Wednesday, June 18, 2008

I Love Words: Circa

Usually, this recurring post "I Love Words" is about a word I fancy for one reason or another. Occasionally, though, I'll be talking about other word-related issues. For instance, since I'm smitten with words, I also abhor their misuse and abuse. Not that I'm the perfect grammarian; I admit I'm not. (What? I never said I wasn't a hypocrit?!)

Today, . . . I have a bone to pick.

I apologize that this picture to the left here is a little bit blurry, but it's the best one of this storefront in the Port Columbus International Airport that I could find. Allow me to tell you what it says: "Heritage Booksellers, Circa 1996." Yes, "circa 1996." Now I realize, technically, that circa can be used to mean "at" or "in," but the most common usage, I think everyone would agree, is "around," and people use it most often with a date to state a time period because they're not quite certain of the actual date (i.e., usually when something was such a long time ago, there really aren't records to confirm an exact date). So, you usually see it as "circa [a nice round #, e.g., 500BC]." My point in all this? I think Heritage Booksellers can probably confirm with surety that they officially opened their doors for business in 1996 and should have used a phrase like "est." (established) in lieu of "circa."

Ok, phew! One less nit to pick this week. If you're a grammar nitpick yourself, you might enjoy checking out the various "I Judge You When You Use Poor Grammar" groups on Facebook. They post some hilarious photos and observations of occurrences of poor grammar found "out in the field." You can comment on what's posted and post pieces yourself. Conversely, if grammar is your nemesis and you're more apt to join a group on Facebook called "I judge you when you judge me when I use poor grammar" (actually a group), you might want to check out Grammar Girl's podcasts or newsletter.


Ezra said...

I tend to want my cake and eat it too.

I think grammar is important and I think it is essential to call out people who use words thoughtlessly. Your example is great; even if the mistake was made out of an honest ignorance, it's clear that the misuse of "circa" does not have a purely honest motive: it's trying to lend an air of antiquity and permanence to something that is neither old nor permanent.

But I also think that the language is often most alive at the edge, and today's slang grammatical contortion is tomorrow's standard. And much of that innovation happens only because people say things without thinking about grammar first.

Cheri said...

Excellent, excellent points. I try not to be too rigid in my grammar 'marm-ness (ooh, look - a new word!). I mean, you can't go through life not appreciating inventiveness like this - :)

Terri said...

I think I am the classic example of grammar gone to the dogs... but maybe for a purpose? As an editor I really shouldn't embarrass myself the way I sometimes do when it comes to the English language, but maybe people let me off the hook because I can't help being a sort of Jackson Pollack of wordsmithery? Okay, maybe not Pollack--maybe more like a wannabe Picasso. It's just that I often find the standard way of saying things to be too boring--and never specific enough to what I mean. Poetic? Goofy? Just plain wrong? I dunno, but I gotta be me. The difference, I hope, is that usually I am not making a blatant mistake. At the same time, I totally share your feelings about the misuse of the language in print--especially in ads, on signs, and in newspapers and periodicals. Ever try to read the Metro? Hoo! It's a grammarian's nightmare/laugh-fest.

Cheri said...

Ya, I think you get me, Terri. I'm not opposed to folks taking some liberties with language. There's just a big difference between wordsmithery, as you put it, and going through life refusing to learn the differences among their, there, and they're, for instance. And, of course-of course, I give a fishing reel's worth of slack to those for whom English is a second language.
LOVE that my little post has inspired so much pondering and comments! :)