Choosing the right word
My whine is about the loss of precise meanings in our language.
For instance, “house” and “home” are not synonymous because a house is just bricks and mortar, whereas a home is where the heart is and it is a word with strong emotional baggage.
Investors and builders cannot build a home because they are not responsible for the lives of the people who live in their constructions, unless of course the buyers are also owner occupiers.
While I have to concede that language is not set in stone and that it must be allowed to evolve, the loss of subtleties and nuances of meaning is painful. When I moved from England to Australia in 1972, I was shocked to see that real estate agents in Sydney were in the business of selling homes. I wondered if happy families were included in the sale!
I have similar feelings about the word “kill” being used by journalists in cases where no homicide is involved.
People die in floods but are killed in wars, and the word kill evokes a feeling of outrage, where accidental death (unless preventable) does not, or less so. As an engineer, I consider the meaning of a sentence according to the rules of algebra. For instance, “not all are equal” means the same as “some” or “many are equal”, but “all are not equal” means “none are equal”.
“Only” often suffers from being placed so far away from the word or number to which it refers that the meaning is difficult to determine.
“Regular” means “at equally spaced intervals”. If I say I go shopping regularly, it could mean every five minutes or every five years.
“Regular” is not a synonym for “frequent” or “often”.
In a similar manner, we seem to have lost the word “various” to describe a set of items that we do not wish to particularise.
When “different” is used in this context it looks like laziness because we cannot be bothered to spell out what the differences are!
There are many other cases of apparently synonymous words evoking different responses, but journalists in particular seem to have no story these days unless they use the more shocking term.
But the expressions that really get my goat are of the type “one of the greatest”.
There can be only one greatest of a set of items! What happened to “very”?
I would be happy with “one of the very great” if the subject does not allow of more precision.