Friday, 15 April 2016

Gauntlets and other misuses

Hi there,
I was watching the footy the other day - that's Aussie Rules - and the commentators were talking about a thrashing a team had taken.

Actually they were talking about my team and the loss was in the context of how many players we had out. The guy doing the commentary said we'd been decimated.


Alright, that got me thinking. The English language, and I suppose other languages too, suffer from bastardisation of words and phrases, so common that we have just accepted them.

So, who knows the correct meaning of decimate? The football commentator used it to mean that the team had lost a huge number of players, but in fact, but the word decimate, is actually an old Roman term - a form of military punishment to be exact. It was used by Roman military leaders to punish large groups - sometimes entire units. To decimate a group was to execute one person in every ten as a punishment to the entire group.

Brutal but effective.

To run the gauntlet is another phrase often misused. The correct phrase is to run the gantlet. Again this was a form of punishment where the offender was forced to run between columns of people armed with clubs and rocks, etc, and of course he cops a belting.

Gauntlet ... gantlet ... what's the difference? The first one is a heavy leather glove.

Now, who has ever done something in one foul swoop? Well you shouldn't have - you did it in one fell swoop. One fell swoop refers to doing something swiftly, in one attempt. The confusion lies in the word fell. In this idiom, fell refers to the swiftness, even savagery of that one move.

So, now you know - exciting isn't it!! Maybe not that exciting then.

These are just three, but there are so many more. Oh, here's another I've just thought of - wet your appetite. Ever used that? The correct phrase is to whet your appetite. The word whet means to sharpen or stimulate.

Think of some of the phrases you use and ask yourself how such a saying came about? The history of words and phrases really can be interesting, particularly if you're a writer. For me, when I write historical fiction, it's important to know the real meaning of phrases, and the words and phrases in use in the day.

One of my favourite websites is the Online Etymology Dictionary.

Check it out and until next week, pique your interest, don't peak, or even peek!

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