Mental Floss

Weekend Word Wrap: when words get in the way

David K. Israel

I know I have a problem with the incorrect use of certain words. Were there a support group for my ilk "“ that is, people who have a hard time watching/listening as others mangle the language -- I'd not only be a charter member, I'd probably be president of the board. I've devoted many Word Wrap posts over the last year to this or that offender, this or that offense. (Check out the Word Wrap archives in the side bar for multiple examples.) Today's post is yet one more in that series, where I unload my frustration on you loyal wRap Readers looking for sympathy and perhaps a few more examples of such blasphemy; a post that has to do with intention and meaning - words that are meant to say one thing, but wind up saying something else entirely. For example, here's a setup:

I'm getting ready to jump in the pool for a swim. There's already someone in the lane, so I politely inquire: "Do you mind if I share the lane with you?" To which the guy in the pool says, "Sure!"

So did he mean "Sure I mind. Can you please wait til I'm done?" or did he think I asked, "Can I share the lane with you?" instead of "Do you mind if I share the lane with you?" I'm, of course, left to decide what to do based on intonation and body language. And although I guess it's okay to jump in, my swim is now ruined as I spend the next 20 minutes wondering whether or not I'm bothering the swimming dolt as I share his lane.
There you have it: words that not only get in the way, but also get my goat.