Everyone had a good laugh at Roger Clemens when he recently said (at the congressional hearing about steroid use) that Andy Pettitte had misremembered since we all know that misremembered is obviously not a word. While I agree with those who believe that it is not a word, it’s an interesting case about the grey area of language and communication.
Nearly every word that has been used with any regularity appears in some dictionary somewhere because dictionaries are a typically a reflection of current usage, not of proper grammar. In other words, commonly used non-words usually appear in dictionaries and are then accepted into language as words by much of the population because they’re in the dictionary. The problem is that not everyone agrees that common usage is reason enough to declare a former non-word to be a legitimate word, and debate about the legitimacy might go on for generations.
That’s how the word drug has started to be accepted as the past tense of the word drag by some of us. (The correct past tense is dragged–look for a post from Sherry on this word soon.)
It’s the same with the word misremembered. It does appear in the occasional dictionary, but does that make it an acceptable word? Misremembered appears in these dictionaries not because of common usage, however; it appears there because of the belief that the prefix mis– can be added to nearly any root word to make a new word. Personally, I don’t believe that to be the case with misremembered; the result is an awkward, ineffective non-word that should be avoided.
That is my opinion, and if anyone wants to make the argument that it’s an acceptable word because it shows up in the odd dictionary, then he should misremember things to his heart’s content.
Just don’t misremember this: Good communication skills are more important than whether you can make an argument for using an awkward word. It’s about how to effectively express yourself, which ain’t gonna be happening with bad word picking.
Paul’s book–Literally, the Best Language Book Ever
Personally, I find this whole thing incredibly confusing. I’ve been using the word “misremember” in casual conversation for years, and have never been made fun of for it until last night. When I wanted to know what was so funny, a reference was made to Roger Clemens. So I did a little research and found out about this story, which I completely missed when it happened (a fact for which I will be forever grateful).
I have never heard anything about “misremember” not being a word until now. A little research shows that it’s been in usage for hundreds of years. I’m not sure what more is required to make a word official beyond widespread usage and its appearance in dictionaries. There is no arbiter of language. It is entirely what we make it. So what do you suggest instead? “Remember incorrectly?” Why use two words when one communicates the same concept equally clearly? What, precisely, is wrong with “misremember?” In what way is it awkward or ineffective? I’ve certainly never had anyone ask me what I meant when I used it.
Some congressman thinks a word that’s been in usage for hundreds of years is somehow beneath him, and suddenly everybody comes out of the woodwork to yell “me too.” Unbelievable.
Reply from Paul: My post had nothing to do with a congressman thinking the word was beneath him, but it was in response to the reaction to misremember and the more frequent use of it after the hearing. As I said in the post, it is a grey area–some find it acceptable, and some don’t–so, its usage is a personal choice. I prefer something like “I didn’t remember accurately” or “My memory was inaccurate” since it avoids the word that’s considered awkward by many, including me.
You said not only that it was awkward, but also that it was ineffective, and that it was not a word. You have not made a case for any of those assertions. Clearly, it is a word, as it’s been used for centuries and appears in the most authoritative dictionaries. Clearly, it is effective, as no one ever wonders what it means when they hear it. So the only one of those assertions you could possibly defend is that it’s awkward. But you haven’t even made a case for that. The closest you came was to suggest that the prefix “mis” can’t necessarily be added to any word to make a new word. Of course, as has been pointed out, misremember is hardly a new word. People have been using it for a very long time. Is your suggestion that it is misusing the prefix “mis” in some way? I can’t see how. It seems to be using the prefix in exactly the way it’s supposed to be used.
Bottom line, it was good enough for Jonathan Swift. I’m inclined to go with him and David Morrell over you and the congressman on this one.
The word “misremember” appears is in many dictionaries, not “some dictionary somewhere”. It appears in Merriam Websters unabridged dictionary, along with the Oxford English Dictionary. You appear to have misremembered the etymology of the word “Dictionary”, and the name of the guy who created the modern American dictionary (after learning 26 languages). His name was “Noah Webster”. The dictionary he created became, and remains, the authoritative standard for American dictionaries. Look under “M” for the word “Misremember”. It appears after “Magpie” and before “Moron”…two other words you might want to be sure to add to your vocabulary.
Reply from Paul: As was clearly stated in the post, which you obviously did not understand, not everyone will agree with my assessment; however, the fact that you resorted to insults shows the nature of your character.
The word ‘misremember’ may have had deeper roots than you had thought:
I am disappointed by the negative comments about Paul’s blog on the use of misremembered by society. I agree that several words including the one in question, misremembered; are found in several dictionaries. Dictionaries are a function of the time and society’s influence on which words should be included in them. The acceptance of a word into either Oxford or Merriman Webster dictionary, does not replace Standard English.
What is at issue is the proper use of grammar not if the word is listed in a dictionary. I am surprised that respectable dictionaries I have listed do not call attention to this fact. The use of nonstandard words in society, such as irregardless needs to stop. It would benefit society to revisit the basic tenets of proper grammar; the following two books: the Elements of Grammar and the Elements of Style are a necessary read. I would recommend reading Adam Smith, Marx, or Franklin to provide each of us the correct use of our vernacular.
Yeah, and while you’re picking up books, don’t forget mine (Literally, the Best Language Book Ever). 🙂
I will look forward to your book on my Kindle.
Thanks, Paul. As I tell my friends, who says book promotion needs to be subtle?
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While I do agree that irregardless is a non-word. The “-less” added to regard already negates the word. Adding “ir-” to the beginning creates a strange double negative.
I do question why misremembered breaks any grammatical rules…Isn’t it quite similar to misinterpreted, misinformed? It would seem to me (and I not a literary expert) that adding “mis-” changes the definition of the word to denote that the act (specified by the root word) was performed incorrectly. I.e. misinterpreted: Interpreted incorrectly. So I’m unsure why misremembered: Remembered incorrectly wouldn’t fit here.
It might appear clumsy to some though this is very subjective. I find the word “inelegant” clumsy, but its still a fully a qualified word.
Just my 2 cents.