By Craig Funston
Children, your attention please: Here is a brief grammar lesson to get you into the mood for that blessed event that going to happen in a couple of weeks. Uh, that would be going back to school, if you hadn’t clued in.
The unwritten word in today’s lesson is “misnomer.” You actually have two root words here: “mis,” is a prefix that means “amiss,” badly,” or “unfavourably”; and “nomer,” which comes from “nom,” meaning “name.”
Hence, a brief lesson about a word that is badly or poorly named.
The word in question is “smart,” and unfortunately, there are repeat examples of its misuse. When it acts as an adjective (= one of those words that describes a noun) in my examples, it actually means the opposite.
In other words, a smart car is not a smart purchase, being the small, vulnerable car that it is. A smart alec is a person who thinks he’s smart, but is not. And a smart phone is only a smart as its dumb user.
Let’s start with the so-called smart car: It’s actually not smart for a number of reasons. One, it could run into a poodle and be totalled–the car, that is, not the dog; two, the car is only as smart as the driver, and anyone who buys a smart car is not smart (see #1); and three, what other car is described with human qualities?
Have you ever heard of a Pretty Car? Mint Car? Macho Car? Smart may be a description, but it’s never a name.
Smart Alec speaks of a person’s ability to shoot his mouth off, whether his brains are loaded or not. We tolerate these types. I hesitate to stereotype, but it’s usually a guy (or else it would be Smart Alexis, wouldn’t it?), and he’s usually close to either side of the twenty years old. If so, he should shut up, grow up, then finally be locked up.
(Note to avid fans, wannabe writers, and fellow-lexiphiles: See my careful use of the word “usually”: it allows writers some wiggle room and saves us a heap of trouble from the insult department.
Alec Smart would be better than smart alec, unless you’re last name isn’t Smart, of course. I would take it as an insult if someone would call me a smart alec today. I probably was a few decades ago, but this maturity thing finally kicked in. A more accurate rendering would be any one of the following: mouthy alec, cheeky alec, or lippy alec.
Finally, we have the (inappropriately-named) “smart” phone. Smart phones are not really that smart, compared to other tools, but they seem smart when actually they make their users look smart. Is there a place for them? Absolutely! In fact, I have one myself. But I control it. I turn it off and on; I answer it when I so choose; and I use it—it doesn’t (ab)use me.
I’m not dumb enough to walk down the sidewalk consumed by my phone, oblivious to everything and everyone. In my opinion, that’s dumb. And dangerous.
A smart phone can do a lot of things, but that is only because a human pushes a button here and scrolls down there. How clever is that? Some could argue that a so-called smart phone appears to be smart because it enables and empowers the user every time.
Let me pass along some tips for you: 1. use the phone only when necessary; 2. make sure you control the phone and it doesn’t control you; and 3. never use it when there are sidewalks to walk on, cars to drive, and people to interact with.
Not so quick, Tonto. I find the more people use the toy, the less they are able to socialize, to think, and to function in the real world.
So that’s smart?
If a smart car is unsafe, a smart alec is cheeky, then a smart phone is scary. And I say scary, not in the monster form of scary, but in the control form of scary. You will agree with me–you rational being, you—that we have an epidemic of a dumbed-down populace everywhere?
Whatever you do, don’t jump in one of those puny, little cars, shooting your mouth off on an electronic gadget, and think you’re smart. Now that’s a true misnomer. In my opinion, I think there’s a movie score that goes along with that: “dumb…dumb, dumb, dumb, dumb.”