Dr. Goodword’s Language Blog

Archive for December, 2009

Making Love

Friday, December 18th, 2009

I was listening to “Siriusly Sinatra” yesterday when they played Jo Stafford singing Make Love to Me, one of her big hits in the mid-50s. The song struck me as a little raunchy, a sense quite out of place in a song so simple and simplistic.

As I tried to resolve this conflict of impressions, it dawned on me that “make love” means something quite different today than it meant in the mid-50s. Back then this phrase referred only to making out, canoodling, petting, cuddling up with someone you love, just hugging and kissing.

So what happened? Well, the pill happened and the major impediment to “going all the way” melted away. As it did, it pushed the meaning of “make love” all the way to what it implies today.  Very different notions of boy-girl relationships.

In our Good Word series, I like words that tell us things about ourselves and our history. Words that reflect our prejudices, values, and ideas and especially how they change. Since this is a phrase, I decided that the blog is a better place to mention this one.

If iff is a Word, I’m a . . .

Tuesday, December 15th, 2009

Roanne Butier recently brought this questioni to my attention:

“The Scrabble dictionary contains the “word” iff. They say it’s a conjunction meaning “if and only if”. That makes no sense to me. If you speak a sentence using iff, no one could tell if you mean if or iff. You could only use it in writing. I can’t believe it’s really a word. Your comments please.”

Only mathematicians and the philosophers of logic use iff. It is not a word but an abbreviation of the phrase you quoted used only in formal logic: if and only if. As you can see, it comprises the first two letters and the final letter of the phrase.

Iff should be allowed as a Scrabble word only to the extent abbreviations are allowed. I don’t think they are. Words have pronunciations and this one doesn’t in the sense that no one pronounces it [if]; it is used only in writing. When logicians use it in speech, they always say, “if and only if”.

Perambulating Perambulators

Monday, December 14th, 2009

I’ve been terribly negligent of the Language Blog. My apologies, though I’m afraid the Christmas holidays will not make things any easier. Faye and I are traveling to Colorado where we will be taking the grandchildren out to high tea and their first performance of “The Nutcracker” by the Colorado Ballet.

However, yesterday’s Good Word perambulate brought out such a good story from Eileen Opiolka that I must drop everything and report it. Eileen wrote:

“Today’s good word [perambulate] reminded me of my husband’s first visit to Cambridge’s colleges over 30 years ago. In those days his Latin was stronger than his English, so when he saw the notice “No perambulators”, he docilely decided not to go in. Pity!”

I consider this evidence that a vocabulary too large is as liable to mishap as one too small. Anyway, I presume this incident did not preclude Eileen and her husband to eventually meet and, no double, perambulate many times together.