Alphabet Challenge Day 5

It’s day five (always want to add in the Big Brother house) of my September blogging challenge!

Today’s letter is  E

and the subject is the word ENERVATE

I can hear you saying ‘What’s that all about?’ ‘What a weird word to choose.’

The dictionary definition of enervate is wanting in (physical, moral, literay, artistic) vigour. What! Only five days in and she’s lacking in vigour. She’ll never get to the end of September at this rate.

But I haven’t chosen the word because it describes my current state, but because at one time, I used to think it meant the exact opposite! I came home from something one day – a workshop, a meeting, a day out (can’t remember the circumstances) and wrote in my diary ‘Had a fantastic day. Feeling completely enervated.’

What an idiot! I meant exhilarated, stimulated, excited, and I managed to come up with a word meaning the complete opposite.

That’s an extreme example, but it helps show what pesky little things words can be. Sometimes, you think you know the meaning of a word, but if you’re asked to define it, can’t do so precisely. Or you find that it doesn’t mean quite what you thought it did.

Words are a writer’s tools. They are wonderful, magical things that can help you create people, places, stories. They can produce gold dust. Or they can produce dross. Generally, though, it helps if you know what they mean!

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11 Comments

  1. My word-related embarrassment comes from not always knowing how to pronounce a word. Spell checkers are great, but there’s nothing to help you when you’re using a word in company and your pronunciation is completely wrong! My excuse for this is that most of my English education comes from reading, so I know lots of words, and I generally know what they mean as I’ve read them in context, but I often have no idea how they should sound when spoken. Usually you can hazard a guess, and often it’s right, but I do get caught out from time to time.

  2. Lindsay says:

    I know what you mean, Jo. I’ve had the experience of reading to a group of students, seeing a word a couple of lines ahead and panicking because I’m not sure how to pronounce it. And a friend of mine was teaching an English class one day and was talking about hyperbole – except she pronounced it ‘hyperbowl’. One of the students (adults) corrected her, and she said ‘Oh yes, you can pronounce it like that.’! One that gets me is ‘synecdoche’.

  3. Christine says:

    I thought the same thing up until a few years ago and I still think it should be the opposite of what it is. I got a text yesterday from an ex-colleague who was distraught to find that she’d been using a phrase incorrectly for years. She’s been telling clients how important it is she ‘pays lip service’ to their concerns thinking it meant she took them seriously! I did laugh.

  4. Lindsay says:

    Oh dear! It’s funny, but you would feel mortified if you were the one who’d been using it incorrectly.

    Perhaps we should start a campaign to change the meaning of enervate, although apparently it comes from the Latin enervatus meaning weaken.

  5. Robin Heaney says:

    I am in agreement with Christine: it seems like it should mean the opposite. The poets out there will have noticed that the word’s syllables have ‘chimes’ with other words: energy, energize, vital, vitality. Good poets know how to use these contradictory messages from word sounds to create complex signals and shadows of meaning (I made that up!). I, sadly, am nowhere near to getting the hang of it.

    On the pronunciation front, why is it that a French person who speaks English with nothing like an English accent is considered sophisticated (and more), and an English person who speaks French with nothing like a French accent is considered a prat?

  6. Donna says:

    I don’t know if either of you watch Cougar Town on TV, but the main character regularly discovers that she has been using phrases incorrectly, and then spends the rest of the episode persuading her friends that her use of the phrase is correct and makes more sense than the ‘correct’ meaning.

  7. Robin Heaney says:

    Nothing to do with anything really, but I noticed that my comment is timed at 12:45 pm, but I sent it at 1345 pm. I think the internal clock in Lindsay’s website is still using GMT not BST.

  8. Lindsay says:

    Agree enervate sounds as if it should mean the opposite, Robin – probably because of the ‘chiming’ you indentify. Obviously I instinctively used it as it SHOULD be used.

    Also agree on the French/English pronunciation.

  9. Lindsay says:

    Haven’t seen it, but it sounds like my ‘hyperbowl’ friend!

  10. Lindsay says:

    Or like its owner – on a go-slow.

    I’ve got a new computer and all the timings on emails etc are up the pole.

  11. lol ~ we all do it and have the same feelings when we find out ~ and there’s always someone who’ll tell you! I can remember writing trail when it should have been trial, not once but several times in an article … what a numpty! heh-heh 🙂

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