Friday, June 19, 2009

My linguistic good deed for the week

Words are important because they have meanings, and we humans are the only ones who use them with understanding. Jabbering parrots and mynahs and the like are only imitating what they hear, without comprehending any of it. Trust me, the occasional canine on America's Funniest Videos who actually seems to be saying “I love you” knows not what it is doing.

It is with ’bated breath, therefore, that your humble correspondent wishes to point out a pair of words that I hear misused more and more frequently. Even the supposedly erudite (not to mention bold and fresh) Bill O'Reilly of Rupert Murdoch's Fox News Channel (the one President Obama dislikes so much) chose the wrong one a few nights ago.

I am speaking, ladies and gentlemen, about the confusion that exists in America regarding the words ancestor and descendant. I rather doubt that any such confusion exists in England, the place where English was invented.

An ancestor, according to the dictionary I checked, is a person from whom one is descended; a forebear; a progenitor. A descendant, on the other hand, is a person or animal that is descended from a specific ancestor; an offspring. You will have to ask the editors of that particular dictionary why an ancestor is a person but a descendant can be either a person or an animal. Curious.

It’s very simple, really. An ancestor, friends, is the earlier party in the relationship. A descendant is the later party. Your grandfather is your ancestor. You are his descendant. Your grandchildren are not your ancestors. Your grandchildren are your descendants. You, on the other hand, are their ancestor.

Got it? All righty, then. Mind how you speak in the future.

Oh, and go forth and multiply. Otherwise, although you are undoubtedly someone’s descendant, you won’t ever be anyone’s ancestor.

Here is a picture of what can happen when you go forth and multiply.

We are off to Alabamistan this weekend with a few descendants of our own.

Perhaps next we will discuss the difference between a first cousin once removed and a second cousin. Or not.


  1. My Blog
    Thanks for your share
    Nice to meet you

    Hsinchu, Taiwan

  2. HELLO
    I want to read your blog, but I don't can, I don't speak english.
    Can you install GOOGLE TRANSLADE FOR BLOG , in your blog.
    Merci beaucoup et à bientot de vous lire, cordialement
    Frida de montpellier France

  3. 2x2= 4
    4x4= 16
    16x16= 256
    256x256= 65,536

    That's all the multiplying my sunburned brain will let me do today.

    Have fun in Alabamistan.

  4. Interesting. I hadn't noticed people mixing up those two words, but I don't doubt it and will have to start listening closer.

    Have a pleasant and safe trip to Alabama!

  5. RWP:

    There I am again! second from the left in the 30th row...gosh, Coney IOsland was fun, particularly on aslow day like that one!

  6. "I rather doubt that any such confusion exists in England, the place where English was invented."

    Actually, my colonial cousin, although this will undoubtedly surprise you, there are ignorant morons in England too who hack their way through our beautiful English language like coolies in a Malayan jungle! By the way what is the difference between a pedant and a potato?

  7. Oops! An aging post, the comments to which I have not replied! A thousand pardons, fellow bloggers.

    My Taiwanese friend, Nice to meet you to. Always glad to share.

    frida, I am chagrined to learn that you don't can read my blog, nor can I yours. I will give serious thought to adding the Google Translation Widget Thingy. I want to lengthen my cords and strengthen my stakes, as the Old Testament says.

    Pat - Arkansas, you had me laughing there; I needed that! You ended up with 64K and perhaps I will explain how one day.

    Jeannelle, my picture of Iowans on farms is that they spend so much time saying sileage and cornfields and oatheads and tractor parade and totally exhausted that there's precious little time for genealogical research.

    Reamus, I believe you have moved since the last time we looked at this photo. Where's Waldo?

    Mr. Yorkshire Pudding, Esq., Pudding Towers, Sheffield, Yorkshire, England, United Kingdom - I know I have heard that joke before but I cannot think of the answer just now. I believe it uses a Spoonerism to evoke a smile on the hearer's face, so go ahead, tell me, but only if it is clean, I give up. What is the difference between a pedant and a potato?