Comparing my fellow persons’ command of the English language to the earnest efforts of a fifteen-year-old boy fumbling to unclasp a brassiere swollen with promise and, um, tits, is great fun and all, but the voices in my head keep insisting that conveying criticism without offering compensating guidance makes me a dick. *
Therefore, today’s and future roundups of linguistic sins will come with handy mnemonic cues, lovingly crafted to aid my bretheren and sisteren in our mutual quest to communicate clearly and competently.
Think of “nauseous” as a cause. Something that is nauseous has the effect of being nauseating. If you say “I feel nauseous,” you are stating that you have the effect of nauseating others. Fine and well if true (perhaps it’s time to rethink the spandex?), but be sure that’s what you mean. An easy way to keep this straight is to substitute “noxious” (as in “noxious fumes”) for “nauseous” in your skull before opening your fool mouth.
Healthy versus healthful. Exercising is healthy. Nutritious foods are healthful. Therefore, stating that a carrot is healthy implies that it is watching what it eats and that it works out at the gym while doing its best to ignore you staring at its butt. I don’t really have a handy mnemonic for this one other than proferring the image of trying not to get caught staring at a carrot’s butt. Make it your own.
Compliment versus complement. I am reluctant even to bring this one up because people getting it wrong never fails to make me smile. “Compliment” means “to express praise,” whereas “complement” means “to enhance or complete.” So, it’s fine to say, “This wine complements the meal,” or “Asif complimented my dècolletage before ejaculating enthusiastically upon it.” To get this right, I offer this joke:
A man walks into an empty bar. While drinking his beer and munching on bar snacks, he hears a little voice say, “Nice tie.” Initially startled, he dismisses it as drifting noise, perhaps from a radio in the back. A short while later another voice says, “Love your haircut,” to which he replies, “What the hell is going on here?” The bartender comes out and asks, “Is there are problem?” The patron says, “Yeah, there’s a problem. I keep hearing little voices and they’re saying, um, nice things to me!” The bartender says, “Oh. That’s the pretzels. They’re complimentary.”
* I don’t want the voices to think I’m a dick. **
** I don’t care what you think.