Sunday, January 27, 2008

Let's Use the Correct Words: A Few Definitions

One of the [damn' few] side benefits of moving from late middle age into *gulp* old age is that most folks are tolerant when you show your true colors as a surly curmudgeon. I admit to sometimes being one of them, nit-picky and downright persnickety. Other times I just can't be bothered. So sue me.

Anyhow, I thought to list some word usages that just irritate me. Do they make a LOT of difference in the long run? Probably not. I feel, however, that a person who speaks, and more particularly WRITES in an imprecise manner is a good deal less convincing than one who chooses his words carefully. Most egregious, perhaps, is when someone wants to be thought particularly knowledgeable, and makes a blatant error.

Some examples - -

I read a news account a few minutes ago, headlined, Girl's Leg Shattered by Round From AK-47. The story elaborates: . . . an 18-year-old at the party was showing off a semi-automatic rifle and that she was treated . . . After . . . she was hit by a round from an AK-47 assault rifle.

In this context, a “round” has a very specific meaning, usually synonymous with “cartridge.” For modern small arms, both mean a cartridge case holding primer, powder, and projectile, most commonly a single bullet.

“Assault rifle” has a specific meaning. It is a compact, selective-fire (full automatic or semiautomatic,) weapon chambered for an intermediate power cartridge. If the firearm is ONLY semi automatic, it fires one shot with one operation of the trigger, and is NOT an assault rifle. So, the unfortunate girl was wounded by a bullet fired from a semiautomatic rifle or carbine.

Clips and Magazines
Many of those reading this are aware of the difference between a clip and a magazine. For the benefit of those who do not, it doesn't hurt to run over it again.

Clip: A device to assist in loading the magazine of a firearm. Clips are usually made of bent sheet metal, only partially enclose the ammunition, and have no spring. They are typified by the

five round clips for the '98 Mauser, Springfield 1903, and numerous other rifles, used to load the internal magazine and then discarded.

The M1 Garand rifle uses an eight-round en-bloc clip which is loaded into, and remains inside, the internal magazine.
Certain revolvers may also be loaded with clips of various sizes.

A magazine completely encloses the ammunition it holds and almost always has an internal spring to feed the ammunition. Most bolt action rifles use an enclosed box-type magazine.

Most lever action rifles and many .22 rimfire rifles have a tubular magazine beneath the barrel.

Practically all modern semiautomatic handguns utilize a detachable box magazine.

Many rifles, submachine guns, and light machine guns use the detachable box as well, which may or may not be loaded with the use of clips.
Taking Casualties
It is common to read or or to hear in a movie or tv program, someone speaking of a certain group being “decimated.” This is bad enough, if the word is used correctly, for it means that ten per cent of them were killed or otherwise made casualties. If ALL or nearly all of a group, detachment, unit, village, etc., are KIA or WIA, it is probably more correct to speak of them being annihilated. The term massacre is used in so many ways as to be very imprecise but usually refers to a lesser degree of carnage.

To decimate comes from the Latin Decimatio, a Roman punishment in which every 10th man in a unit would be put to death by the men who were spared. Thus, decimation refers to ten per cent, no more and no less.
That's probably enough for this time. I'll likely revisit this theme as the mood strikes me. Let me know in Comments if you have any particular peeves with our language.


Don Gwinn said...

"Decimate" drives me around the bend, too, but I'll admit that I've always used "round" for both the cartridge and the bullet. "Sending rounds downrange" and the like, you know.

The only other one that occurs to me off the top of my head is "literally."

A lot of people "literally" don't know what "literally" means, and they throw in "literally" with their figurative language because they figure it just means "a whole bunch."

"You know, I'm literally starving to death. Where's lunch?"

No, sir, you are not literally starving to death. You are figuratively starving to death as a way to illustrate that you are feeling mild hunger pangs. If there were any justice, you would literally get a backhand across your face . . . . but the hell of it is, if I were to hit you for what you've done, I'd be the one going to jail.

KD5NRH said...

"Investigators are calling the shooting accidental. The 18-year-old has not been charged in the case. The Sarpy County attorney is trying to determine whether charges should be filed."

Gee, it only took me a couple of minutes to figure out:
Nebraska Revised Statutes 28-309:
(1) A person commits the offense of assault in the second degree if he or she:
(b) Recklessly causes serious bodily injury to another person with a dangerous instrument;

Seth from Massachusetts said...

I have two pet peeves on this topic. Use of the the word shell to mean both loaded cartridges and spent cartridge cases.

My main complaint is "Unique". Unique is an absolute. It means "there is nothing else like it". Therfore, one cannot use terms like "rather unique", "very unique" or "somewhat unique". Either something is unique or it is not.

SpeakerTweaker said...

It drives most everyone I work with bugnuts, but I have the same problem. In my industry, you say/order/install the wrong thing, and a several hundred-thousand dollar system becomes a huge boat anchor.

It also drives The Wifey nuts, too, as I tend to nit-pick the heck out of movies/TV shows when it comes to firearms. She hates that.

Unfortunately for me, it is rarely if ever tolerated from the youngest guy in the group. It used to come across as arrogant.

I believe, as the saying goes, that you are damned if you do and damned if you don't.


Seth from Massahcusetts said...

And you mentioned Massacre. I believe it correctly means that one side is completey helpless. Therefore, Custer was not maccassacred. He sought battle and lost fair and square.

Assrot said...

Great information. I wish everyone knew this, especially the news media loonies that want to grandstand about every time someone shoots even a BB gun through a window.

I especially like your clarification of the term "assault rifle". It seems that journalists, news commentators and ALL of the gun bandemonium crowd have a very poor understanding of the difference between an assault rifle and a semi-automatic rifle.


Jay G said...

Mayhem. Mayhem is a specific offense involving the unwanted removal of limbs.

Yet the term has become generalized to mean pretty much any instance of folks run amok...

Don Gwinn said...

Submitted this day for your approval: "Versing."

Verse: Verb To oppose in a fight, argument, or contest of any kind. e.g. "This year the Giants are versing the Patriots in the Super Bowl!"

See, if there is such a verb as "verses" in the present tense ("D.C. verses Heller today in the Supreme Court") then according to context clues, it must be a synonym for "opposes" or "plays against." Therefore, it stands to reason that the past tense must be "versed" and the present progressive third-person must be "is versing."

It all makes logical sense, actually, if you've never seen the word "versus" in print.

JPG said...

Uh, Don? You had me going for a minute there. You wrote that so convincingly, I thought there might well be a definition for “verse” with which I was unfamiliar. I'd seen such phrases as "D.C. verses Heller” and had gone right along, figuring someone was simply misspelling the word versus. But then I started reading your comment, and you really made me doubt myself.

For the record, I will vehemently verse this becoming common usage.
And yes, I did look it up – or try to – before writing this comment. ;-)


Roberta X said...

How about "enormity?" Nearly always misused as if it meant "enormousness," which it does not. An "enormity" is a huge *evil.* Drives me up th' wall!

Anonymous said...

Most of the comments here (and at least one example in the original post) disregard consistent usages since hundreds of years ago.

This is a prescriptive linguistic analysis versus descriptive linguistic analysis argument. ("verses," if you prefer!)

Insisting that a particular usage is not merely non-standard but is in fact wrong when it has been used with the respective meaning for centuries not only comes across as arrogant, it also distracts from genuine mistakes, such as the common mistaken usage of "literal," for example. Next time, look your word up in the dictionary to be sure.

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