The Truth You Don’t Need

Have you ever read the expression “in sooth” in a fantasy novel or perhaps in something by Shakespeare?

Antonio, in Shakespeare’s  Merchant of Venice uses that expression:

“In sooth I know not why I am so sad.

It wearies me; you say it wearies you.”

Translation:

“To tell the truth, I don’t know why I’m so sad.

It tires me; you say you’re tired of it, too.”

Shakespeare died 505 years ago, so you can imagine that the English language of the late 1500s was quite different from what it is today.

“Sooth” is one of those archaic words that we simply don’t use anymore – except perhaps in a fantasy novel based on times so long ago, where the author uses old English terms to lend authenticity to a world of his or her own creation.

So why do I mention “sooth”? It’s because I see it misused in modern English when the author really meant to say “soothe” (to calm or make one feel better).

First, let’s get the pronunciation right. The old-fashioned term for truth is “sooth” and it rhymes with “truth.” That should make it easy to remember.

In sooth, she is long in the tooth. (In truth, she’s old.)

“Soothe” has a softer “th” sound and rhymes with “smooth.” I know that’s not helpful for the spelling but the meaning is similar.

I’ll speak softly to her and soothe her as I smooth out her wrinkled forehead.

Now you will also be able to guess what a soothsayer is. It is someone who tells the truth, but in days of old, the term was used for people who foretold the future (and people assumed he told the truth).

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Here are some other troublesome words that change meaning when “e” is added.

Breath, breathe

We can feel out of breath, or take a big breath, but when the air is coming in and out of our lungs, we breathe.

Envelop, envelope

The letter goes inside an envelope (rhymes with cantelope). But when something is wrapped up, like in someone’s arms, we envelop it. Envelop rhymes with develop.

The large woman can envelop her child in a hug.

The cavalry’s job was to envelop the group of archers.

Loath, loathe

Loath is the adjective. Loathe is the verb.

I was loath to do the dishes because I loathe that job.

*** I might point out that while we might still use the word loathe, it would be rare to hear someone say they are loath to do something.

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I see the above words misused very often when I’m copy-editing. If you are aware of the differences in these similar words, you will misuse them less often.

An easy way to check for these words is to use “Find” in your Word file, and type in the word you are searching for. Then check to see if you have the right word in each case.

A little tip: if you type in the word without the “e,” all the ones with “e” will also show up.

For example: Type in breath and all cases of breath will come up as well as all cases of breathe, and then you can check them all at once.

Words that Jar

I know I’ve mentioned some of these misused words and expressions before, but lately I’ve heard them so often, particularly in TV news reports, that I felt another post about them was warranted.

You would think that people who make a living from publishing their reports would get the language correct, and yet, it seems that these reporters and news anchors don’t have anyone supervising their grammar skills. No one suggests to them that they should speak English correctly if they are going to address the public.

They repeat these same mistakes almost daily.

The first one that really bothers me is “regards.” When they mean “pertaining to” or “about” a certain subject, why do they first have to send a greeting to it?

Perhaps they’re going to talk about the tent cities springing up outside high schools in Seattle. First the news anchor has to send his regards to the tent city.

“With regards to the tent city, hi, how are you doing? I’m thinking of you. Have a nice day.”

While they’re at it, why don’t they send their regards to my Aunt Mary and me? We feel left out.

But sending a greeting is what they are doing, when they really meant to say, “And now, about the tent cities….” Or maybe, “And now, concerning the tent cities….” Or maybe, “With regard to the tent cities….”

Okay, I feel better now that I’ve blown off some steam on that one.

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Here is another one that really bugs me. Same thing – usually reporters and news anchors misusing the terms.

Amount or number?

If you can weigh it or shove it all together in a mass, the term you want is “amount.

The amount of water in a glass, the amount of garbage in the can, the amount of rice in the pot. These are things that can be measured or scooped up in a heap.

So when I hear them say the amount of people in the crowd, I’m already wondering how many pounds they mean. Maybe there are a thousand pounds of people in the crowd?

Anything that is countable (theoretically) is referred to as a number of things. I said theoretically, because you wouldn’t want to count the number of daffodils growing on a hillside, but theoretically, you could.

Examples:

The number of people in the crowd.

The number of raindrops, but the amount of rain.

The number of grains of sand, but the amount of sand.

The amount of wood in the shed, but the number of pieces of firewood.

The amount of rice, but the number of grains of rice.

The amount of frustration I feel when I hear the news anchor misuse these words, but the number of times I feel that frustration.

AAAARRRGGHHHHH!