Friday, May 20, 2011

"It's Only Language"

If you were lucky enough to catch The Dick Cavett Show when it aired back in the 1960s-1970s, you were witness to intelligent, humorous and interesting in-depth conversations with guests that ranged from writers to politicians to actors, even to Cavett’s philosophy teacher at Yale.   Cavett, to my mind, is unquestionably one of  the most intelligent and entertaining of talk-show hosts.

Four years ago, Cavett accepted an offer from the New York Times to write a regular column. His new book, Talk Show,  is a collection of his columns from February 2007 to 2010. It’s a wonderful read. 

His first column appeared on February 4, 2007 and is called “It’s Only Language.”  
 Even if you’re a wordsmith or a true lover of the English language and never need any type of correction, you’ll enjoy Cavett’s writing and his examples of incorrect written and spoken English (and a few French words , too).

He points out Bush’s “nuke-you-lur” of course, but also the prevalence of misused words such as “literally” and “momentarily.”  When he addressed the words “loathe” and “loath” I decided this blog would be an apt place to note the difference between the two.

“Loath” is an adjective meaning “unwilling.” It ends with a hard th and rhymes with growth or both.  (Ex: He was loath to admit that he had lied to his friend.)
“Loathe” is a verb meaning “to hate intensely.” It ends with a soft th like the sound in smooth or breathe.  (Ex:  She loathes spiders.)

Here I’d like to quote Cavett’s last paragraph: “I don’t see the future as bright, language-wise. I see it as a glass half empty — and evaporating quickly. Almost daily irritants, like the dumb cluck’s beloved, “between you and I” will never be expunged, it seems. “Loathe” and “loath” will continue to change places, and “phenomena” and “phenomenon” will still be used interchangeably. But, finally, what the hell? It’s only language. It’s only what we live by.”


  1. I don't loathe this; I love this! ;)

  2. I'm not sure if I've mentioned this before but have you read 'Lost for Words', The Mangling and Manipulation of the English Language, by John Humphries, a former BBC newsreader?

  3. No, Judy, I haven't, but I appreciate the tip!