or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Friday, December 11, 2009

All Over the Place

You don't expect corporate communications to be models of clarity and good writing--not if you don't want to be severely disappointed--but sometimes they seem to go out of their way to produce head-slapping dismay ("impact" as a verb and its hideous spinoffs like "impactfulness") or mirth. Every week, the company for which I work puts out a sort of newsletter full of depressing information about upcoming promotions, ways we can more efficiently separate the customers from their money, and exhortations to sell sell sell. I'm probably the only person who reads it, less for the news it provides than for the unintended laughs. Such as this, from a 'tis-the-season piece about ways to "protect our most important asset, [company] associates":

Be aware of your surroundings. If something does not seem right or someone is lurching around your shopping center, stay safe and determine if police need to be called.

I would think that if someone were lurching around the shopping centre, you might call an ambulance rather than the police (unless we're talking zombies, in which case all bets are off).

A long time ago I wrote about pairs of words that end in "-ch" and "-k" and are related, and do I even need to say that "lurch" and "lurk" are not one of those pairs? Mix them up and hilarity ensues!

For the history of "lurch", the misused word, I cannot do better than the Online Etymology Dictionary, without which I would be lost: "sudden pitch to one side," 1819 (in Byron's "Don Juan"), from earlier lee-larch (1769), a nautical term for "sudden violent roll to leeward which a ship often takes in a high sea," perhaps from Fr. lacher "to let go," from L. laxus. From this sense of pitching and rolling we get the extended sense of "a staggering, stumbling gait".*

"Lurk", the intended word, comes from somewhere else altogether: it is actually related to "lower" in the sense of "to be threatening; to glower".

Me, I would have avoided the problem altogether by using "skulk", which is a bit closer to the mark than "lurk", since the former suggests stealthy and suspicious movement while the latter carries within it a sense of both motionlessness and careful hiding, which may be suspicious but is less so (and by design less noticeable) than active skulking.

* The observant will have observed that there is another "lurch" in English, in the sense of "leave someone in the lurch", and this is a whole different word with a whole different etymology, this one possibly related to or influenced by "lurk"; it's from a backgammon-ish French game called "lourche".


Blogger D.J. said...

Hee! So in this entry we get not only "lurch," but also "skulk." Maybe it's just me, but I find these to be two of the sillier words in the English language. By the time I got to the end of the post I was giggling.

And yes, when you pair up "lurch" with "shopping center," I'm going to go directly to Romero, neither passing Go nor collecting $200.

I've long held the minority opinion that Andie MacDowell can be forgiven for the end of _Four Weddings and a Funeral_ because of her work with the word "skulk" in the first act.

Saturday, December 12, 2009 9:09:00 AM  
Blogger pyramus said...

I thought of "Dawn of the Dead" too when thinking of lurching around shopping malls. But at this time of year, there's a lot of that going on.

As for "Four Weddings", I haven't seen that in years and years, so I don't remember the use of the word "skulk", but frankly, between that and "Groundhog Day", I will forgive Andie MacDowell a whole lot.

Monday, December 14, 2009 1:59:00 PM  

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