Thursday, June 18, 2009

Thursday Pet Peeves

I haven't done these in a while.

Prostrate/prostate

I don't want to hear about prostrate cancer. And I don't want to hear that people prostated themselves before their leader. I don't even want to think about what that would look like.

Prostrate has an extra "r" in it. Prostate doesn't. They are two different words with two very different meanings. So, if I look up something with the word prostrate on google.com, I don't want to be asked, "Did you mean prostate?" and then find myself staring at a bunch of links on the prostate gland. See?



I understand that Google is counting on people misspelling or misusing the word, but still ...

A search for prostrate on The Free Dictionary even brings up ads for prostate-related sites. Only one of them mentions "prostrate cancer."



Prostrate (with the second "r"), according to the American Heritage Dictionary, Fourth Edition, means "to put or throw flat with face down, as in submission or adoration." Think of Muslims praying.

The word itself comes from Latin pro- ("forward") + sternere ("to spread, cast down"). Other words stemming from "sternere" include stratum and street. A strata is a layer of something. We usually think of layers as horizontal, or spread across a space. A street is stretched or extended across the ground. So you can see how the original meaning "spreads" into these other words.

Prostate (without the second "r"), on the other hand, refers to the prostate gland. It's the word that's so often paired with cancer, as prostate cancer is a significant threat for older men. The "pro" of the word comes from Greek pro- ("in front"), while the second half of the word comes from the Greek histanai ("to set, place"). So prostate literally means "set in front" or "placed in front."

In male mammals, the prostate gland surrounds the neck of the bladder. So I guess it's right to refer to it as the, er, "set-in-front" gland.

So, I'm sorry for anyone who has prostate cancer. But please don't try to talk to me about prostrate cancer. If you do, I'm going to ask you how it might be possible that one gets cancer from getting on your knees and bowing to the ground.

OK, on to the next pet peeve o' day:

Ultimate/penultimate

Why do people confuse these words? What are they thinking? "Oh, penultimate sounds like ultimate, and it sounds ... bigger! better! fancier! So it must mean 'really ultimate'!" (Note I didn't write "uber-ultimate," as "uber" is another big pet peeve of mine these days.)

No, penultimate doesn't mean "really ultimate" (or uber-ultimate). It means "next to last." I know this word from linguistics--the next-to-last syllable of a word is the penultimate syllable. The third-to-last syllable, by the way, is the antepenultimate syllable, "ante" meaning "before."

Ultimate, of course, has several meanings, one of which is "being last in a series, process, or progression" (from the American Heritage Dictionary, Fourth Edition). Sure, it can also mean "biggest," "greatest," or "utmost." But the term penultimate is related to that first definition of ultimate. Penultimate, by the way, comes from the Latin paene ("almost") + ultimus ("last").

So please, use your ultimates correctly. I think I'm going to have to give the ultimate dirty look to the next person who uses penultimate as an intensified version of ultimate.

End of pet-peeve rant.

5 comments:

  1. One I hear around the office way to much is exponentially. If something is say 24% faster, it is not exponentially faster.

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  2. Irregardless, exponentially more people don't know no better and could care less.

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  3. Have you ever been to the pubic library? Would you want to?

    Also, what about a re-occurring meeting? Personally, I hate re-occurring meetings.

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  4. My peeve - the use of irregardless rather than using the proper term regardless.

    ReplyDelete