Even More Usage Limericks

To annoy your friends and impress your enemies


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Photo: The Notorious B.I.G., Queens, detail of a photograph by Reporter d'ailleurs CC

(Note: this is part two. Click here to see the first round of rhyming, metered, functional advice!)

Conversate gets a lot of abuse
Protestations and rancor effuse
Your editor bawls
And blames Biggie Smalls
But our records show centuries of use

Yes, we are aware that there are quite a few people out there who do not consider conversate a real word. However, since it has had significant use for a considerable length of time (since at least 1811), and is always used with a distinct meaning, we have chosen to define it.

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Some people insist on short shrift
Being given to functional shift
“A noun is a noun!”
They proclaim with a frown
“You say gifting and I just feel miffed.”

The use of gift as a verb is much older than conversate, dating back at least four hundred years. Functional shift, in case you were wondering, is "the process by which a word or form comes to be used in another grammatical function." It is totally normal.

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Enervate is frequently found
referring to brio unbound
But ‘tis a mistake
You’d rather not make;
If you wish for your prose to be sound.

Do you use enervate to mean "energize"? So do many other people. However common this may be, it has not yet crossed the threshold of becoming an accepted variant, and is still considered to be a mistake.

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Many words oft broaden in scope
Like hopefully, when meaning “I hope”
So feel not compunctive
About this disjunctive,
It won’t make you sound like a dope.

Yes, hopefully may be used as a sentence adverb. These are also known as adverbial disjuncts (a disjunct may be defined as "an adverb or adverbial that is loosely connected to a sentence and conveys the speaker's or writer's comment on its content, truth, or manner"). Compunctive means "producing compunction."

penultimate

Copy editors all feel aghast
When penultimate's used to mean "last";
“It's the one that's before,
And your use we abhor
When employing it thusly, half-assed.”

No, the pen- at the beginning of penultimate is not an intensifier; it comes from a Latin prefix meaning "almost." Penultimate refers to the thing that is next to last, rather than the one that is last (or ultimate).

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Grandma has a deep sense of malaise
When you insist on writing “liaise”
For this back-formation
Engenders frustration
And she'd really prefer you rephrase.

Quite honestly, we have no idea what your grandmother's preferences are regarding liaise. If your grandmother is anything like millions of other people, however, there is a very good chance that she despises this word. Another dread back-formation (like conversate), liaise has been subjected to withering scorn for decades now. Yes, it is a real word, but before using it you should know that many people fervently wish you would not.

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Since ain’t is now quite often heard
We confess we find it absurd
Your whinging attacks
Alleging us lax
For defining so common a word

We do not make words. Furthermore, we do not decide which words are real and which are fake. What we, and all other dictionaries, do is to pay attention to how the language is used, and attempt to catalogue this usage as faithfully as possible. Ain't has been in widespread use since the first half of the 18th century. For those keeping score at home, this is our second limerick on ain't, which is in keeping with the proportion of hate mail it gets.

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If you’re wondering do we permit
For infinitives to cruelly be split
Hardly a question,
For it’s not a transgression;
you may cleave them as you see fit.

The English-speaking people have been splitting their infinitives since the 14th century (although there was a curious period of several hundred years where we all stopped doing it), and no one has yet died as a result of this practice. If you need to split an infinitive in order to give more clarity to your writing, go ahead and split it.




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