A few stolen minutes out of your day to talk words and communication. Let’s talk language tips for the curious or confused. Welcome to episode three of season three.
The Irish author Samuel Beckett once wrote, “Ever tried? Ever failed? No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.” I love this idea, in talking about communication skills as well as so many other areas of life.
People can be so scared of failure or doing something incorrectly. I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately. But what can we achieve if we don’t try?
Season 3, Episode 3: The origin of “compete” and “boycott” & is “lineup” / “line up” one or two words anyway?
Tied into this idea, today’s question for you is what’s the Latin origin of the word “compete”? Is it to be the best? Is to work hard? Is it to strive together? Is it the physical collision of two bodies? Only one of those is correct. Think on that.
And while we’re thinking about competition, consider the word (or should I say words?) “lineup” / “line up.” Kindergartners line up with their classmates. A football team’s lineup is set before the game begins (and hopefully if you’re playing fantasy football, yours is too). It’s one of those words that baffles and people tend to have their thumbs hovering over that space bar, quivering, nervous about that space or no space, or hyphen! Yes, that’s it, hyphen! No, wait, it’s just one word… I get it. It’s the little things that are sometimes never explained. We’ll dive into that one to.
But before I get to that answer, let’s talk about another word origin story. Since we’re talking about competitions and lineups today, let’s also turn to the fascinating background of the word boycott. Have you ever boycotted something? Do you know where this word came from?
In the fall of 1880, the Irish Land League was working to help tenant farmers better their conditions during the Irish Land War. Here’s where the Englishman, Captain Charles Boycott, enters the scene. He was one of many land agents in this time who was targeted by a non-violent strategy of public ostracism. Not only did his laborers leave his fields, but reportedly, shops would not sell to him, nor would his mail be delivered.
All of his supplies had to be shipped from England, because no Irishman would deal with him.
Only a few months after the boycotting of Boycott, his name was first used as a verb, to “boycott” something, as in to no longer do business with, buy from, or spend time with. And the rest is history.
This season of the Words You Should Know podcast, we’re going to explore a number of people whose names became entries in the dictionary, whether they appreciated it or not. I’m guessing Charles Boycott didn’t appreciate it. But we’ll see how other folks in our lineup might have felt.
And there’s that word again “lineup.”
Think fast, should it be one or two words? Or should it be hyphenated?
“Line up” or “lineup” or “line-up”? It’s one of those language questions that can have you staring at the blinking cursor on your screen. Hopefully, this quandary isn’t one that crosses the line of something that has you blinking and cursing at your screen.
But when I ask, “which version is correct,” it’s admittedly a bit of a trick question. It can be one word or two, depending on your goals with it.
Is it a verb, where you are lining something up? Children, pencils, chess pieces? If you’re saying, “line up, everyone,” or realizing it’s time to line up your nesting dolls—one next to its smaller sister, next to its smaller sister, next to its smaller sister—it’s two words.
Is it a noun, where you’re referring to the group? Your fantasy football team lineup or the lineup for tonight’s performance? If so, it is one word, no space, no hyphen. I know you want that hyphen, but it’s really not necessary.
But what about that hyphen? You never actually need it. Sure, maybe you could get away with it when you’re using it as an adjective, as in the coaches’ “line-up” decisions, but notice my wording here. “Maybe, you could get away with it.” The recommended version, even when acting as an adjective, is the one word form.
So in short, lineup (one word) is a noun or adjective. Line up (two words) is a verb.
That’s not too tricky, right? “Pick up” / “Pickup” and “Set up” / “Setup” work the same way.
The one-word form is a noun or adjective. The two-word form is a verb.
There’s not any English language grammar offenders lineup, where you’re going to be called out by folks wielding red pens poised for the attack. You know I’m here to take down the idea of grammar police, not because they don’t have things to teach us, but because it’s not the attitude we need right now. Let’s embrace helping each other and trying to be better versions of ourselves. In life—as in grammar—this is how we change the world.
Maybe today, our efforts are as simple as striking a hyphen, but who knows what’s next?
I’m looking forward to the lineup of podcasts coming your way this season. We are, as you’ve noticed, going back to new shows released every week. And yes, if you’re curious, when I say our Words You Should Know lineup for season three of this English language audio show, that’s “lineup”—one word. No space. No hyphen. But I have faith that you knew that.
As for my first question of this show, before lineups and boycotts, it was all about the word “competition.” We can get competitive over a lot of things. Competition can be fun; it can be intense, but what’s the origin of that word?
Is the Latin root of “competition” to be the best? To work hard? To strive together? Or the physical collision of two bodies?
If you answered “to strive together,” you got this one right. So, grammar’s not a competition. There’s no lineup to worry about. But if you’re thinking about all of us striving together to be the best English language communicators we can be, okay, I’ll absolutely agree to that.
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And if you’re looking for an Elements of Style for the Twitter Generation, check out my book, Get a Grip On Your Grammar: 250 Writing and Editing Reminders for the Curious or Confused. Newbery-winning author Meg Medina says, “You should keep a copy on your desk.” Sounds like good advice to me!
Words. Language. Communications. You’ve got this.