Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The Grammar Nazi, Chaffering Away

The Grammar Nazi, as has been stated earlier, works at a place where he’s got his nose in technical documents most of the day. That means the Grammar Nazi is constantly learning new things. First of all, I know that the phrase “measure the tare weight” is absolutely correct, as is the word “areal” – it’s the adverbial form of area. Who knew?

So to see an error in a technical document that makes the Grammar Nazi laugh, then laugh even harder when the dictionary comes out, is pretty rare and exciting (I work at an industrial plant; give me a break if I seek excitement where I can find it).

So today’s lesson is on this word:

Chaffing. It is a word, not a mere double-f misspelling of chafing – which is the word this technical document was scratching around for. Chafing, or to chafe, is to “wear away or irritate by rubbing,” according to the trusty American Heritage Dictionary.

Chaffing kinda means something similar, but really means something different. Chaffing, or to chaff (the verb, more on the noun later), means to “make fun of good-naturedly, to tease.”

The noun (chaff) has three meanings:

1) Husks of grain after separation from the seed
2) Strips of metal foil released in the atmosphere to inhibit radar, and
3) Good-natured teasing or banter.

Then there are two orthographically-related words chafer and chaffer. Don’t confuse the two, unless, of course, you’re Franz Kafka.

A chafer is “any of various beetles of the family Scarabaeidae, such as the cockroach.”

To chaffer means to chaff, or in other words to bandy about words, or, alternately, to bargain or haggle. A person who chaffs is called a chafferer. You don’t hear this word much these days.

One final word: baggywrinkle. That’s the soft covering on cables or obstructions that sailors use to prevent rope or cable chafing. Wikipedia describes it as a “large, hairy cylinder.” I kinda like that.

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