Killing Words

Most people have heard of homicide, but what about the word verbicide? My first thought upon seeing this Word of the Day was that just as Homo, as in Homo sapiens, is a human, verb is a word. In other words, just as homicide means killing another person, verbicide is the killing of a word. Sort of.

Oliver Wendell Holmes compared homicide and verbicide in The Atlantic Monthly in 1857, saying that life and language are both sacred. “That is,” he wrote, “violent treatment of a word with fatal results to its legitimate meaning, which is its life – are alike forbidden.” According to the definition by Dictionary.com, the distortion or depreciation of the meaning of such word must be done willfully for it to be considered verbicide. Not like when my husband (soon-to-be then) asked my mom who “Carte Blanche” was when she informed him that she had (her, it) to choose the flowers for our wedding. No, he didn’t commit verbicide that day, he had just never heard of “carte blanche” before. He’s likely to never forget what it means now, over twenty years later it is still one of my favorite wedding stories. Thankfully, he’s a good sport.

I was going to say that the next time you think about deliberately changing the meaning of a word by the way you use it, keep in mind that it’s verbicide and you might decide against it. However, upon second thought of this statement, I wonder about using a pun. Perhaps I’ll look further into the differences tomorrow, if there are any, but until then I’m done!

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