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I Am Silently Correcting Your Grammar

April 17, 2021

Andrew Siegel MD 4/17/2021

I am a language and idiom enthusiast, curious about word meanings and origins. Rarely a day goes by when I do not consult an online dictionary or thesaurus.

At times, I cringe internally when words or phrases are mispronounced, used incorrectly, or are unintelligent contrivances that have mysteriously slipped into everyday language. In today’s entry I take a break from my usual health and wellness topics and sound off about the mistaken use of words, mispronounced words, terms I despise, and recently coined words that annoy me.  

Mistaken use of words in place of similar sounding ones

I respectfully corrected my Pilates instructor’s use of the word “exacerbate” when she really meant “exasperate”. Andrew, I am “exacerbated” by your lack of progress on the reformer. I don’t hold this against her at all as these are tricky, sound-alike words and I really like my Pilate’s instructor, who has been instrumental in helping my flexibility, core strength, posture and balance. She once told me that if I didn’t continue working on my core strength and posture that I would end up looking like a cashew, and I have taken that to heart.

exacerbate | iɡˈzasərˌbāt | verb [with object] make (a problem, bad situation, or negative feeling) worse: the exorbitant cost of land in urban areas only exacerbated the problem | the forest fire was exacerbated by the lack of rain.

exasperate | iɡˈzaspəˌrāt | verb [with object] irritate intensely; infuriate: this futile process exasperates prison officials | (as adjective exasperated):  she grew exasperated with his inability to notice anything.

She gifted me with the placard seen below, which I proudly display in my home office.

Mistaken use of words in place of similar meaning ones

My mentor at UCLA (where I did my fellowship following urology residency) made the idiomatic error that follows, easily forgivable because he was born in Uruguay and the expression of concern was not in his primary language. He used the phrase “once in a blue sky” instead of “once in a blue moon.” Regardless, his meaning was clearly understood by the context of the situation.

“For all intents and purposes” is often spoken and written as “for all intensive purposes,” an example of what is referred to as an eggcorn, defined as a misheard or misinterpreted word or phrase that has retained its original meaning. I suppose that purposes can and do vary in intensity and some can be intensive.  For “all intensive purposes” Andrew Cuomo was the de facto leader of the United States during the early phases of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Mispronounced words

“Frustrate,” for reasons unknown, is often pronounced with a silent “r.”  I have not a clue where this originated from. I am so “fustrated” by this situation, it causes my teeth to hurt.

As a urologist, I frequently bear witness to the mistaken use of the word “prostrate” for the word “prostate.”  This is a common, forgivable, and innocent error, medical jargon being not so easy. Doc, my “prostrate” gland is acting up again. As an aside, when I was on the receiving end of my first prostate exam, I ended up prostrate, sniffing spirits of ammonia to revive me. True story. 

Another commonly confused pair is “genetic” and “generic.” Amazing how much difference one letter can make. Whether you ask me for “genetic” Viagra or “generic” Viagra, I promise that I will prescribe the less expensive blue pill called Sildenafil unless you specify that you want the branded product.

One word I really despise

One of my biggest pet peeves has been the painful, excessive and unnecessary abuse of the word like as a filler, which makes its user sound ignorant.  At one time I thought this “like disease” was limited to teens, but it now seems to be pandemic among people of any age. “Like” the other day I was “like” at the doctor’s office and he “like” had to examine me and “like” prescribe an antibiotic. A more appropriate filler is silence, a brief pause that actually makes the speaker sound pensive and intelligent. 

I am pleased to be in possession of the following poster that is hanging in my garage (deemed to be one of my “sectors” in the marital division of rooms of our house):

Annoying recently coined words

This may be a generational divide as I am a baby boomer and somewhat set in my ways.  One of the relatively new words that has become popular and that I do not care for is “woke.”  My twenty-one-year-old daughter informed my wife and me that we are not “woke,” defined as the state of being aware and attentive—literally awake—regarding issues of social and racial justice. 

Instead of using an awkward tense of the verb “awake,” I propose the use of the more literally and figuratively illuminating term enlightenedMom and dad, you guys are so unenlightened. I refuse to succumb to peer pressure and use the woke word in any context other than Our English Springer Spaniel woke us up at 5:30AM, which, unfortunately, is what she does without fail every day.   

Another slangy term that I am not so fond of is “dope,” often used to mean “excellent,” “outstanding,” or “awesome.”  It’s so “dope” that she received a scholarship to college.

I have a proposal for an alternative: It’s “outstanding” that she received a scholarship to college. Back in the day we used the word “cool.”  Hey, it’s still cool to use the word “cool.”

Recent article germane to this topic sent to me by my wife: The 11 extremely common grammar mistakes that make people cringe—and make you look less smart: Word experts

Wishing you the best of health,

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Dr. Andrew Siegel is a physician and urological surgeon who is board-certified in urology as well as in female pelvic medicine and reconstructive surgery.  He is an Assistant Clinical Professor of Surgery at the Rutgers-New Jersey Medical School and is a Castle Connolly Top Doctor New York Metro Area, Inside Jersey Top Doctor and Inside Jersey Top Doctor for Women’s Health. His mission is to “bridge the gap” between the public and the medical community. He is a urologist at New Jersey Urology, the largest urology practice in the United States.  His latest book is Prostate Cancer 20/20: A Practical Guide to Understanding Management Options for Patients and Their Families. 

Video trailer for Prostate Cancer 20/20

Preview of Prostate Cancer 20/20

Andrew Siegel MD Amazon author page

PROSTATE CANCER 20/20 is now available at Audible, iTunes and Amazon as an audiobook read by the author (just over 6 hours). 

Dr. Siegel’s other books:

FINDING YOUR OWN FOUNTAIN OF YOUTH: The Essential Guide to Maximizing Health, Wellness, Fitness and Longevity

PROMISCUOUS EATING— Understanding and Ending Our Self-Destructive Relationship with Food

MALE PELVIC FITNESS: Optimizing Sexual and Urinary Health

THE KEGEL FIX: Recharging Female Pelvic, Sexual, and Urinary Health