Hi, and welcome to a new recurring feature here at GeekDad. I’m Jim MacQuarrie, geekdad, writer, cartoonist, designer, archery instructor, and internet curmudgeon. Like a lot of geeks, I’m cranky about bad grammar and punctuation, but my real bugaboo is when people use the wrong word. It makes me crazy when I see mistakes in print by professional writers and editors (who ought to know better), and I started posting comments on Facebook every time I saw one. Eventually my brother told me it needed to be its own page, my bride told me I should illustrate them, and my editors said “heck yes, we’ll run that!” And so here we are.
The one we’ll start with is a good illustration of one of the sources of a lot of difficulties with English: the fact that it swipes so many words from other languages.
The English language is a record of conquest; it starts with the Anglo-Pictish languages, from which some words still survive; when the Romans, Normans and Saxons invaded the British Isles, they brought their languages with them. Eventually English evolved into a primarily Latin vocabulary laid onto a Germanic syntax. When the Brits got into their imperialist phase, they brought back words from their colonies in Africa, India, the Americas, and various other places. Later, immigration to Britain (and other English-speaking countries) brought more exotic words to the mix.
Each of these languages has its own rules, with different phonetics and spelling systems, and to complicate matters, a lot of words sound the same as words in other languages with entirely different meanings, with the end result that English is one of the most complicated and seemingly-arbitrary languages on earth.
But we’re going to try to untangle a little of it here, focusing primarily on words that sound like others, words that are spelled the same but pronounced differently, words that are commonly mistaken for others, and words that mean something different than what many people think they do. And so, without further ado…
If you introduce someone by saying “without further ado,” you’re saying you’re finally going to shut up now and let the audience see what they came for.
If you say “without further adieu,” you’re telling them you’re going to leave without saying goodbye.
If you say “without further adew,” you’re being poetic about the fact that there’s no dampness on the ground.
If you say “without further adoo,” you’re being poetic about stepping in something.
This is Word Nerd #1; you can find all the Word Nerd installments in the Word Nerd Index.