Sunday, June 10, 2007

Curses that come true, and those that don't

I know a woman who, after being dumped unceremoniously by a boyfriend, cursed the guy: "You'll end up a lonely old man one day." Decades later, she seems saddened at the fact that it's come true.

When, some weeks ago, I broke off things with Safire, I didn't drop a big curse on him, but I did call him "a bug stuck in amber, … never moving for all eternity." Well, maybe he is moving, but if so, it's in the worst possible direction …

Today's Safire column (don't worry we're not going there: no linguistic content to speak of, beyond a definition of hypocoristic) focuses on terms like hottie and stud muffin, after an opening riff on British to hot up. Sorry, but that's just somehow not age-appropriate vocabulary coming from him.

The facing page to the print edition of his column has a Campari ad that looks like it was designed to fit the topic — featuring Salma Hayek in a low-cut black dress. This makes it far worse.

The last thing we need is an image of Safire as leering old man.


Wishydig said...

Interesting side note to Safire's claims. I'll provide the relevant snippets from Safire's piece and Barrett's response on his own blog.

Hottie is not spelled with a y because -ie, the lexicographer Grant Barrett informs me, 'is a classic diminutive or hypocoristic ending used for terms of endearment'

Barrett's response:
The part in quotations is indeed what I told him and his lexical assistant, Juliet Mohnkern, but what comes before I did not say, because both -y and -ie are classic diminutive and hypocoristic endings, with -y being more common.

(emphases is Barrett's)

Is Safire trying for incompetence?

Mr. Verb said...

Yeah, well, isn't that typical. It's hard to be THIS wrong THIS often if you're not trying.

jangari said...

And then there was this:

The source [of 'hottie/hotty'] is probably American. It was popularized in 1987 in the song “Go See the Doctor,” by the hip-hop artist Kool Moe Dee.

1987? I doubt that. I also doubt that it's peculiarly American. I haven't got any evidence for this whatsoever, but I'd have thought that the extension of 'hot' to matters aesthetic was primary, after which it was further extended (or broadened, if you prefer) to excellence in any field. I think both of these senses predate Kool Moe Dee by a long shot.

Ah, I see now where he got that. It's the first quotation listed in the OED, which he appears to equate with the 'originator' of the use.

I see also that it refers to 'hottie' as a hot-water bottle, as its primary sense no less. This is probably why Safire puts in that whole paragraph on where hottie began. Does he intend to imply that a hottie as in a good-looking person is derived from a hot-water bottle? Even mediocre users of a dictionary know that's a fallacy.

That's sloppy journalism.

Wishydig said...

Safire likes to use first dates in the OED as proof of the actual birth date of a word.

See the post on this very blog from a few weeks ago regarding "you're welcome."

It's just lazy scholarship. Well it's not even scholarship. It's just lazy.

Mr. Verb said...

Yeah, it's just hard to believe at some level, and pretty depressing.