For the offended

What is this?

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

You say "po-tay-toe," I say "po-tah-toe"

   The freedom and immediacy of the web are wonderful. But there is a tradeoff.  Tossing something online now means that it doesn't have to punch its way up through a substrata of editors before it reaches daylight. Good for speed, bad for accuracy.
    Until it comes time to fix mistakes — then that speed is appreciated. No printing little "Errata" sheets and tucking them inside the cover. Just hop back online, boom, it's fixed.
    Otherwise, preparation time is accuracy's friend, generally.
    Then again, what is accuracy?
    Of the hundreds of comments this blog has gotten in its first two weeks, only one gave me a chill.
    "Shouldn't it be 'every goddamned day?'" wrote my longtime pal, Jimmy Seidita.
     "Holy crap!" thought I. "Goddamned," with an "-ed" at the end.
     The first impulse was automatic denial. No, of course it shouldn't be that. Definitely not. It's "every goddamn day." That's the blog's name.  
     And I wouldn't have named the blog in error.
     Would I?
     Next bargaining. I said, "Every goddamned day" aloud.
     It sounded ... appropriate. Maybe ... even ... good.
     To the dictionary I fled, like a child who fell rushing to embrace his mother's knees. Help me help me.
     The New Oxford American Dictionary -- my wordhoard of choice, always close at hand at the newspaper office (at home, I use the two volume New Shorter Oxford, which forces the extra step of figuring out whether the word in question is between A and M, and thus in the first volume, or N to Z, and so ... you see where this is going, yes? ... in the second. A challenge I invariably surmount—I went to college— but it does introduce a moment's pause).
     And to "goddamn (also goddam or goddamned) -adj., adv & n. informal used for emphasis, esp. to express anger or frustration [as an adj] we're sick of this goddamn weather..."
     Stop right there. Whew. Problem solved. And thank merciful God. To be honest, flipping through the book, the grim scenario of Jimmy being correct was already unspooling in my mind. I would either have to change the name of the blog — sheesh — or spend the next however-long I keep this up manfully trying to ignore the fact that I had built my castle upon sand, and created a blog that was named in grammatical error.
     So in answer to your question, Jimmy. While it could be "every goddamned day," it not only shouldn't be, but "goddamn" is the preferred usage, with "goddamned" tagging along as an alternative possibility.
     So I'm right. Actually, we're both right — your usage is fine, too. Though mine is a little righter. Or at least it came first.
     Double whew. Win-win.
     I love when that happens.
     This is a version of one of the more common stumbling blocks in language — and faith, and philosophy, and just about everything else, now that I think of it. What I call the "Two Definitions Problem." People are familiar with one definition of a word, or a faith, or a philosophy, and they see another person using that word, or that faith, or philosophy in a different way and assume that because it's different than what they understand it to be, it's therefore wrong. When in fact it isn't wrong; it's just different. Words can have two, sometimes different, sometimes even contradictory, meanings. Or more.  Anyway Jimmy, glad you asked, glad we could clear this up, and even gladder that the chips fell in my direction. This makes up for the time I thought "moral turpitude" was a praiseworthy thing.


  1. "Every goddamn day" flows much smoother on the tongue than "Every goddamned day" anyway, so it all worked out for the best.

  2. "Towards thee I roll, thou all-destroying but unconquering whale; to the last I ... tow to pieces, while still chasing thee, though tied to thee, thou damned whale!"

    Captain Ahab -- Moby Dick

    The first thing I thought of after reading this post.

  3. @Wendy -- And a good thought it is. I thought I was the last person to read "Moby-Dick." Which I found a very funny book. Not only the scene with Queequeg and the idol, but just how late in the book it is before the White Whale shows up. As the number of pages remaining dwindled, and still no whale, I started to worry it was the best-guarded surprise ending of all literature, that Ahab would turn to the reader on the last page, shrug and say, "Well...I guess we couldn't find him!"

  4. Just don't step foot in anywhere.

  5. @Mark -- Is the meaning plain on your remark? It doesn't make sense to me.

  6. Considering all the nonsense and trolling that goes on in the web (including some extremely dumb comments I've made over the decades), it's too bad that there isn't some kind of moderation on most sites. However, some sites don't want to pay moderators and others think that zillions of posts are a good idea. That's because more "hits" on their websites means more money from advertisers. There are times that I suspect the latter is going on at Salon and Slate given how some of their "headlines" on columns seem almost designed to bring out the fire breathers and trolls to comment.

  7. I've never heard "po-tay-toe. Po-tah-toe" I thought it was "to-may-toe. To-mah-toe".

  8. You mean you've never heard Gershwin's "Let's Call the Whole Thing Off"? Fun song:

    You like potato and I like potahto
    You like tomato and I like tomahto
    Potato, potahto, tomato, tomahto.
    Let's call the whole thing off

  9. @David -- maybe I'm just not up to speed today, but I'm not sure I get the context to your remark either. Was that drawn by Mark's obscure comment? I'm moderating this though frankly -- and I should invoke the evil eye by saying this -- I haven't had to remove a comment yet.

  10. Ahab -- one leg off.

  11. In terms of metaphor -- why would the whale be white rather than black?

    That is one of my koans.

    The Heart Sutra explores the same issues as Moby Dick.

  12. Re: Kireji

    All are nothing but flowers:
    In a flowering universe.

    The kireji is the “:” at the end of the first line.

    Overwhelming evening clouds
    Gathering in one great mass
    Endlessly arising distant mountains:
    Blue upon blue.

  13. I suppose I could have looked it up myself, but I imagined the question might provoke a thoughtful and entertaining response, and you didn't disappoint. Thanks.

  14. Sorry about the obscure comment. Has the bizarre (and incorrect) "step foot" become so ubiquitous that we don't realize it's wrong anymore?

  15. @Mark ... you're still not making sense. Let me ask you plainly. "What ... do ... you ... mean?" Are you trying to correct something in the text and failing miserably? Do I use the word "step foot" in the column and you disagree? What are saying?

  16. This is something up with which we shall not put.

  17. Neil,

    Late to the party, here, but I think Mark A. was just extrapolating from your musings about language to a pet peeve of his. A non-sequitur with regard to the actual language in the post, but related to the topic of language that is (mis)used differently by different people. Evidently, he is annoyed when people use the term "step foot," though it has nothing specifically to do with your writing above.


Comments are vetted and posted at the discretion of the proprietor.