Saturday, June 24, 2006

An Area Opportunity

I watch HGTV and I hear of "the living-room area" and "the dining-room area" instead of the living room and the dining room. I watch tennis coverage and I hear of "break-point opportunities" instead of break points. I think the turning of nouns into modifiers to clear the way for superfluous nouns says something about how we're afraid to just come out and say anything. (Or whatever.) But I also see an opportunity for a riff.

The living room is an area. It's an area known as the living room. But a living room cannot be a living-room area.

"Living-room area" would make perfect sense in a reference to an area being used as a living room in a dwelling that doesn't have rooms as such -- a loft, or perhaps an RV. "Living-room area" would make perfect sense in a reference in a reference to the living room and some adjacent real estate. But if you mean "living room," say "living room."

The D.C. area is an area known as Washington, D.C., or just D.C. But Washington, D.C., cannot be the D.C. area.

"D.C. area" makes perfect sense in a reference to Washington and the adjacent region. But if you mean Washington, D.C., say "Washington, D.C."

A break point is an opportunity. But a break point cannot be a break-point opportunity.

Insofar as a break point could be called a break opportunity (you win this point and you break serve, meaning you win a game when you're not serving), "break-point opportunity" could be viewed not as redundant, but as a way of saying "opportunity to get to a break point." At 30-40 the receiver is at break point, with a break opportunity, so then perhaps at love-30 or 15-30 or 30-all the receiver has a break-point opportunity.

To review: If redundancy and wordiness don't bother you all that much, go ahead and say "living-room area" when you mean living room. But "break-point opportunity" is ambiguous. Even if you scoff at "Omit needless words" (as I sometimes do), there's a word there that is begging to be omitted.


M@ said...

Same goes for "power play opportunity" in hockey, eh?

Jeff said...

I was interviewing a chef at an "adult steakhouse" the other day (yes, I know how ludicrous that sounds) when the DJ announces that another "tipping opportunity" was at hand for one of the dancers.

Doug said...

You must avoid TV weather then, or it would send you, as it does me, into a tizzy: "There's an opportunity for rain showers in the downtown area after 12 noon later today."

And sports anchors, fuhgeddaboutit!

writer said...

More clunk weatherspeak: "Precipitation event."

What's wrong with "rain"?

Pagan Marbury said...

I think the Washington, D.C. thing is unique. DC is so small and the surrounding areas are a major community element. It is cumbersome to say "The Greater Washington Metropolitan Statistical Area", but that's usually what we mean. Otherwise, we just say "in the District". What do you think?

P.S. Love your blog. I love words and I always learn something new from you.

Laura Hurst-Brown said...

Words are very rascals: waste them and your piece is cooked. I write features on houses and, believe me, I need each word in the right spot. 'Room' applies to formal public spaces; 'area' is a place with a fantastic view - indoors or out - or a specific purpose, e.g., 'work area,' 'eating area' or 'mud-wrestling area' - you get my point. Connotations can be rascally too. 'Play area' should be strictly avoided. Ditto with stodgy references such as 'butler's pantry.' I prefer 'servery' or if you must, 'serving area.' But forget all of that. Houses come to life on a page with references that take in the colors, depth, textures, dimension and history of its walls and spaces. 'Scumble-glazed chamois walls and rough-timbered ceilings' will say more than 'room.' Likewise, 'African funerary masks, Afghan rifles and a Mexican grain bowl frame a banco, and a photogravure by Edward S. Curtis hangs above the hearth...' describes a room I'd like to see. Writers stuck on particular expressions such as 'room' and 'area' might consider an armchair tour through the works of Richard Meier, Renzo Piano, Jean Nouvel or Santiago Calatrava for a glimpse of the brainsplitting spaces that create new terms for the places where we live and work.

Bill said...

Was there some confusion with "D.C. area"? I don't understand what it would be.

Gadfly said...

Prof, Third Reading:

There's "rain events" here in Dallas, according to the TV folks. Or would that be the TV-area folks? If the chance of rain is 50 percent, does that put you in a "rain event area"?

Gadfly said...


You're assuming summer starts with the summer solstice, which is unwarranted climatologically. For instance, if you're in Chicago, your summer runs roughly Memorial Day-Labor Day, or slightly shorter. If you're in St. Louis, it runs the same or slightly longer.

If you're down in Dallas, where I am, it runs first week in May-first week in October.

Meanwhile, sociologically, summer is still generally considered to run Memorial Day-Labor Day, primarily due to our nine-month school system, of course.

niicelaady said...

A few years ago a newspaper columnist in my neck of the woods referred to local news as The Adventures of Area Man. As in, this guy doesn't necessarily live in your town, or ours, but he may live 50 miles from you/us so he's in the Area! Come and bask in his reflected glory (or shame).

Around here in the past 15-20 years, there's been a trend among newspapers to go regional in an effort to attract readers, even to the point of name changes. The (City Name) (Paper Name) is now The Daily (Paper Name), or just The (Paper Name).

Our weathercasters are also into "events." Also "activity." This morning, thunderstorm activity caused me to suffer a power outage event. Or perhaps a power outage product.

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co-ed said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
co-ed said...

I'm a little late posting this, but ads in newspapers are calling Superman Returns the "must-see movie event of the summer." Movie event? Perhaps opening night, with all the stars, glitz, and glamour, is a movie event, but a movie is a movie is a movie; no matter how much is spent on special effects, I wouldn't call three hours of staring at a screen and eating popcorn eventful.