Category: Semantics

Etymology (Not Entomology)

#7

Do you know the etymology of 'vegetarian'? Not entomology, that's the study of insects. Hmm, I'm not sure. Let's go ask an expert! ETYMOLOGIST (not entomologist) Hi guys, are you interested in the origin of a word? I'm an etymologist, not an entomologist--they study insects. Why does everyone keep saying that?! Hi, we-- WORDS NOT BUGS!

Most of those books behind the professor just explain the difference between etymology and entomology.

If you google “etymology not entomology” (with quotes) you’ll get over 3,000 results (try it, it’s fun!). Without quotes you’ll get over 170,000. Apparently these words will be forever linked, like pancakes and syrup, fries and ketchup, or bananas and peanut butter…I really need to eat before I post.

Oh, and to answer the question from the comic, “vegetarian” comes from the Latin word vegetus, meaning lively or vigorous. It does not come from vegetable as many people (understandably) assume.

Here’s the quiz question for this week: What’s the origin of etymology (not entomology)? Post your answer in the comments!

Update: Netflix Confuses “Etymologist” with “Entomologist”

Direct link for embedding: http://www.grammarcomic.com/files/grammar-block-007-etymology.jpg

Alternate and Alternative

#4

I'm alternate, and this is my friend alternative! Alternate means to take turns or change back and forth. Alternative means another choice. For instance, to keep things fresh we alternate girlfriends. They don't notice because we're easily confused! On Mondays he dates Jenny and I date Cin-- WHAT?! Is that true?! It's Jenny! We'd better come clean. Or as an alternative plan... I know you're in there!

Does their room look like it’s made out of chocolate? Mmmmm….

Edit: The comic refers to “al-ter-NAYt”, but the more confusing definition is for “al-ter-nit”:

You may recognize this mistake in a lot of DVD special features where they have multiple “alternate endings” instead of “alternative endings.” Using alternate to mean alternative has become extremely common, however.

Traditionally you could only have one alternative, but no one really follows that anymore. Alternate can also mean an understudy.

Edit to clarify:

Because the third definition of alternate is very close to the first of alternative, it’s easy to mistakenly use one of these adjectives in place of the other. Think of it this way: Something that is alternate substitutes for the original, while something that is alternative provides a choice without replacing the original. [source]

So you can have an alternate route if the first gets blocked, but if both are available the other is an alternative.

Alternate vs. Alternative Quiz

Fill in the blanks with either alternate or alternative (or a form of one). Post your answers in the comments!

  1. Main St. was flooded so I took an ______ route home.
  2. After George injured Bette Midler, Bette’s part was played by her ______.
  3. Crosswalks are easy to see because of the ______ colors.
  4. I really don’t want to see Shrek on ice, but it’s better than the ______.
Direct link for embedding: http://www.grammarcomic.com/files/grammar-block-004-alternate-alternative.jpg

A Unique Joke

#3

Hey kids, I'm unique! That means there's no one else like me! Therefore, it's incorrect to say something is 'so unique' or 'really unique.' That's right kids, because unique means incomparable, so when you-- THERE CAN BE ONLY ONE!

I definitely did not watch Highlander before making this strip.

You know how some words look really weird after you stare at them for a while? Unique is one of them, ironically*. YOO-NI-KWA…UN-EYE-KAY…I need some sleep. I should mention that although there are no degrees of uniqueness, you can have more unique characteristics than something else. For instance, the blue X has one unique quality, but the pink X has three (pink, bold, and underlined): XXXXXXXXX. Somewhat relevant and interesting: are snowflakes actually unique?

When I told my girlfriend I made a panel with eleven characters that were the same, she said, “I’m sure they’d beg to differ.” :) Anyway, this really isn’t a word I correct people on. We all know what they mean, and it’s a pretty minor error.

* Ironic that it’s just like the rest. Someone call me out on the definition of ironic, I dare you.

Unique Quiz

Which ones are correct, if any? Post your answers in the comments!

  1. I love my skunk, but your wombat is more unique!
  2. Cloud Gate makes Chicago unique.
  3. I love Mitch Hedberg, he had such a unique brand of comedy.
  4. The most unique thing about George is that his car used to be owned by Jon Voight.
Direct link for embedding: http://www.grammarcomic.com/files/grammar-block-003-unique.jpg