Grammar Moses: Don't disrespect 'disrespect,' but steer clear of 'moist'

Updated 1/20/2018 9:42 PM

By Jim Baumann

Words -- like music -- spiral through your cochleae at the same frequency as the next guy's but often with different emotional results.

You might prefer to listen to some soothing Steely Dan while your work neighbor is head-bobbing to Black Flag on his headphones.

You might find the sound of someone sweetly swearing at you in French more pleasant to the ear than someone loudly telling you in German that you're the love of his life.

I've seen the results of studies that ranked "moist" the most reviled word in English. I'm sure there are others that give you more of a nails-on-a-chalkboard sensation, but few probably make you as instantly queasy.

"Moist" is right up there for me with "glisten" "unctuous," "bilious" and "Bjork concert."

I'm guessing from an email I received from Denny Hayes that "disrespect," used as a verb, creates more of a nails-on-a-chalkboard reaction.

I hope my response calmed his nerves.

"How did 'disrespect' get to be a verb? As in 'He disrespected me.'?" he asked. "'Respect' is a noun; 'respectful' is an adjective; 'respectfully' is an adverb. 'Disrespect is a noun. But 'disrespected' ... a verb? I was excellent at grammar and spelling all my life. I can't even stand the sound of its use as a verb."

For the record, Denny, I don't like the sound of it, either, and for that reason I am disinclined to use it. But it's been used as a verb since 1614, according to the Oxford English Dictionary.

Perhaps that's what killed William Shakespeare two years later.

Would you have the same objection to "Don't dishonor your father by wearing his Army uniform for Halloween"?

It's the same sort of construction, and it rolls off the tongue without a hitch.


My daddy was a butcher in his youth. I'm sure he dealt with plenty of hog heads.

And now I talk to hogheads in my middle age.

Rich Burin read last week's column on words or phrases that are specific to certain lines of work.

"I was employed by the Illinois Central Railroad for a number of years. Had a language all of our own. I wasn't a locomotive engineer but rather a 'hoghead' or 'hogger,'" he wrote. "If I exceeded the legal hours of service and, by law, had to shut the engine down -- regardless of location -- I had 'caught the hogs.' When I went into management as a train master, if I needed to build a temporary railroad around a derailment it was called a 'shoo fly' -- as in 'Let's run a shoo fly around here.'"

Consistency is king

Rich Parkinson wrote to me after seeing a sports headline that bothered him.

"It read, 'Bulls are searching for more consistency.' My old Webster's dictionary defines consistency as, among other uses, 'uniformity among a number of things.' I've also seen it defined something like 'A level of performance which does not vary greatly in quality.' I doubt the Bulls are looking for more uniformity of play quality; they are looking to increase their frequency of good play.

"More uniformity of play quality could be more bad play, more good play or possibly a more reliable mix of good and bad. The use of 'consistency' to mean good play quality has become common among sports writers, announcers and talk show hosts."

I agree it's become as rote as basketball stars' describing their efforts as "playing the game of basketball to the best of my ability."

Michael Jordan should have trademarked that. He'd be rich -- er, much richer -- today.

While I agree that you're technically correct, Rich, I also believe that in these cases "good play" is understood.

It would be silly to think the Bulls would be aiming for more bad play.

In the case of the Chicago Bears, though, there is little evidence that more bad play wasn't the goal of the 2017 season.

Write carefully!

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

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