Well you learn something everyday.
For a long time the musical-me has been irritated by commentators on programmes the sports-fan-me is watching. The first is often used by sports commentators who will say “the noise rising to a crescendo…” and If I happen to be listening I will silently scream at the TV “no it doesn’t! The crescendo IS the rising in volume, not the peak volume!” Sadly I shake my head, realising thatI’m fighting a Canute-esque rearguard battle as it is so commonly used.
Bearing in mind the story of ‘literally’ I thought I’d check in a dictionary. There it was in black and white
“Some writers betray their lack of musical knowledge by using the phrase ‘rising to a crescendo’, which is obvious nonsense” says The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Music.
There was a drop down menu. I clicked on a second source, the Oxford Pocket Dictionary of Current English, and there as the second definition was:
“the loudest point reached in a gradually increasing sound: Deborah’s voice was rising to a crescendo.”
What is going on Oxford?
Don’t the different departments talk to each other?
Are Team Pocket bullying the sensitive musicians?
I imagine the Oxford Pocket team reading the Music teams entry and thinking ‘hey guys, let’s mess with their minds over at Music and change their definition of crescendo…’. Maybe the Music Dictionary’s rather sniffy reply is their response to the Pocket teams bullying? Honestly sort it out Oxford, otherwise people will be going to Cambridge for their dictionaries and it won’t be so funny then will it?
While I tried to find out when the loudest point definition became acceptable I found this letter from the Daily Telegraph in 2005.
Sir – . . . (Letters, July 19) believes that to define a crescendo in an on-screen subtitle is “dumbing down”. But how often has he heard otherwise educated people saying that something is “rising to a crescendo”, suggesting that a crescendo is a fixed point?
If the audience really is dumb, we must sometimes stoop to reach them.
The writer of that letter must keep his Oxford Pocket dictionary on the bottom shelf of his bookcase!
There are los of “listicles” giving lists of words that have changed meaning over time. Excluding slang usages of words, such as ‘bad’ or ‘sick’ to mean ‘good’, here are three I found quite interesting.
FANTASTIC originally meant something that existed only in the imagination or fantasy, whereas now it means something great or amazing.
DECIMATE is used to mean the destruction of a great amount, whereas others point out it means to kill or destroy one tenth of something. As this article shows it’s way more complicated than that.
BIMBO started off as the Italian word for a little child, “bambino”, and it came to mean “fellow, chap or one of the boys” in theatrical circles. By the 1900s it was an insult, but still male, referring to a “stupid, inconsequential man or contemptible person”.
In 1920s America it had a sex change and the common usage was to refer to an immoral woman or “floozie”. By the 1980 a “bimbo”or even a “bimbette” was an attractive but not very bright woman and a male equivalent “himbo”. All the terms are less than complimentary!