Living in the Washington DC area gives most commuters a unique opportunity to think, listen to books on tape, podcasts, or their favorite music, or just simmer with road rage. That’s because most commuters (like myself) spend 10 hours or more a week in the car going to and from work. I use my time (mostly) to listen to books or podcasts.
While listening I’m often struck by the occasional English word and how we use it. Today I was listening to the book The Unthinkable: Who Survives When Disaster Strikes – and Why. I was listening to this book because of the reactions of the characters on the TV show The Walking Dead. I wanted to know if people were really that stupid during disasters (the answer is yes, we mostly are) and what physiologically causes those reactions. I may write about that later and we can go down that rabbit hole, but today’s post is about words.
The author of the above-mentioned book, Amanda Ripley, used the word “overwhelmed” when describing the emotions of some of the victims of recent disasters. I pondered the word – overwhelmed – and its opposite, underwhelmed, and wondered why we don’t say we are whelmed? The definition of whelmed is (according to Webster’s) “…to be overcome in thought or feeling.” So now I wonder: why overwhelmed? Couldn’t we just say we are whelmed? The co-authors of this blog and fellow linguists are also weird this way, since we had to think about a word’s many possible meanings to translate it. We are also picky about misuse of English words; one of our favorite English non-words was “irregardless” (even spell check hates this word). “Irregardless” has the same meaning as regardless – so why not use regardless? I now find that overwhelmed (a real word) strikes the same chord with me that “irregardless” does. Just use whelmed; to say overwhelmed is simply redundant.
Friday rant complete – I will now contemplate further on why the writers of The Walking Dead seem to always find the worst in humanity. Last note – where are all the Special Operations soldiers in The Walking Dead universe? Aren’t they the most likely to survive a zombie apocalypse? I mean – a housewife, a redneck, a redneck sheriff, and a wanna-be samurai survive but not one Green Beret, SEAL, Ranger, Marine? Really?