Sunday, April 12, 2009

A touch of irony ... Safire consults Zimmer

Safire this morning does not doing do or rather not doing don't do, here. (It's worth looking at for the graphic, which comes through better on-line than in print, I think.) As he does pretty often now, he consults an expert:
It struck me that this latest fad use of do was rooted in the stern warning of the prospective maid (later domestic servant, later domestic worker, now cleaning lady): “I don’t do windows.” I ran this speculation past Ben Zimmer of, who replied: “I think your hunch is correct about the provenance of the ‘I don’t do X’ phrasal template. There must have been a major influence from the stereotypical maid’s stipulation, ‘I don’t do windows,’ which attained catchphrase status by the mid-1970s as a staple of sitcoms and cartoons.”
Each time Safire consults a real expert, I'm torn between being glad he's getting help and being disappointed that the actual expert doesn't have his high-profile slot. But at least we have, which brought this yesterday:
Word Nerd Word of the Day
If you can make this one slide off your tongue without blinking you're probably a genuine word nerd: it denotes the quality (in words) of having more than one sense or meaning. The Greek roots (poly, "many," and sema, "sign") are scattered all over English.
Image from, where else?, MIT.


The Ridger, FCD said...

What degree of nerdiness is it that I said "polly-semmy" for years before finding out it's puh-liss-uhmee (or polly-seemee)?

Mr. Verb said...

An increasing degree?

Wordacious said...

Polysemy is much more fun than homonymy (especially for word play).