Words worth defending -- and a new place to do it

There are words that few of us use, and there are others that many misuse. When I worked as an editor at wire services and newspapers, I strove to see them used correctly. Now, as a reader and a more independent writer, I think of myself as defending words.

Words worth defending don’t get out much. They need help. They need readers like you and writers like me.

One word to defend is on a sign in an Edgewater parking lot. The sign reads, in part,

“This surface is pervious concrete pavement

No sealcoat or overlay is to be used”

and then it gives a number to call for information.

That sign catches my eye most times I pass it, and not just for its lack of punctuation. I love that wonderful word, “pervious.” It took a second glance to remind myself that it’s the opposite of a more common word, “impervious,” or impenetrable (according to the biggest book in my apartment, Webster’s New Twentieth Century Dictionary). I looked up “pervious,” and it was there, too: from the Latin per, through, and via, way, “allowing passage through… having a mind open to influence, argument, or suggestion… in zoology, perforate or open, as the nostrils of birds.”

“Pervious” even shows up in Ch. 14 of “Jane Eyre,” by Charlotte Br0nte. Edward Rochester describes himself as “hard and tough as an Indian-rubber ball; pervious, though, through a chink or two still, and with one sentient point in the middle of the lump.”

Finding that quotation reminded me of that lovely word “sentient,” too. (Thanks, Charlotte.) My dictionary defines it as “having, capable of feeling or perception; conscious” or simply “the mind.”

So this new blog will be a new place to defend words — to use words that don’t get used often; to see that they are used properly; to enjoy the precise ideas behind precisely used words.

Sometimes what I’ll be defending is the difference between words — such as “lectern” and “podium,” for instance. When I read or hear about someone leaning on a podium, I picture him sprawled on the floor to do it. After all, podium is the word for where your feet go. If you hurt your foot on the edge of a podium, you go to the podiatrist — the same root word, to do with feet. Conversely, I flinch if I read or hear about some speaker standing on the lectern. I hope his balance is better than mine, because the lectern is where the lecture notes go. Again, the root is the clue. “Lectern” seems to need more defending, but once you get that picture of a speaker leaning on the podium because he’s sprawled on the floor, it’s easy.

So welcome to Margaret Serious, the blog for words and their languages. Feel free to share a few favorite words of your own and make your defenses for them.

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Filed under: Words Worth Defending


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