Wednesday, September 8, 2010

word misappropriation

The adjective appropriate means:: "Suitable for a particular person, condition, occasion, or place; fitting." and in the verb form the meaning becomes, "to set apart for specific use: To take possession of or make use of exclusively for oneself, often without permission."  

And misappropriation is defined as, "to appropriate wrongly; To appropriate dishonestly for one's own use."

This is a transitive verb - which if you paid attention to your grammar lessons in school you know that means it needs a noun to misappropriate.  Meaning, you're not just going to misappropriate - you're going to misappropriate SOMETHING. It will be specific, perhaps personal.

Now, I'm bordering on sounding a little too politically correct here - but word misappropriation is something I try to be consciously aware of. I have a few examples in my head. I'll talk about one today and some others will show up over the next few weeks. (Gotta space out the material!)   But - I also want to spend some time talking about because I think language is so powerful - it is the basis of our communication and knowledge and how we understand and relate to other people.  When our word choice does not acknowledge the history and connotations of the words - we do a disservice to ourselves and those we are in conversation with.  When people are careful with word choice that they are able to communicate more clearly and succinctly. When people acknowledge the history and connotations of words they become more self reflective and that is a good thing. :)

So for today the word that I feel gets misappropriated to the detriment of the real meaning of the word is the word "starve" and its variations.

The  majority of the people in the world who say "I'm starving" are really only hungry. And it's common to hear people point out that, no, you really aren't starving. The connotations between "starve" and "hunger" are apparent and clear. But, the word nerd that I am I decided to dig into the etymology of "to starve."

I was shocked to discover that "starve" comes from the Old English steorfan, "to die."

Before "starve" was associated with the lack of food, it was associated with death.  In the 14th century it had a meaning of "to die with cold" and it wasn't until around 1520 that "starve" meant "to kill with hunger." 

This is where I find that paying attention to if you are using words that are appropriate for the scenario increases your self-reflection and your connection to the world at large. If I can remember that I don't use the word "starving" became I am not - - then I am more likely to remember that there are indeed people who are. That there are people who are dying from the lack of food.


  1. That's interesting. I know I'll think twice before saying "I'm starving" again.

    Similarly, I was thinking the other day about the word "love". How can I use the same word to describe my feelings for my God, my family, and, say, Oreos???

    (In my defense, Oreos are really really good...)

  2. Thank you! I try so hard to get my girls to only use appropriate words and starve is one we are working on. Love is another word I am working to use properly too. I also think word misappropriation is a symptom of small vocabularies. The word love is a great example of this. Most of the time people use the word love to describe anything they feel positively about -- it's as if we have forgotten words such as, like, enjoy, fancy exist at all.

  3. I see your perspective here, and to an extent I agree, but I also think it's okay to take a word and change it and use it in phrases or slang. I mean, if you say "ugh, I'm starving!", most people know you're using a common phrase and that you are not actually starving and not using the original meaning of the word and that you have no intention at all of downplaying real starvation and the seriousness of that in the word, and I think that's okay, because words adapt and change and reflect society and context. I find the process of that rather interesting, actually.

    But, then again, I also find the purposeful use of words to preserve their original meaning to be a good thing as well.

    I think that if there are distinct lines between original meaning and phrases/slang then it's more likely people will continue using both meanings - I actually wouldn't mind that personally.

    Btw, I don't think "love" is a good example of this practice, as I think that in English, the word "love" intentionally has several different meanings and differs only by context. You can choose to use other words, but that doesn't mean that the word love is inaccurate or insufficient for both Jesus and Oreos or any other dozen things.

  4. This is an excellent entry. I do try to watch these types of misappropriations but I admit that I'm a frequent user of 'love' for any number of things.

    I'd have to say though, I kind of agree with Lauren when using love. I do love scarves, snow, babies, and kittens. I also love my husband, God, and my family. It surely isn't anywhere close to the same kind of love, but it's love.

    I honestly only use the words 'like' or 'enjoy' if it's something I don't feel overly excited about one way or another. If I say "I liked it" I did, but it's not necessarily something I'm overly crazy about.

  5. maybe I'll try to tackle "love" one day. . . but the English language is rather lacking in vocabulary there . . .

    I've been known to use eros, agape, and phileo in standard conversation. lol