When you’ve worked with words your whole life, you want words to work, to perform their assigned task, to earn their keep, to convey the correct meaning, not close enough — as in horseshoes and hand grenades — but on the bull’s eye.
That’s why I cringe when I see people afflicted with monologophobia — fear of using a word more than once in a single sentence or even in a single paragraph — reach for a synonym but pull out a proximal pretermission — that phrase possibly qualifies as a self-exemplifier.
Take a sentence in today’s newspaper: “Commissioners are paid an annual salary of $72,488. After four years, they earn longevity pay of 2 percent for each year they have served, capped at 20 percent.”
They may earn a salary and they may be paid longevity, but they certainly don’t earn longevity. Commissioners do nothing in return for the pay except hang around another year. They do nothing to deserve the extra pay. There is no quid pro quo, no quo for the quid.
The definition of earn is:
1. to gain or get in return for one’s labor or service: to earn one’s living.
2. to merit as compensation, as for service; deserve: to receive more than one has earned.
3. to acquire through merit: to earn a reputation for honesty.
4. to gain as due return or profit: Savings accounts earn interest.
5. to bring about or cause deservedly: His fair dealing earned our confidence.
If anything, longevity is a lagniappe, a sort of reverse tip.
The definition of lagniappe (pronounced LAN-yap) is:
1. Chiefly Southern Louisiana and Southeast Texas. a small gift given with a purchase to a customer, by way of compliment or for good measure; bonus.
2. a gratuity or tip.
3. an unexpected or indirect benefit.
So properly worded, that sentence should read: “Commissioners are paid an annual salary of $72,488. After four years, they are tossed a lagniappe — since it is only tax money and none of the people doling it out actually have to reach into their own pockets for it — in the form of longevity pay of 2 percent for each year they have served, capped at 20 percent.”
OK, a little Lagniappe: