|A Vocabulary Malfunction
||[Nov. 30th, 2014|10:34 am]
It happens all the time- people saying "ancestor" when they mean "descendant" and "descendant" when they mean "ancestor". And no-one ever picks them up on it. |
If things carry on like this the two words are going to become interchangeable synonyms for "person in (my) family tree" and that would be a pity.
Am personally getting fed-up of Humpty Dumpty ism. Refute does not equal deny (that's a dangerous one in the hands of politicians), disinterested and uninterested have two different meanings, etc etc
I don't mind words changing meaning- but when- as in all these cases- they impoverish the language I think they should be resisted
I certainly pick students up on this when they do it in essays. But this particular confusion is one which has always utterly puzzled me anyway. 'Descendant' in particular should be easy to work out if you know what 'descend' means. How can people get these two mixed up?
I expect it has something to do with the current craze for genealogy. People are picking up the jargon- from TV adverts and the like- without ever ascertaining quite what the terms mean.
As a foreigner, I would suspect that "ancestor" more refers to somebody who once lived, but it is a very long while ago. While "descendant" more comes from "a branch of somebody", it needn't be a hundred or two hundred years ago, it may even refer to what your father or mother did.
Notably to add, "descendant" surely comes from the French word "descendre" which means like "to come down", so I guess the frame for both words (for me?) actually is staked out.
An ancestor is someone in the past of your bloodline. It could be your mother or father- but in common usage it generally means a person who's several generations back.
A descendant is someone in the future of your bloodline- child, grandchild, great-great grandchild etc.
Okay, forgot the future people...
At least it is known to me "ancestor" you use for someone far beyond your time and "descendant" you use for someone who is still close to you - where you can see the trail of blood.
Descendants don't have to be close. It's allowable to speak of people thousands of years in the future as "our descendants".
Hm, so maybe it's just my definition of usage.
As a foreigner you have to take a little more care of what pick you use, so there is no misunderstanding.