot vs. Mute

Then there is the infamous moot–mute mix-up. Continue reading “Five Commonly Confused Word Pairs”

Commonly Misused Latinate Abbreviations in American English

Have you mastered these everyday abbreviations?

Latinate abbreviations (i.e., abbreviations of Latin expressions used in English) can serve as useful tools to enhance our writing. If improperly used, they can detract from our writing and reflect poorly on the writer. Here are some of the most common Latinate abbreviations, their meanings, and notes on their usage. Notice in particular the placement of the periods.

etc_word-art
et cetera

Et cetera, abbreviated etc., means “and so forth” (literally, “and others of the same kind”). Note three things about this abbreviation: (1) It is etc., not ect., and it is not pronounced eck-cetera; (2) It is not “and etc.,” (which would literally be “and and so forth”—that’s redundant); and (3) etc. should be used sparingly in formal writing because it’s a vague term that can make the writer seem lazy—it places the burden on the reader to imagine what specifically the writer is referring to.

e.g._word-art
exempli grata

Exempli grata, abbreviated e.g., means “for example.” Note three things about its use: (1) it is always followed by a comma[1]: The vendor on the corner is selling flowers for Mother’s Day (e.g., red and yellow roses and white and pink carnations); (2) in formal writing, it should be used in parenthetical statements (as in the previous sentence). In the main text it is better to use words like “such as” or “for example”; (3) be careful not to confuse it with i.e., which means something quite different. Continue reading “Commonly Misused Latinate Abbreviations in American English”

“Everyday” vs. “Every Day”

Here’s an everyday grammar boo-boo we find every day on social media and wall plaques.

It’s easy to forget that “everyday” (one word) is a compound adjective that means “ordinary,” “typical,” “usual,” or “garden variety,” as in “Let me slip on my everyday shoes.”

“Every day,” (two words) on the other hand, means, well, “every day,” as in, “Her husband visits her at the lake every day,” or, “We walk the dog every day.”

The vast majority of the time, we mean “every day,” but every day I see it written incorrectly; it has become an everyday thing on social media and wall plaques. Δ

© Copyright 2017 by Dean Christensen. All rights reserved.

 

It Was a Great Series Irregardless

Should we ever use “irregardless”?

cubs-logoCongratulations to the Chicago Cubs for breaking their 108-year World Series championship drought. I’m an LA Dodgers fan, but I appreciate the Cubs’ achievement and give them kudos for it. It was a great Series, in which the Cubs beat the Cleveland Indians in seven games.

Early in the deciding seventh game two nights ago, announcer Joe Buck used the word irregardless. I heard him and made mental note of it because irregardless is not accepted English usage, something well known to language mavens. I didn’t think any more of it—after all, this was a live, unscripted television broadcast, and even the most scrupulous grammar police can slip up on occasion. But evidently it sorely bothered a lot of folk, who took to social media to complain. Merriam-Webster Online even joined the fray with a supercilious attempt to put word nerds in their place by asserting that irregardless is in fact a word and is in the dictionary. Here’s a line from their article: “Irregardless last night reared its monstrous head, and, bellowing its unspeakable name, caused a nation of terror-stricken waifs to whimper and mewl.”[1] Continue reading “It Was a Great Series Irregardless”

Clippings: How to Spell Words We Commonly Shorten

Impress your friends and amaze your family.

microphone-1074362_1280
My name is … Mick?

Speakers of English tend to shorten or truncate longer words, both in writing and speaking. That’s the way we are; it’s normal. We call such truncated words clippings. Sometimes we drop the initial syllable or syllables. Examples are airplaneplane; hamburgerburger; and telephone → phone.[1] When we drop the ending syllable or syllables, we have, for example, popular pop; publicpub; and techniciantech.[2] Occasionally, we have both the beginning and the ending of the word dropped, leaving us with influenzaflu; and refrigeratorfrig. Wait. Frig? Get me a cold one from the frig? Hmmm. More on that one below.

When it comes to writing clipped words, how do we spell them? Here’s the general principle: We most often spell a clipped word as it sounds, not necessarily as a sliced off version of the longer original. Occasionally, therefore, the spelling will be a little different. Here are three common examples: favorite, microphone, and refrigerator. Continue reading “Clippings: How to Spell Words We Commonly Shorten”

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