or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

I Object

A couple days ago, The Consumerist printed a story about a newspaper taking outsourcing to the extreme by outsourcing its writing, and if you couldn't tell that the following couple of paragraphs were written by someone whose first language is something other than English, then you have just not been paying attention.

It is quite surprising that a Utah boy is trying his best to set a record by covering his entire face with as many live snails as possible. This 11-year-old boy named Fin Keheler had the guts to allow a whole bunch of 43 slimy mollusks to be put on his face on Saturday. He demands that his effort should be recognized by the Guinness Book of World Records.

The official Web site of Guinness World Records claims that the initial record that was set in 2007 was of holding eight snails for 10 seconds. While this little boy claims that he always knew that the record was around 36. On Saturday, the young boy Fin tried making around three attempts and the ones which remained on the face for the minimum of 10 seconds were considered.

Not news style, that's for sure. Composed almost entirely of unnecessary and opinionated modifiers ("quite surprising"), sentence fragments ("While this little boy...."), bizarre and mangled colloquialisms ("a whole bunch of 43 slimy mollusks"), inappropriate verbs ("demands"), and oddities that no native speaker would ever, ever produce ("the young boy Fin"), it's practically an anti-style guide.


Also in The Consumerist: fear-mongering! Swimming pools are out to kill you! Another reason not to swim. (W. C. Fields: "I never drink water because fish fuck in it.")

What actually caught my eye was the comments section: someone meant to say "demur", but they wrote "demure" instead. Fine; people make mistakes all the time, and I'm not going to single them out. What struck me was the sudden conviction that "demur" and "demure" couldn't possibly be related, despite the fact that you could, if you had to, cobble together a joint provenance--you could be acting demure while you politely demur.

They're not related, I was unsurprised to learn. "Demur" means "to raise an objection; to take exception to", but it didn't always. It started out meaning "to linger; to hesitate; to delay", and it is French, as you may have surmised, from "demorer", "to delay, to retard", in turn from Latin "mora", "a pause, a delay". ("Mora" made it into English in a very limited and specialized way: it is the length of a beat or a syllable in poetry.)

"Demure" is also from French--again, no surprise--and its meaning has also changed over the centuries. It now means "shy and modest, perhaps affectedly so", but it once meant "gravely polite". It comes from Old French "meur", "discreet, grave, mature", which in turn comes from (yes, again) Latin "maturus", with an obvious meaning. (The "de-" at the beginning is a bit of a puzzle but seems to be an intensifier.)


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