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I’m just here to quickly express a little gripe I have. It may seem like nitpicking but it ruffles my feathers when people use the word “inception” to mean something multi-faceted. Even little amalgamations like “forkception” annoy me because they operate on the misunderstanding of the actual word, inception. No, it does not mean mind fucked, or something in something in something, or confusing or anything close to those. Inception is, quite simply, a noun denoting the start/beginning/commencement of something. To my great anguish, dictionary.com has now included this definition due to the movie’s popularity:

3. (in science fiction) the act of instilling an idea into someone’s mind by entering his or her dreams.

I just want everyone to know that definition is wrong, and if it ever becomes an acceptable usage of the word inception, it will be due to society’s overarching ignorance of the English language forcing academics to bow to stupidity and amend definitions (much the same way “swag” is constantly used incorrectly).

So yes, everyone is doing it. Stand out by being one of the few intellectuals that realises everyone is wrong.

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The English language is full of strange idioms, many of them that we use without understanding how that phrase came to being. I only have time for a few but I might add more later. Let’s take a look at them shall we?

Train of thought: The process and direction of one’s thoughts

From the early 14th century, the word “train” meant a “drawing out or delay” of something. In the mid-15th century, the word evolved to include a “retinue or procession”. The first example of the term “train of thought” was attested in the 1650s whereas the first use of the word “train” in the sense of a locomotive. As a result, the idiom “train of thought” has nothing to do with trains (the transport) and is more likely to derive from a “delay” of a “procession” of “thought” (hence losing your train of thought).

Cup of Joe: Coffee

There are a few theories on this one. I’ll talk about the two most popular ones here.

The first is attributed to Secretary of the US Navy, Josephus Daniels (1862-1948), for banning all US Navy ships from serving alcoholic beverages. As a result, sailors resorted to the next strongest drink: coffee.

The second is a reference to a “cup of jamoke” as coffee is a compound of Java and Mocha. The term jamoke has been used in popular culture before, hence a “cup of joe” being derived from a “cup of jamoke”.

Beat About/Around the Bush: To avoid getting to the point

The earliest example of this term was recorded around 1440 in the poem Generydes – A Romance in Seven-line Stanzas. 

Butt as it hath be sayde full long agoo,
Some bete the bussh and some the byrdes take.

This anonymous poem exists only as a single handwritten manuscript in the library of the Trinity College and Cambridge. The implication of this was that it was worse to “bete the bussh” than to “take the byrdes”. The next earliest example of the modern day phrasing of the term can be found in George Gascoigne’s Works, 1572.

He bet about the bush, whyles other caught the birds.

Technically, the correct phrase, if you stick to the origins of the word, would be “beat about the bush” but the incorrect US version took over in around 1980 so now most people say “beat around the bush”.

Gung Ho: Over-enthusiastic attitude towards doing something

This word was adapted from the Chinese military motto meaning “work together” (the word being kung ho). Lt. Col. Evans Carlson used this term frequently during World War II, where he would hold gung-ho meetings for his troops. They would discuss their problems and orders at these meetings. The expression became even more popular after the movie Gung Ho! in 1943 depicting a marine who did everything it took to get the job done.

Take the cake: Taking a prize symbolising victory or success

While it is widely believed that the phrase originated from the strutting competition known as the “cake-walk” in which the winner would have been said to have “taken the cake”, where cake was often the prize. This was popular within the black community of Southern USA in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

However, this expression has existed since the early 5th century BC where the Greeks used “take the cake” as a symbol for taking the prize. In 420 BC Aristophanes wrote “The Knights” (a criticism of the powerful Athenian politician Cleon).

If you surpass him in impudence the cake is ours.

The term “take the biscuit” is used the same way.

Early bird (takes the worm): Opportunity goes to those that are prepared

This is a tough one; the first recorded example can be found in John Ray’s A collection of English proverbs 1670, 1678.

The early bird catcheth the worm.

However, this suggests that the word was already in popular usage.

EDIT: I’ve added a part 2 with another three idioms.

Recently, any 9gag post featuring the usage of the word “America” to represent the United States of America and “American” to refer to a person from aforementioned States has been met with a lot of tears, frustration and broken hearts in the comment sections. This could very likely be an internet-wide phenomenon, but 9gag is the only place where I really read comments (because there are so many idiots there it’s amusing).

Well, I’m here to end this crap.

These arguments usually revolve around something along the lines of “America is not a country, [insert profanity and remove appropriate punctuation], it’s a continent”. Wow that’s dumb. America is less a continent than it is a country. In short, using the word “America/American” to describe the US and its inhabitants is perfectly correct – and I’ll proceed to prove it to you.

Ok, so here’s some history. The term “America” was first featured on one of four five (as of July 4, the fifth was found in a German university library) maps of German cartographer Martin Waldseemueller, who died in 1522. At the time, it was used to mark a boomerang shaped strip of land that is now modern-day Brazil. Here’s a picture for reference.

That’s America there on the right. If you don’t believe me, Google it yourself. Anyway, it should be pretty obvious that there’s more to South America (and indeed North America) than what is shown there. Over time, the term “America” became used to describe the “New World”, which pretty much just included the Americas (gasp, there’s a hint!) and sometimes Australasia. This was mainly due to the expanding of the geographical horizon that existed in the European Middle Ages, in which they believed that the whole world consisted only of Africa, Asia and Europe. Eventually, after all was discovered, and scientists did their thing with tectonic plates, they divided North and South America into two different continents – and rightly so. Why? Because the two landmasses are on separate tectonic plates. Again, a picture for you as reference.

In case you can’t see, the brown plate is North America and the purple is South America. Well, now that we’ve established a well-documented, existing definition (that North and South America are two different continents) we can continue with our proof. And yes, I am aware that people around the world are actually taught different things. There’s a five continent model (old mode from the 60’s in Europe – hence the five Olympic rings), a six continent model where North and South America are combined into one (mainly taught in Europe and Latin American countries), and finally the seven continent model where North and South America are separate. However, most geographers and scientists now agree on a six continent model – but North and South America are still separate continents (refer to tectonic plates if you want to know why). The true six continent model (true as in geographically and scientifically endorsed) combines Europe with Asia (Eurasia) as they are technically one single landmass on one single tectonic plate. So either way, if someone tries to say North and South America are just one continent (America), then that’s how they were taught so it’s not their fault that they’re wrong. Yes, they are still wrong.

Let’s go back to our original claim “American is a continent not a country”. Wrong. Here’s where the previous hint comes back; the Americas (notice the plural) are two continents. They can also be collectively known as Pan-America, which consists of North, Central and South America, as well as the Caribbean. America (notice the singular) is not a continent. The continents are North America and South America, remember? Cutting the first half off a word does not make it the same thing, especially when the second half is the same for two different continents. In fact, these stupid claims are defeated by their very own logic. They argue that we cannot call the United States of America by the shortened term “America” but they say America is continent when it is itself shortened by cutting off the preceding word. In both cases, we’re ignoring the first half of the name, so “America is a continent, not a country” is already wrong by its own reasoning. So what makes it more correct to use America/American to refer to the US and its people? I’m glad you asked.

First of all, “American” is a demonym. A demonym is basically a term for the populace of a certain locale, based on the name of that region. Thus, Chinese (from China), Australian (from Australia) and American (from America). Now, here’s the fun bit. Let’s just say for an instance that the word America does not, by itself, have any meaning – thus nullifying the semantics of the word American (ignoring the fact that some people do already say “North American” and “South American”). What then would you call a person from the US? United States of American? United Statesian? Here’s my personal favourite: USAsian. It even sounds like “You is Asian”. If we ever change the word “American” it should be to USAsian. If you want to blame someone, blame the people who decided to name a country “the United States of [landmass]”. They obviously didn’t foresee the difficulty of naming things when they came up with that name. As a result, we just have the word American, which is a nice, simple demonym.

Second, and here we get into a bit of the etymology and semantics of language itself, what is the meaning of a word? If you think about it, a word is really just a wavelength emitted by our vocal chords. That’s the scientific way of saying “words are just sound”. So how does this sound have a meaning attached to it? It’s meaning is given to it by its use. If it’s used to represent something, it will come to mean that thing. The word “American” has already had a few hundreds years of usage to describe people/things from the United States. Not only that, it was popularised and utilised by the media and government (the American Dollar and the American Dream), so really, the word has already established its meaning and the media, people and government were the ones who created the word’s meaning, as well as ensuring that it sticks. So yes, America is the shortened word for the United States of America, and American is the word for a person/thing from the US. Its usage as such is perfectly correct.

Before I forget, I remembered someone saying “stop claiming the entire continent for yourselves”. I’m guessing that the other people belonging to North and South America (the continents) are feeling left out of their own continent. Well, in response, I say: chill out. You should be glad that you’re not lumped in with the US and have a country name and appropriate denonym for yourselves. That means you don’t get dragged into the American image of archaicness, obesity and stupidity (among other things). Now stop trying to argue that America “is a continent not a country” or you mind end up being considered stupid after all.

To start with, here’s a funny picture I noticed at one of the beauty/cosmetic stores in the city. Some of you may already be chuckling to yourself, but I’ll work under the assumption that not everyone can see what’s wrong with this advertising poster.

“Beauty is never closer”.

That’s a very unfortunate description for a store that supposedly sells products to make the consumer more beautiful. I think what they were going for was something along the lines of “Beauty has never been closer”. What their little slogan means is that no matter what you do, you will never get closer to beauty – as in you will never be beautiful. “Here, buy these beauty products! They will never make you beautiful though. Thank you for your purchase, these products won’t make you any prettier. Hope to see you again.”

Not that I’m on a particularly zealous English literacy crusade or anything, but it sort of undermines your professional integrity when your advertisement completely contradicts the purpose of your business’s existence. It would be nice to see an increase in appreciation for quality writing though. I kind of feel as though the literary arts are dying, especially with the recent popularity of mediocre to appalling texts lately – but that’s a whole different rant.

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