Sunday, November 1, 2015

Word of the Day: “Collectedly”

[After weeks of essayistic Bigthink, I now, quâ linguist, perform the humble function pioneered by Miss Fidditch -- the grammatical equivalent of sweeping up the droppings behind a horse.]

When I taught French at Berkeley, it was my strict rule never to utter an ungrammatical or idiomatic sentence within earshot of my students:  for such, even bracketed by Awful Warnings, might neurologically  nonetheless  imprint itself  upon the immature and budding brain.   That is decidedly true for language-learning; recent studies suggest -- depressingly -- a broader application, to the effect that well-meaning academic or governmental campaigns informing the public “Don’t do X!”, actually enhances the status of ‘X’ in the mind (if we can call it that) of much of the public.  And this, not out of contrarian orneriness, but from simple psychology (or perhaps, the psychology of the simple):  Classic example, the unwisdom of Nixon’s “I am not a crook!”  Inevitably, that conujures up a picture of Nixon in the garb of a Beagle Boy -- granted, with a red slant line across it;  but such is the unconscious, as Papa Sigmund has taught us, that such a proviso will, in practice, fail of its effect.

And so to today’s mini-morsel.
The media are reporting that the Colorado Springs killer proceeded … and here we shall deliberately not quote what they are transmitting, since it is inherently semantically toxic.  What the witnesses meant to say, was, that the killer proceeded “calmly and collectedly”.   Collected:  self-composed, self-possessed.  As in the classic phrase, "Cool, calm, and collected."
What makes the adjective collected (and its associated adverb) somewhat tricky, is that its sense bears only an indirect relation to current uses of the verb collect, and none at all to the noun collection.   The use is originally metaphorical, as in "collect one's thoughts", "gather one's wits".  Or, in modern slang, "get it together".

A single person cannot move “collectively”, any more than a single person can “disperse”.  (That latter verb, with its obligatorily plural subject, is a favorite example of linguists.)

Thus ends our lesson for the day.

1 comment:

  1. The pre-dawn effort to understand the last paragraph will ensure that my conduct will be calm and collected all the day long.