December 9, 2010

Weekly Language Usage Tips: Curricula/curriculums & invitation/incite and booyah

Posted in booyah/boo yah, curricula/curriculums, invite/invitation tagged at 6:17 am by dlseltzer

Tip 1: Curricula or curriculums

A reader writes:

Curriculum. Have you weighed in on the plural of this word for WLUT? I thought you’d done something on Latin plurals but didn’t find it in the archive.

A quick Google search makes it seem as though we’ve adopted this as an English word with curriculums a permitted plural

Do you agree?

I looked back in the archives and saw that we had a discussion of data and datum in January of 2009 (https://languagetips.wordpress.com/category/data-is-or-are/), but the issue of the word, data, is a little bit different-involving a consideration of collective nouns, whether the word ‘data’ can be both singular and plural, and so forth.

As the reader correctly noted, curriculum is a Latin word, meaning “a running, course, career.” It also refers to “a fast chariot” which I like quite a lot. (Thank you, Online Etymology Dictionary (http://www.etymonline.com/). In Latin, words ending in ‘um’ are made plural by changing the ‘um’ to ‘a,’ so the Latin plural of curriculum is curricula.

Many Latin words have been imported into English, and some maintain the Latin formations so we have datum and data, honorarium and honoraria, millennium and millennia, etc. However, over time, some of the words have evolved-some would say deteriorated-into using the more common English way of making plurals, simply by adding an ‘s’ or ‘es’ to the singular word. So we have stadium and stadiums (not stadia), auditorium and auditoriums (not auditoria), emporium and emporiums (not emporia), etc.

Nevertheless, some words are continuing to change, and it is not unusual to see the plural spelled with either an ‘a’ or an ‘s.’ We don’t know yet whether both forms will be considered standard or whether one will fall by the wayside. Thus, we have both compendiums and compendia, mediums and media, memorandums and memoranda, etc. Curriculum falls into this latter category, and it is currently acceptable to use curriculums or curricula for the plural form of the word.

I’m old school (some might say simply ‘old’), and I still use curricula as the plural of curriculum, but I won’t correct anyone who uses curriculums because that’s okay, too.

Tip 2: Invitation or invite & booyah

A reader writes:

One more thing: another example of the shortening of a noun such as invitation to invite is consultation to consult. So booyah (formerly boo yah) to the medical profession for that.

BTW, where the heck did booyah come from?

I’m going to start with ‘consult’ since ‘invite’ is a little more difficult for me to think about, and since I had never heard of booyah before getting this email, that word is more difficult still.

‘Consult,’ as a noun, meaning ‘consultation’ has a long and venerable history. Well, actually not that venerable since most dictionaries consider that usage to be obsolete. But it does have a long history–I’m not sure when it fell out of favor. Many of the dictionaries I consulted did not show any usage of ‘consult’ as a noun at all-obsolete or otherwise. The few that did, confined its use to ‘a consultation’ with a physician’ or ‘a consultation about medical matters,’ so the reader is correct that its current usage is derived from the medical profession.

And, furthermore, I can imagine how the change took place. I work with doctors daily so I know they are very busy people. I can easily envision a harried physician using the verb form of the word as a noun to save the time it takes to say ‘ation.’

[NOTE: How do you identify the physician in an elevator filled with people? The doctor is the one frantically pressing the ‘close door’ button because he or she can’t wait the five seconds it takes for the door to close on its own. As I said, doctors are busy people.]

‘Consult’ as a noun doesn’t bother me–even if used outside of the medical profession, I can easily see someone saying,

I am going to ask a statistician for a consult.

Language evolves, and I think the use of ‘consult’ as a noun has become the standard, especially in the medical profession.

Invite is another story. ‘Invite’ as a noun has become more and more common, but it is still not standard, and, as a result, I would relegate it to the most informal writing and conversation. Such use doesn’t bother me, and I would possibly use ‘invite’ as a noun in some conversations–say, when trying to keep connecting with the other person talking and saying ‘invite.’ Possibly. But it is still not standard even though I fully expect it to become so, and I will change my tune when it does. After all, ‘access’ is completely acceptable as a verb, now. And ‘quote’ is almost acceptable as a noun (but not quite yet). The language is evolving, and I will try to, too.

Before I start writing about ‘booyah’ or ‘boo yah’ or whatever the ‘word’ is, let me just say that I will never use it. Never, ever. And I am willing to go out on a limb here and say that it will never become stand English. Never, ever. I don’t care how much language evolves; that’s a point in evolution that I never want to see.

Okay, I am done now.

What’s interesting to me about this, is that I know the writer of the email that started this entire discussion, and I’m pretty sure that he didn’t mean ‘kudos’ when he wrote:

So booyah (formerly boo yah) to the medical profession for that.

He’s not one who takes kindly to word changes, so he most likely didn’t realize that ‘booyah’ was an expression of happiness or a positive emotion (neither did I until I just looked it up). It is a shout of exuberance or satisfaction.

I found two possible origins of the word, and I don’t know if either one is true, but you asked, and I try to answer.

One possible origin of the word is the Jim Cramer show, Mad Money, on CNBC. According to this legend, a viewer from Louisiana called in very pleased with some investment advice he received on the show and burst out with ‘Booyah’ to express his pleasure. The host adopted it as a catchphrase, and the rest is history.

The other story I found multiple times is that a sports announcer, Stuart Scott, of ESPN’s Sportcenter, uses the word as a catchphrase to describe a very good play–I think in baseball.

I found a couple of citations indicating the it is a short form of an unnamed African expression of joy, and some which said it originated in the military.

I don’t know. The good news is that because it is never, ever going to become standard in English, we don’t need to worry about it. So don’t worry, be happy. (Thanks to Bobby McFerrin and Meher Baba for the sentiment.)

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