as my collaborators and advisees know too well, i pride myself on diction and phraseology. words, that is. pride, of course, is a dangerous thing.
have you ever used a term in precisely the wrong way? i recently submitted a paper with michelle inderbitzin to the annual sociology meetings. our public criminologies mansucript leads with the following sentence:
The concept of “public sociology” has enervated conversations about what it means to be a sociologist, to do sociological work, and the meaning of that work to larger publics.
we also sent the draft to an eminent scholar, who generously provided comments. s/he flagged enervating in the first sentence, suggesting that we might want to look in a dictionary. argh! i had thought it meant "to energize or cause cool new ideas to course through the body." unfortunately, enervating actually means "to dissipate, weaken, and suck the life out of the body." oops. such mistakes are really irrigating. or enervating. whatever.
i half-heartedly tried to pin it on michelle (surely you wrote that line, right partner?), but i knew it was my line and she knew i was wrong all along. googling a bit, i've seen it used properly (the enervating slackness of passive people) and somewhat less properly (fresh, enervating, and non-synthetic). here's dictionary.com again:
Usage Note: Sometimes people mistakenly use enervate to mean “to invigorate” or “to excite” by assuming that this word is a close cousin of the verb energize. In fact enervate does not come from the same source as energize (Greek energos, “active”). It comes from Latin nervus, “sinew.” Thus enervate means “to cause to become ‘out of muscle’,” that is, “to weaken or deplete of strength.”
i realize, of course, that some would still accuse public sociology of enervating the discipline, but that wasn't our intent. the word enervating reminds me of confusion over recursive and non-recursive models, which social scientists can also get precisely wrong. recursive models assume that the causal influences all flow in one direction, whereas nonrecursive models allow for reciprocal or two-way causation. i'll remember it now: enervating is to energizing as recursive is to reciprocal.
this is how we learn, right? as sage language maven william strunk once said, "if you don't know how to pronounce a word, say it loud!" i can't let such mistakes enervate me, since they are likely to be recurring (or perhaps i mean non-recurring). from now on, i'll try to keep it simple. as sage centerfielder mickey rivers once said, "my goals are to hit .300, score 100 runs, and stay injury-prone."