Often the best way to study words is simply to talk about words with people who listen to how people use words and how newspaper reporters write with them.
Years ago, the late Dr. Norman Brittin of the Auburn University English Department would drop by my office, usually in the late afternoon, to do what we called “talking words.”
One day during the 1990s, he said the spoken word is experiencing an increasing loss of the ‘e’ sound — either long ‘e’ or short ‘e’ — in unaccented syllables.
His examples included duh-licious, duh-lightful, ruh-lief, buh-lieve, uh-mergency, ruh-markable, uh-ventual, uh-liminate, ruh-place, uh-specially, duh-file, uh-conomy and uh-conomic.
He also noted some newspaper writers are confused about the words wrested and wrestled, and wrangle and wangle.
Study these definitions from the American Heritage Dictionary.
Wrest: 1. To obtain … by pulling with violent twisting movements. 2. To usurp forcefully: wrest power. 3. To extract by extortion, guile or persistent effort; wring. (It also means to distort or twist the meaning of another person’s words.)
Wrestle: 1. To contend by grappling and attempting to throw one’s opponent, especially under certain contest rules. 2.a. To contend or to struggle. b. To strive in an effort to master: wrestle with one’s conscience.
Wangle: 1. To make, achieve, or get by contrivance: “Not yet 18, he wangled a job with the Kansas City Star. 2. To manipulate or juggle, especially fraudulently.
3. To extricate oneself from difficulty. To extricate oneself by subtle or indirect means, as from difficulty: wriggle. (Wangle was originally a printer’s term “to manipulate or devise a substitute for.” It may have been a blend of waggle and wankle.)
Wankle is defined in Webster as “to stagger, sway — more at a wink.”
Wrangle: To dispute noisily or angrily; quarrel, bicker. 1. To win or obtain by argument. 2. In the Western U.S., to herd horses or other livestock.
Seemingly, the world today is moving at such a quicker pace, I doubt if people are still “talking words” as we did.
I was thinking the other night while listening to one of the commentators (Rachel Maddow) during a discussion on MSNBC. She uses words with such Gatling gun speed that no one is quick enough to understand whether she uses words correctly or if she pronounces them correctly.
I would not dare to “wrangle” with Rachel Maddow about the correct use of words. She appears to be able to think as quickly as she talks.
Gillis Morgan is an associate professor emeritus of journalism at Auburn University and an award-winning columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org