Thursday, August 13, 2009

Semantics: A look at the phrase 'yell at.' Or how I finally proved my dad wrong twenty-some years later.

There is nothing that makes me feel so stupid as to use a word incorrectly. Likewise, there is nothing that makes me more upset than to hear a word misused.

You can ask my girlfriend (okay, so only those of you who know her can probably manage that). Given the right circumstances, I will argue semantics until my jaw hurts. To me, the meaning of a word (or sentence) is everything. I understand that there are shades of meaning; sarcasm, hyperbole, and so-forth. And if someone knowingly says something they don't mean, that's fine, on one level.

But to say something that your intentions or emotions don't back up because you just let the words fall out of your mouth, is a different offense entirely, and one that I often, for some reason, find myself debating with some people over.

It's probably just as annoying as it sounds. But thankfully, I don't (believe I) do it very often. Perhaps it's all a part of why I'm a poet.

But I was arguing with my girlfriend earlier today, and I told her that I didn't know why she was yelling at me. Her response was that she hadn't raised her voice at all, so how was she yelling? I not-so-happily responded that she was scolding me, then, and this was the same argument over the meaning of 'yelling at' someone as I'd had my entire life with my dad.

So I came inside and did what the poet in me had to do. First I looked up yell, but none of the definitions meant to scold. Strange. So I tried asking Google for definitions of yell. Same thing. So finally, I asked Google to define the phrase 'yell at.'

Definitions of yell at on the Web:

To scold, to rebuke - often by yelling
That is, often, but not always, by yelling.

There Dad. I told you.

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