Thursday, February 07, 2008

Caveat stultus

Regular readers of my blog know that one of my many language pet peeves is the misuse of Latin. One example I haven't previously mentioned is attempted variations on "caveat emptor" which show a complete misunderstanding of grammar and word order.

A Google search on "emptor -caveat" yields such gems as

Caviar Emptor
Calorie Emptor
Cannabis Emptor
Investor Emptor

(as well as a zillion different misspellings of "caveat")

For the unenlightened: Caveat is the VERB. Third person singular, present active subjunctive, meaning "let him/her/it beware". Emptor, meaning "buyer", specifies the subject. Thus, if you wish to issue a warning to any other type of individual, it is emptor that should be replaced, not caveat.


MuPu said...

"______ emptor" is like "______-holic. People coin these terms and phrases from the meanings of the original expressions, without parsing their components for relevancy. I wish I could come up with some other examples off the top of my head, but I'm drawing a blank.

"Factoid" isn't quite the same error, but it's kind of related. I seem to remember that President Reagan pulled the term from obscurity and popularized its correct use — just before CNN started using it with an opposite meaning. So, "factoid" has come to mean both "fact" and "falsehood" (something that resembles or has the "form" of a fact).

Language Lover said...

Interesting. I've coined new "-holic" terms and decided that in cases where a vowel must be added, it should be "o" rather than "a" (e.g. "saltoholic" rather than "saltaholic") since the suffix comes from alcohol. It never occurred to me to question why I was extracting "-holic" to begin with!

FWIW, the Random House Dictionary lists -holic, -aholic, and -oholic as valid, giving the etymology as "extracted from alcoholic". I guess this phenomenon is so widespread that it's become accepted despite its illogic. I hope "___ emptor" doesn't go that route.

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