For some reason, if someone doesn’t say something VERY clearly, I quite frequently will not comprehend ANY of what they said. It happens a lot on the phone or on mass transit. When I can’t quite understand what you are saying, naturally I’ll ask for you to repeat it. Then again. And again. After three times, things get tricky for me. Obviously I can’t ask you a fourth time. That’s just nuts. You’ll think I’m messing with you. Instead, I’ll run what I THINK you said through some mental filters and try to work it out. It often works, but occasionally I come to the wrong conclusion. One time, for the better part of ten minutes, I was utterly convinced a friend of mine was explaining his desire to buy smurf food. He said things like:
“I really need a smurf food. Smurf Foods are so useful.”
He probably said more, but by this point all that was going on in my head was:
“Smurf Food? What did smurfs eat? Was it some special berry? No, that was the Gummi Bears. Smurf berries sounds right, though. But if they only ate one thing then why was there a Chef? Oh god he’s looking at me! How long ago did he stop talking?! What should I say!!!?”
It turns out he wanted a smart phone. My point, and believe it or not there IS a point to this, is that sometimes I hear things wrong and have to be corrected. Other times, there is no one there to correct me, and I end up thinking the wrong thing for YEARS. The worst part? Half of the time I like my version better.
Obviously this happens most often with common phrases. For instance, if something is not quite like something but virtually identical, or at least fills the role, then you might say that it is “for all intents and purposes” the same thing. Up until about two months ago, I thought that phrase was “all intensive purposes.” Think about it for a second. Intents and purposes, in this case, appear to mean the same thing, effectively “uses.” So “for all intents and purposes” is redundant at best, and misleading at worst. I mean, for ALL intents and purposes? Wouldn’t that mean it WAS perfectly identical, instead of nearly so? Meanwhile, all “intensive purposes” boils down to all of the really important, crucial, key purposes. I say it is much clearer.
Another problem phrase is “beside the point” when referring to something that is not relevant to an argument. It works, I’ll admit. If you are talking about something that is beside the point, then you certainly are missing the point, but apparently not by much. You may not be on the point, but you are literally right next to it. That is pretty good, and when shooting down someone’s argument, indicating they are in the right neighborhood might not be the best tactic. My version is “besides the point.” It is very subtly different. I’m saying besides, as in “in addition to.” I’m pointing out that the fact you brought up is extraneous to the issue. Superfluous. Not needed. Saying something that is besides the point shows that you are an overeager arguer and you are muddying the waters with extra crap. I never imply that it is in any way close to the point, and that, I think, is better at pointing out the whole point of pinpointing the point that is the point of the argument at this point.
Then there is the absolute apex of something. The key purpose. The ultimate goal. People will refer to this as the “end all, be all.” That doesn’t even make sense! End all, be all? It is the whole thing? “Profit is the be all and end all of business” implies that business is actually composed of profit, while at the same time that is what it was created to make… okay, TECHINICALLY, that makes perfect sense. When I was introduced to this phrase, though, it was during one of the many fourth wall breaking monologues that Ferris Bueller has during his eponymous day off. When speaking of Cameron, I thought he said:
…he’s gonna marry the first girl he lays … because she will have given him what he has built up in his mind as the end-all, BEAT-ALL of human existence.
My juvenile mind worked out the following:
End all, beat all? What does that mean? Let’s check the context. Okay. Lays… I know that refers to either sex or potato chips. Probably sex. And sex is good. Probably the best thing in human existence. “End all, beat all” must mean best. Potato chips are pretty good too! I’m going to go get some potato chips.
And so began a lifelong misunderstanding and eating disorder. Thanks a bunch, John Hughes. But the important thing is that “end all beat all” makes sense if it means best. Profit is the end all, beat all of business. It comes at the end and defeats every other outcome. That is good. That is descriptive. That’s what I’m sticking with. The Reuben is the end all, beat all of sandwiches. And it is good with potato chips.
I’m not saying that my versions of these phrases are right. I know they aren’t right. But just because something isn’t accurate doesn’t mean it can’t be better. The opposable thumb is, basically, an inaccurate attempt at a big toe, and I think we all agree it is an improvement. My versions are evolutions, people. And you can’t stop evolution! McCain gets elected, in which case, “You can’t stop intelligent design!”*
* Why end with a completely out of place piece of political commentary? Because I couldn’t think of a good ending, that’s why.