#MontoyaMonday: When That Doesn’t Mean What You Think It Means

by • April 14, 2014

punctuation, Inigo Montoya, MontoyaMonday, Grammarly, grammar, writingWe’d be willing to bet that you’ve heard of #ThrowbackThursday (#tbt) on Twitter – an opportunity for people to post embarrassing photos from times gone by. Maybe you’ve even heard of Grammarly’s #FunnyFriday, where we bring the “funny” to your Friday with cute memes and cartoons.

Buckle your seat belts: We’re about to make your Mondays brighter with the introduction of #MontoyaMonday. Use of the Montoya Monday hashtag on Twitter will offer an open arena in which grammarians and word nerds may fight against the enemies of clarity and the villains of verbiage.

Inconceivable, you say?!

According to Inigo Montoya, a skilled swordsman looking to avenge his father’s death in the Princess Bride: “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

(Watch a clip here.)

Grammarians unite! Let us join Inigo Montoya’s effort to stamp out jabberwocky wherever we find it. Have you found a business sign, a tweet, a Facebook status update, or another piece of written communication that doesn’t quite say what it was meant to? Share it with us using the hashtag #MontoyaMonday.

To get you started, we’ll review just a few commonly misused phrases and words.

“I could care less”

We’ve all heard this one. Intuitively, it doesn’t make any sense. Considering the context, if we’re trying to express our complete disinterest, then obviously, “I couldn’t care less” should be used.

The original phrase, “couldn’t care less” has its origins in Britain. It is unlikely that the Americanized version of this phrase was manufactured in the factories of irony. So, where and when did this mangling occur?

The original phrase made its way to the United States in the 1950s, and in one decade, transformed into the common variant we are used to hearing. Linguist opinions vary, but many agree that the “could care less” version appeared naturally. It rolls off the tongue a bit easier.

“Irregardless”

Heard this one lately? It’s a popular word in the eastern United States, and you are likely to hear it in places like Indiana. There’s a bit of a fight concerning this particular word. The prefix “ir”, which means “not”, and the suffix “less,” which means “without,” both make the word a bit confusing. The double negatives cancel each other, and technically, the word should mean “in regard to.” But we know that’s not how it’s used, and who wants to decipher math in our speech?

Some linguists say that “irregardless” is a portmanteau word, a blending of “irrespective” and “regardless.” Depending on which dictionary you consult, the word “irregardless” is viewed as either mangled English, or a perfectly acceptable evolution. It has had a rocky history, and grammarians have fought over the word as far back as the 1920s. Be careful whom you correct on this one.

“That’s ironic”

Poor irony. It’s had a long and sad history. As a word, it can’t remember if it defines a coincidence, or just bad luck. It’s also been used to describe meaningful happenstance, as in, “I searched for my car keys for an hour, only to discover that they were in my pocket all along.”

The final nail in the coffin was a catchy song or two that warped the correct use of irony in a sentence. Irony has become one of the more popular whipping boys of the English language. What does it really mean? And what is the best context for its use?

Well, if we want a popular definition, we can always turn to the movie: Reality Bites. One of the characters defines irony thus: “It’s when the actual meaning is the complete opposite from the literal meaning.” As it turns out, he’s right. This is the true definition of irony. It’s not a coincidence, a happy accident, or a bizarre experience. If you are having a bad day, and someone asks, “How are you?” you can always be ironic, and respond, “I feel wonderful!”

And there you have it, a few words and phrases returned to their proper place. It’s a long way from cleaning up all of the distorted definitions we bump into every day, but it’s a start.

Using the hashtag, #MontoyaMonday, join Grammarly in calling out written communication that doesn’t quite say what it was meant to. We’re looking forward to your examples!

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