Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Per Se: A Vexation

Having shown my linguistic cards last week, that I believe what words popularly mean is more important than how they look or how the dictionary might define them, I would like to explore my hypocrisy by discussing one of my most extreme linguistic frustrations.

The winner is... when people use the phrase per se incorrectly.

Per se has a very simple meaning. It means, essentially, "in and of itself." You might use it in this way, "I'm not opposed to violence in film per se, it can be used to make powerful points about our humanity. I just hate mindless bloodletting." That, my friends, is a successful use of the phrase.

However, sadly, many use this word for other, more sadistic purposes. The most popular is as a stand in for the word "say," as in, "So, per se you were going to a movie, and you wanted to see mindless bloodletting. You might check out Night of 1,000 Corpses." This is a total perversion of the phrase, and makes it so that, in the end, no one understands what the hell the phrase actually means. People also enjoy throwing this phrase randomly into [incorrect] places to bring about those warm, fuzzy feelings of intelligence. That is sad, so I will not interact with it.

I encourage you, nay, plead with you. Take this phrase back. It is a good phrase. It rolls off the tongue nicely (cellar door, schmellar door). Just let it roll correctly.


Megan said...

I've never heard anyone use this phrase in place of "say", but it does annoy me even now, just reading it!

Quinn said...

Maybe it was a UNF thing, but people did all the time in class. I wanted to call them out right then, but usually thought better of it. Usually.

Rachelle said...

I have also never heard this! But if I did, I would glare at the offender and say "Moron". I wouldn't be able to resist.

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