22 Mar
This ship was floundering. Now it has foundered. AImage by snip view.com
This ship was floundering. Now it has foundered. Image by snipview.com

Last week, I wrote about words that many smart people are saying the wrong way, either by transposing letters or syllables or adding letters or completely mispronouncing the word. I promised more in this blog so here we go, starting with a phrase that makes me cringe–“should have went.”

It’s never “SHOULD HAVE WENT.” The correct phrase is “Should have gone.” I don’t know how the first version gained such wide usage but I hear it frequently on talk and sports radio and sometimes (arrrghh) on cable newscasts. Shame on the newsreaders! People watch TV, hear them say “should have went” and they trust them, so viewers think it’s right. Without going to grammar rules that are boring, just know that “should have+verb” is used for something that happened in the past.

I go: I am going; I went; I have gone (to that place before); I should have gone.

“He should have gone to second base but the coach didn’t wave him in.”

“They could have gone to Mexico City but they chose Panama instead.”

EXACERBATE- [ig- ZAS-er-beyt] http://www.dictionary.com/browse/exacerbate?s=t

I suggest not using this word unless you have it down pat! It’s over-used and sounds slightly elitist, as if you’re trying to sound more intelligent. It simply means “to worsen” or “intensify” or “irritate.” I hear [ee-RAS-per-ATE; ee-SASS-er-bait; and [ee-ASK-er-bait] among other twists. It just gets worse.

EXTANT– This word became popular with the beginning of the TV series of the same name. It means “still in existence” or “surviving” and that “survival” aspect is important. It’s not something that simply exists but something that has survived, as in the opposite of “extinct.” Pronounce it as [ek stunt] or [ik –stant] with equal emphasis on both syllables.

FOUNDER / FLOUNDER- You definitely know the difference between these two words when they are used as nouns. One is a fish and the other is someone who gets something started like a company or a cause. As verbs, the two terms are much different.

To flounder means to struggle, or blunder, or be in big trouble. To founder means it’s all over. You have failed.

“He was out of breath and dehydrated as he floundered up a steep trail in the middle of nowhere.”

“A flounder that Jimmy hooked and reeled in floundered on the deck of the boat but it wasn’t dead yet.”

“Negotiations between Japan and North Korea foundered at the last minute.”

FURTHER/ FARTHER– You know how to pronounce them but these words have different meanings. Farther refers to distance. Further refers to time, amount or quantity. When in doubt, think of the word “more” when using “further.”

“I don’t think I can go any farther.”

“He’s only seven but he can hit the ball farther than that 12-year-old.”

“Do we really need to discuss this further?”

“We don’t expect any further delays.”

See more in Elements of Style by Strunk and White, the Bible of grammar geeks worldwide.

REPUDIATE/ REFUDIATE– To repudiate something is to reject or disown it, to disapprove or deny. Dictionary.com refers to “refudiate” as non-standard English. In 2010, Sarah Palin used “refudiate” in several interviews and in social media when she meant ‘REPUDIATE.” One little letter can make a big difference.

Sarah Palin caricature Image by good mart.com
Sarah Palin caricature
Image by good mart.com

HEINOUS– Pronounced [HEY-nuhs] this is an adjective that means reprehensible, wicked, or hateful, and is often used in connection with a crime as in a “heinous offense.” If you saw the movie “My Cousin Vinny,” you may recall the attorney Jim Trotter, played by the late Lane Smith, announce to the court “HI-anus!” to emphasize the word. It was wrong, of course but provided a laughable moment.

HEIGHT– Smart people are still putting an “h” on the end of this word. It rhymes with “kite.” Breadth, depth and width have an “h” at the end. “Height” does not.

MEME– [MEEM] Pronounced with two long Es. Internet and social media users know this but for those who do not use Pintrest or Facebook, and studied French, this is not “la même chose as même” which is pronounced [mem].

NICHE- You’ll be happy to hear that reliable sources suggest either [NEESH] or [NICH] is fine.

SHERBET- This one is going to be a problem over the next decade. It’s pronounced [SHUR-BIT] but somehow, we slip in that extra “r” and say “sher-bert” which is becoming accepted usage. Just eat ice cream or gelato and you won’t have to say it at all.

I almost forgot that French expression, “Avoir L’esprit d’Escalier” (or esprit de l’escalier) which translates to “wit of the staircase.” When we use it in English, it means that awkward moment when you think of the perfect “witty” reply to a statement, but not in time. You should have said it while you were on that staircase, there in the limelight, the way TV writers make their characters sound because they (the writers) have time to think about the script.

Try it like this: [ess-CALee-YAE]. Slur the “CALee” with the “yae” (rhymes with “hay”) and you’ve got it.

Everyone knows “esprit” [ess-PREE) from “Esprit de corps.” There is also a furniture company in Virginia called Esprit Decor–pronounced the same as “de corps.” I have no affiliation but admire the clever play on words.  It’s that “l’escalier” that gets you.  Try it like this: [ess-CALee-YAE]. Slur the “CALee” with the “yae” (rhymes with “hay”) and you’ve got it. I apologize for not being able to offer you a vocal version but visit www.dictionary.com and type it in. Click on the microphone and you’ll hear it. If you’re interested in other French idioms or all things French, follow Camille Chevalier-Karfis at www.french.about.com.

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