Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Common Misconceptions

Today is "President's Day."  Everyone knows that.  Right?

Wrong.  Today is "Washington's Birthday" as an official government holiday as listed by the Office of Management and Budget.  As their website explains: "This holiday is designated as 'Washington’s Birthday' in section 6103(a) of title 5 of the United States Code."  In 1968 a law called the "Uniform Monday Holiday Act" changed Washington's Birthday from February 22nd (his actual birthday) to the third Monday in February so that government employees and bankers can have a three-day weekend (this is also when Memorial Day and Labor Day were moved to Monday; Martin Luther King Jr. Day was designated in 1983 and was always the third Monday of January which is near his actual birthday of January 15th).

So why does pretty much everyone call the holiday today (signified by the mail not coming) "President's Day"?

Well, first of all, some states and localities have declared it to be "President's Day."  But mostly I think it's because Lincoln's birthday (which was a holiday before 1968) was sort of consolidated into Washington's Birthday and people started thinking of the day as an agglomeration of presidents' birthdays.  Then came "Presidents' Day sales" and the whole gamut until now, probably 90% of Americans believe yesterday was Presidents' Day.  And they are wrong.

But this is, I think, indicative of many misconception held by most people.  One aspect of this is what do words mean.  For example, one of my pet peeves is "hopefully" which people use to mean "I hope."  That's not what it means and I expound on that a lot here.  But I think that one is beyond repair as even the AP style book accepts the incorrect usage.

The word "jealous" has been having a resurgence lately of usage such as:
Reader One: "I just won Hammer of Thor from S. Evan Townsend's website drawing"
Reader Two: "Jealous!"
No, Reader Two is "envious."  "Envious" is when you covet (to use the Biblical phrase) what someone else has.  "You've got Hammer of Thor, oh man, I wish I had one, too!" That's envious.  "Jealous" is when you are afraid of losing something.  You are jealous that your girlfriend is flirting with the handsome author at the book signing.  You jealously guard your stash of early DC comic books.  Your friends are envious of your stash of early DC comic books.

There are so many common misconceptions about, well, so many things: history, science, economics, language, etc. that to list just a few would mean making this a very long blog post.  But we, as writers, need to be accurate and not feed into those common misconceptions.  The problem is, most people, including writers, are not aware that they are wrong.  And that causes these misconceptions to live on.

UPDATE: Because I accidentally scheduled this for the wrong day, it posted on the wrong day and therefore any time reference (i.e., "today") maybe incorrect.

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