What does "prate" mean?

What does "prate" mean?

From http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/prate:
To talk long and idly : CHATTER

Eno River Sunrise

Monday, July 10, 2017

"You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means."

The title of this post is a well-known phrase from the movie "The Princess Bride." In this post, I am going to highlight some commonly misused words and phrases that do not mean what people think that they mean.

Begs the Question

"Begging the question" is a logical fallacy. Per Wikipedia:

To beg a question means to assume the conclusion of an argument—a type of circular reasoning. This is an informal fallacy, in which an arguer includes the conclusion to be proven within a premise of the argument, often in an indirect way such that its presence within the premise is hidden or at least not easily apparent.

That's not how the phrase is commonly used. Many people say "begs the question" when they mean "raises the question." It is rare that a legitimate use of "begs the question" comes up in normal conversation.

My advice: Unless you are a logician or a pedantic arguer, don't use this phrase.

Comprised Of

I often hear people say "comprised of" when they mean "composed of." Per Merriam-Webster, "comprise" is defined as:
1:  to include especially within a particular scope
  • … civilization as Lenin used the term would then certainly have comprised the changes that are now associated in our minds with “developed” rather than “developing” states. — The Times Literary Supplement (London)
2:  to be made up of
  • The factory was to be a vast installation, comprising fifty buildings. — Jane Jacobs
  • The play comprises three acts.
3:  compose, constitute
  • … a misconception as to what comprises a literary generation. — William Styron
  • … about 8 percent of our military forces are comprised of women. — Jimmy Carter
Note that there is no "of" following "comprised."

My advice: Mr. Carter notwithstanding, don't use "comprise" unless you are working on a patent.


People love to point what they think is hypocrisy, especially regarding politicians of the opposing party. Per Merriam-Webster, hypocrisy refers to a belief that may not be known at the time:
1:  a feigning to be what one is not or to believe what one does not :  behavior that contradicts what one claims to believe or feel. 
  • His hypocrisy was finally revealed with the publication of his private letters.;
 especially :  the false assumption of an appearance of virtue or religion
  • our conventional morality often serves as a cover for hypocrisy and selfishness — Lucius Garvin

In most cases, when people make accusations of hypocrisy, they actually are pointing out inconsistency or flip-flopping. "Mr. X used to say A, but now he says B. He's a hypocrite." It's not a conflict between a public position and a private belief; it's a conflict between two public positions.

My advice: Unless you are referring to a case where a person's inconsistent private beliefs have been revealed, don't refer to hypocrisy.

Know Your Words

I love words and have a relatively large vocabulary. However, I try to make sure that I understand what the words (and phrases) actually mean, and how to use them properly. 

By all means expand your vocabulary, but don't use words just to try to sound smart or because you have heard others use them.

p.s. For fun, look up the word "shambles" to see the primary definition. You may be surprised.

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