Thursday, December 31, 2009

It's got a backbeat, you can't lose it

A little too much Stephen Colbert running through the copy editor's mind here? Put a "-y" on something and you get some sort of adjective that means, oh, something?

There is an adjective "catchy," and it means pretty much what it's meant forever (or since the early 19th century, to hear the OED tell it): "Adapted to catch the attention or fancy; attractive, ‘taking.'" The examples include "a catchy, stage-like effect" and "catchy tunes." We're looking for a different adjective: as Shakespeare put it, "sicknesse is catching."

This is one of the ways language changes. People make mistakes, more people make the same mistake, still other people use it because it seems to make sense, and eventually, sometimes, it stops being a mistake. But you can't decree that new meaning with a wave of the editorial wand. This one's just an error.

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