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Small Talk: Hitting ‘mute’ on mispronunciations

With lights flashing and sirens blaring, here come the Grammar Police again. May I see your diploma and license, please?

Actually, this is not just a grammar issue and I am not a grammarian. I was drummed out of the Grammar Police Department for split infinities and dangling participles. I am now a very low-ranking grunt in the subdivision of the Grammar Police Department called the Mispronunciation Division. Everyone get out your hairsplitters. 

I don’t know if Oprah Winfrey said it, or Judge Judy, but somebody with clout has half the world saying, “It was a mute point.” From a slang perspective, I suppose if the opposition can’t speak, its argument can’t amount to much, but outside of the “Muppet Show,” points cannot talk. Hence, they cannot go mute.

The word is “moot,” perhaps the only semi-legal term I know. I learned much from “Law and Order” reruns. Any law school story offers a Moot Court (a student court that is just for practice and doesn’t have legal ramifications), so the word stuck in my mind forever. See? Even watching TV sometimes can improve your vocabulary. Don’t tell my children I said that.

Moot, moot, moot. Rhymes with boot, not cute. Small, of little consequence, meaningless. OK. That’s one.

Next, I wince every time I hear someone say, “It was heart-rendering.” The word is “heart-rending.” To be certain, I consulted my American Heritage Dictionary. The word rend means to tear, burst or come apart. To render means to present or deliver (to render an account of, to render thanks). But mostly it means to melt down, like fat. So if you’re talking about something just tearing your heart in two, it’s heart-rending. ‘Course, if you mean it melted your heart down so you could pour off the lard, you’d be right on saying “heart-rendering.” 

For our final lesson, please conjugate the word algae. Since we all live near one lagoon or another, this can be an important part of your cocktail-party conversation.

You might have a herd of algae, but when one of the critters runs away from home, it becomes an alga. Yep, we have a major thoroughfare named for a single-celled, green plant that becomes a slimeball when it gets together with its family and friends. What were they thinking there?

Now for the really tricky part. If you refer to the condition of the lagoon when it possesses one alga or much algae, you would refer to its algal condition.

Now you really can talk to the botanists with confidence. Your observations will be neither mute nor heart-rendering.

Jean Gillette is a freelance writer and occasional verbal fussbudget. Contact her at [email protected].