Grammar Moses: Are you gutted? Heart-wrenched?

  • Danny Thrall, 19, a sophomore on the swim team at Fordham University in New York, forms his hand in the shape of a heart over the scars from open heart surgery as he works out Dec. 23, 2008, at a downtown Chicago health club.

    Danny Thrall, 19, a sophomore on the swim team at Fordham University in New York, forms his hand in the shape of a heart over the scars from open heart surgery as he works out Dec. 23, 2008, at a downtown Chicago health club. Associated Press

 
 
Posted10/4/2021 5:30 AM

This column is about neither butchery nor medieval surgery, which, face it, are one and the same.

It's about feelings and malapropisms.

 

We sure do come up with some interesting, visceral descriptions of the anguish we feel, don't we?

I have an old friend who feels "gutted" when she loses a friend or suffers a minor indignity at work. That's quite a range of anguish, methinks, and "gutted" probably doesn't work for the entirety of it.

I'm thinking "irked" or "disappointed" work better for the lower end of that scale.

But then, I'm a thick-skinned journalist who probably doesn't feel things the way others do. (Don't bet on it.)

There should be a Scoville rating for the emotional pain one suffers, with the irksomeness of getting a cart dent in your car door at the grocery store rated something comparable to biting into a poblano, while losing a loved one would be rated more like chomping on a scotch bonnet and packing it in your cheek for a day.

You'll find emojis on your phone and on that laminated card in the emergency room that do a more precise job of portraying our physical and emotional discomfort than many of us can describe with words.

by signing up you agree to our terms of service
                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Sometimes, we fumble our way into malapropisms.

Opinion Page Editor Jim Slusher recently shared with me this passage from something that crossed his desk: " ... this heart-rendering and life-altering decision ..."

My apologies if you're reading this over Sunday brunch.

"Heart-rending," of course, is the idiom. In a literal sense, it describes the tearing apart of one's heart. In literature (in a figurative sense), it signifies the cause of great emotional pain.

I hear an awful lot of "heart-wrenching," which I assume comes from mishearing the idiom (see "malapropism"). "Heart-wrenching" feels more like a heart attack to me, as if your heart were being squeezed in a vise.

Back to Slusher's point. "Heart-rendering" can make a fair amount of sense, although not in that sentence.

Done eating yet, I hope?

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

To render is to melt down fat, as is done with animal carcasses to sort out the impurities and make lard (which is a must if you're aiming for a good pie crust, if you ask me).

"Heart-rendering" in a literal sense would be melting one's heart, which is a pleasant feeling. Figuratively, it's what you might use to describe the feeling of holding one's grandchild for the first time.

Hey, batter!

"With the baseball playoffs coming up, the sports radio talking heads have been debating the correct abbreviation for runs batted in," wrote reader Terry Ditsch. "Is it RBIs or RBI?"

I'm sure you've heard people say "mother-in-laws" and "attorney generals," and if you read this column you probably shake your head at such people for their ignorance.

In such cases, it's "mothers-in-law" and "attorneys general."

So, wouldn't it follow that the initialism for runs batted in would be "RsBI"?

Sure, but we've jumped into the realm of initialisms (words shortened into letters you sound out, as opposed to acronyms, which are initialisms that make new words, such as scuba), and the rules are different.

The Associated Press suggests we use "RBIs."

But we sometimes disagree with the AP. We say "RBI," whether it's 10 or 135.

As with many things grammar, there is no definitive answer, Terry.

I'm sorry. I guess that leaves me behind in the count.

Write carefully!

• Jim Baumann is vice president/managing editor of the Daily Herald. Write him at jbaumann@dailyherald.com. Put Grammar Moses in the subject line. You also can friend or follow Jim at facebook.com/baumannjim.

0 Comments
                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 
Article Comments
Guidelines: Keep it civil and on topic; no profanity, vulgarity, slurs or personal attacks. People who harass others or joke about tragedies will be blocked. If a comment violates these standards or our terms of service, click the X in the upper right corner of the comment box. To find our more, read our FAQ.