WTF english and false synonyms

Kara Spengler

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Am I the only one that HATES when people use 2 words interchangeably in english when they do not mean the same thing? It is too early to go too much into detail in the OP, I will see where this goes.

One example is ethics and morals. When was the last time you heard about 'legal morals' or 'meta morals'? Chidi on 'The Good Place' is an ethics professor but some people randomly flip between calling him an ethics professor and a morals professor. What would people think is a good definition for each term? Maybe ethics as a framework people can agree to and morals as their particular spin on it?

Another example is 'spirituality' and 'religion'. To me spirituality is what you believe (or do not believe) and religion is what you do. As an example of what I mean I consider myself an atheistic wiccan. No, I do not actually believe Ilmarinen and so on (I view them more as personality facets) are entities but I do go to rituals that include them as 'deities'.
 

Veritable Quandry

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Every University sophomore who discovers the thesaurus in Word. Every. Fucking. One.
 
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Myficals

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On the one hand, it can be annoying. On the other hand, semantic drift is how languages evolve and grow. And on the gripping hand, if the alternative is an Academie de France type situation, I can live with literally meaning figuratively.
 

Innula Zenovka

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It sometimes annoys me when "literally" is used to mean "figuratively," but I'm not going to argue with Neil Gaiman about English prose style.

I think my conclusion is that writers should be aware that some people don't like "literally" being used in anything other than the literal sense, partly because it lead to confusion and unintentionally comic results, and partly because they were taught not to use it that way (it's the sort of thing up with which they will not put, as Churchill might have said) and that lesser writers than Neil Gaiman should take care when using it to mean "figuratively."
 

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I'm not overscrupulous about it, but it bothers me sometimes. One of the biggest pet peeves is when a person uses "religious" when what they actually mean is "Christian". I'm a polytheistic Pagan and when debates about religion in public life are happening, no one is ever talking about any form of Paganism (or Hinduism or Shinto or African traditional and Diasporic traditions or...).
 

Kara Spengler

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On the one hand, it can be annoying. On the other hand, semantic drift is how languages evolve and grow. And on the gripping hand, if the alternative is an Academie de France type situation, I can live with literally meaning figuratively.
Yes, semantic drift happens. What I was getting at is when people lazily equate two words that do not mean the same thing. The chief examples I could think of with this are morals vs. ethics and spirituality vs. religion. Two concept pairs that I am seeing people be more and more lazy about so in order to have pretty much any discussion about them I will need to start with defining how I am using the terms.

For example, I recently have been watching a bunch of vids of some atheist call-in programs that touched on veganism. I was thinking about tossing my 2 cents in then realized I would first have to define how I see ethics and morals as two separate (albeit related) things. Oh, but wait, they would see me listed as an 'atheistic wiccan' on their list of calls and then I would also need to explain the difference between spirituality and religion. By the time I could actually get to talking about veganism we would have taken so many detours in the conversation my original point would be a bit moot as my time would have ran out (along with probably taking some hits to my credibility).
 

Kara Spengler

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I'm not overscrupulous about it, but it bothers me sometimes. One of the biggest pet peeves is when a person uses "religious" when what they actually mean is "Christian". I'm a polytheistic Pagan and when debates about religion in public life are happening, no one is ever talking about any form of Paganism (or Hinduism or Shinto or African traditional and Diasporic traditions or...).
English seems to be lazy this way, especially the american dialect. Where other languages are extremely precise we tend to round corners. Taking your example, it is not just informal speech. It is also places where exact meanings matter (legal documents, polls, etc).

This also crashes into my favourite pet peeve. For a long time hacking was roughly equivalent to the uk bodging. Then practically overnight it changed. Meaning you had people like me who grew up with it always being a positive term but were now faced with a world where it was being used as a negative one. Interestingly, bodging still has the same definition, it did not suffer the same fate.
 

NiranV Dean

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So does "You" which in english can address a single person and a group of people count as well? Because that was always my problem with english, this whole contextual meaning thing, one word for many meanings and depending on how it's phrased it gets a whole new meaning, sometimes 2 completely different meanings use the same word and only the rest of the sentence gives a hint as to what you actually mean.
 

Kara Spengler

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So does "You" which in english can address a single person and a group of people count as well? Because that was always my problem with english, this whole contextual meaning thing, one word for many meanings and depending on how it's phrased it gets a whole new meaning, sometimes 2 completely different meanings use the same word and only the rest of the sentence gives a hint as to what you actually mean.
It is not quite what I am getting at. That would be clusivity, have a look at number 2 in this video:


[BTW, Tom has a LOT of interesting vids .... he does not do the linguistics ones much anymore but has a good back catalog of them.]
 

NiranV Dean

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German:
Time-independence: Check... i think.

Clusivity: Check. What a nice word, spellcheck doesn't even recognize it.

Absolute Direction: Uhh. No? I mean you can totally use cardinal directions all the time but someone who doesn't know where North is will have an issue following unless you use cardinal directions relatively to you/your conversation partner. Like those pirates you count your steps with cardinal directions, only difference is that "South" is your South rather than the global South. You can say, turn south to tell someone to turn around 180° though or you can tell someone to turn West or East to tell him to turn left or right but that's something english can do too...i'm happy we don't do this... i wonder if they got a cardinal direction for Up and Down too? How do they play space games?!

Evidentiality: Question? Why is this important in a language... i mean do i get this right, he's saying that having an evidence as must is a good feature? How? I'd see it as a massive limitation if i couldn't say anymore that a sack of rice fell over in china just because neither me nor someone related to me can bring up any evidence that it actually happened. To an extend, wouldn't this totally destroy telling stories? Even as simple as stating a fact would become impossible unless you include that you saw/heard it or at least someone told/showed you...

But yea anyway, i'm sure i've seen many examples for this topic but i can't think of any words right now.
 

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Or, flip that around, and take two different words that mean the same thing: 'dived' and 'dove'. For me it's the latter, I grew up with it, prefer it, it feels right. The former? Fingernails on chalkboards... anytime I stumble across it in a book I have to put the book down for a minute, calmly consider that the author must have just grown up in part of the country that tolerates that kind of abomination.
 

NiranV Dean

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Ohboy the age old "past" form discussions. In german people stopped using the correct past versions because most of them sounded too far off of the original word and then people would look funny at you because they think you made that word up. Nowadays they'll just look funny at you because they think you must be as old as a fossil if you use those versions.
 

WolfEyes

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Except that is a spelling difference. I am talking about words of import to discussing things like philosophy losing their meaning.

Your and you are, are NOT spelling differences. They mean two different things. You are confusing you're with your.
 
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WolfEyes

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So does "You" which in english can address a single person and a group of people count as well? Because that was always my problem with english, this whole contextual meaning thing, one word for many meanings and depending on how it's phrased it gets a whole new meaning, sometimes 2 completely different meanings use the same word and only the rest of the sentence gives a hint as to what you actually mean.

It is the context in which the word is used that gives it the correct meaning. Misspellings aside.
 

NiranV Dean

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Your and you are NOT spelling differences. They mean two different things. You are confusing you're with your.
I think you meant "Your and you are ARE NOT spelling differences.

But that's why i brought it up. People think one means the other, it's a common mistake.
It is the context in which the word is used that gives it the correct meaning. Misspellings aside.
Also that's why it's so bad. You are trusting (i don't) in people that they get what you mean based on the context around the often absolutely crucial word. It's like playing lottery.
 
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