Chris Uggen's Blog: how enervating!

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

how enervating!

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 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."


At 5:37 PM, Anonymous valerio said...

chris, professors do such mistakes as well?! no way. :-)

i don't mind if something like that happens to me, but a situation i really don't like to be in is when somebody else uses a word in an inappropriate context. for example, say my girlfriend is mad at me (not that she is), she can use a word that totally doesn't fit with the context of her statement. and what do you do in such a situation? "honey, hm, what you just said is not semantically correct."

or, even worse, say you're participating in a public debate (classroom, for example), and somebody does the same thing. and if the discussion is heated, if you tell your partner in discussion in front of all the people "xxx doesn't mean that, but something else", it's not going to be interpreted as benevolent, although it is.

and, finally, what if somebody does the same mistake on your blog? :-)

At 12:29 AM, Anonymous chris said...

hey valerio, that's why i posted it, buddy. i'm pretty gracious when others make mistakes, but fall apart when the fault is my own. i've slowly learned to smile politely at most mistakes. my son recently lost faith in his english teacher when she told him that "unconscionable" wasn't a word. so he feels superior despite his way-way-below-superior grades. i was the same way as a teenager, only snarkier. now i can identify with the poor teacher...

At 12:07 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"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."

I agree entirely! I wish you did too!

At 12:11 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dictionary.Com? Here's what the bible, the OED (i.e., a real dictionary) has to say:

enervated e.nrveited, ppl. a. [f. enervate v. + -ed1. ] That is deprived of nerve and strength, lit. and fig.; effeminate, weakly.

Yes, I gather, not exactly what you meant to say! Hilarious. Thanks.

At 12:41 PM, Blogger Woz said...

I can totally identify with Valerio, in the context of partner fights and symantics. I have been cursed with a nearly perfect memory, with which I can remember most converstaions and events to nearly perfect detail, especially those that are important for one reason or another (such as, say, heated arguments with the girlfriend). It turns out to be a liablility in future arguments, though, because whenever she attempts to quote something either of us said, I'll inevitably correct her on not only that sentence, but the half-dozen both preceding and following it. Of course I realize both how pompous and anooying this is, but I just can't help myself.

Can also identify with Tor on the English teacher front. I had one english teacher in high school whom I had the least amount of respect possible for, and took no more delight than in pointing out the myriad of times she was wrong (I was quite the nerd). Fortunately, she passed me, but I don't know if it was out of kindness or simply the desire to ensure I didn't repeat the course, but unlike Uggen, I've yet to be able to identify with her and/or sympathize with her.

At 11:16 PM, Anonymous chris said...

hey anonymous, i have to admit that's pretty funny. m. burawoy wouldn't have gotten past the lead sentence, but he might love the rest of the paper. i suppose i'll be confusing inveterate and invertebrate next, or maybe irreverent and irrelevant.

woz, i'm pretty cautious about correcting others with whom i'll have continuing relationships. i usually try to do so privately and when they're in a good mood. they'll often share a laundry list of corrections for me that they'd been saving for just such an occasion.


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