In the spirit of an earlier post (Words that won't make you look foolish), I'm looking at words that don't mean what they should. This is partly the result of a moral crisis, whereby I don't always know if I'm right, and partly out of a feeling of irritation with online dictionaries, which seem far too tolerant. Every sub-editor, word-nerd and logophile should be a seething ball of fury, scowling at the world and dreaming hideous punishments for those that abuse their beloved language. If our list were less specific and our intended victims less distant, we would all be Dennis Nilsen.
This is why sub-editors never meet in large groups. Partly it's because the suppressed rage of more than half a dozen of them would acquire its own critical mass, creating a fireball of self-righteousness that would evaporate all life within a 200-metre radius. But it's also because of fear: the fear that others of your ilk might a) disagree with you and b) be right. This is like turning up at a Christian fundamentalist convention and discovering that you've each got a slightly different version of the Bible.
"Hey, Patrick's still clinging to Genesis! Aww, how quaint!""It's a great story, but a bit out-dated. I replaced it in my Bible with part 2 of the Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers' Idiots Abroad.""Leviticus is far too liberal. I replaced it with the Chicago Manual of Style."
The above discourse is unlikely to happen, if only because the God of the Old Testament doesn't have nearly as much fire and brimstone as your average sub-editor. Look into his eyes next time the marketing manager tries to utilise some analytics or leverage some solutions. What's he thinking? Pillar of salt or smiting the firstborn unto the seventh generation? Near to every sub-editor's desk is a suspiciously clear area. But it only looks that way. In the sub's mind it is the display area where he keeps his collection of shrunken heads.
I'm still looking at words that don't mean what they should. Maybe next week I'll write about them.
Moral: Self-loathing is pointless. A good sub-editor can loathe you more than you can ever hope to loathe yourself.