Errors and Omissions: When words acquire new meanings, it's best not to stand in the way

Our peerless pedant reviews this week's Independent

Share
Related Topics

A Comment piece in last Saturday’s paper discussed British nostalgia for the two world wars. It quoted a historian who had “suggested that in many minds the two wars are elided”. Laurie van Someren writes in to point out that the word “elide” implies a gap, not a union.

That is true. “Elide” is a term in grammar. It means to omit, to disregard or slide over a letter, syllable or word. But it is also true that in recent years the word has acquired a new meaning: to blur the distinction between two or more things. The fact is that outside the technical language of grammar, we don’t need “elide” in its original meaning of “omit”.

We already have “omit” for that. But we do have a use for a verb that means to smear things together so that although each maintains its identity the boundary between them is no longer discernible. It looks as if we are deciding to use “elide” in that role. To stand in the way would be pedantry.

Baby talk: “A vaccine against a bug that causes diarrhoea is to be introduced from next September. All babies will be routinely offered the vaccine against rotavirus from two months old.” And then the babies will presumably give their consent, or alternatively explain to the doctors why they don’t want the vaccine.

No, obviously the offer of the vaccine will be made to the parents of the babies. This news report, which appeared last Saturday, is an example of what can happen when a term of art leaks into everyday discourse. Medical professionals speak of a procedure being “offered” to the patient, but when the patient is two months old, it sounds silly to the general reader.

Cold water: “Any optimism inspired by last month’s unexpectedly healthy growth figures has been thoroughly dowsed by the string of more downbeat indicators that have followed.” So said a leading article on Thursday. Bob Lowrie writes to point out that “dowsed” should be “doused”. There is some shifting between “ou” and “ow”. Jane Austen, for instance, clothes the nether regions of her male characters in “trowsers”.

But “dowse” and “douse” are two distinct words, though the dictionary has little to say about the origins of either. Both are connected with water. “Douse” means to plunge something into water and make it thoroughly wet; “dowse” means to use a divining rod to find underground sources of water.

Too soon: A theatre review published on Thursday began: “In this much-anticipated follow-up to …” The writer clearly meant “eagerly awaited”. To anticipate something is not merely to expect it to happen, but to take some action in that expectation. If you anticipate your opponent’s attack, you may succeed in warding it off. If you anticipate your next pay cheque you will fall into debt. It is a useful word to have, and it would be a pity to kill it by misuse.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Opilio Recruitment: QA Automation Engineer

£30k - 38k per year + Benefits: Opilio Recruitment: An award-winning consume...

Opilio Recruitment: UX & Design Specialist

£40k - 45k per year + Benefits: Opilio Recruitment: A fantastic opportunity ...

Opilio Recruitment: Publishing Application Support Analyst

£30k - 35k per year + Benefits: Opilio Recruitment: We’re currently re...

Opilio Recruitment: Digital Marketing Manager

£35k - 45k per year + benefits: Opilio Recruitment: A fantastic opportunity ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
A Pokot woman holds a razor blade after performing a circumcision on four girls  

The campaigns to end FGM are a welcomed step, but they don't go far enough

Charlotte Rachael Proudman
Our political system is fragmented, with disillusioned voters looking to the margins for satisfaction  

Politics of hope needed to avert flight to margins

Liam Fox
Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

Christmas Appeal

Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

Is it always right to try to prolong life?

Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

What does it take for women to get to the top?

Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

French chefs campaign against bullying

A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
Paul Scholes column: I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season

Paul Scholes column

I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
Lewis Moody column: Stuart Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

Lewis Moody: Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

So what must the red-rose do differently? They have to take the points on offer 
Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

Sarkozy returns

The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game