GrammarBlog

Thursday, 17 July 2008

Not a trifling matter

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Passive Aggressive Notes is one of my favourite blogs. A major reason for this is the frequent mangling of the English language by disgruntled passive-aggressors. Below is one of my favourite entries from October of last year.

TMI

Isn't that marvellous? The txt speak, the sentence formation, the vulgarity, the threat (and ass kicking will surely follow) and the remarkable sign-off all add up to comedy gold. I was most confused by the use of the word trifling. In the context of such extreme vehemence, trifling – defined by those Oxford blokes as "unimportant or trivial" – seemed misplaced. In fact, I spent a good couple of minutes trying to identify a possible malapropism, to no avail.

"But why bring this up now?" I hear you ask, "this post is the best part of a year old!".

I shall tell you for why. At the end of last month I twittered (yes, that's a verb now) a message asking other twitterers what they thought of a piece from guardian.co.uk on language evolution. The author, Paul MacInnes was lamenting what he views as the introduction of unnecessary words into the formal lexicon.

It appears that GrammarBlog twitter friend eris_chaos agrees with MacInnes, responding thusly.

I find that irritating. We are THAT much closer to trifling meaning "nasty" in the dictionary instead of "trivial".

And the penny drops. It's not a malapropism, it's a colloquialism. That's an altogether different kind of ism. Indeed the urban dictionary (shudder) carries the following definition.

When a hippo takes a big dump in front of a group of 1st graders and then eats it.
That's triflin'.

In response to the hungry hippo's action, Oh no, that's triflin'!

You learn something new everyday every day.

Rather than launch into indignant polemic, I thought I'd canvass opinion on this matter. So what do you lot reckon?

Labels: , , ,

55 Comments:
Blogger James said...

I'm not sure I want to know, but how does this affect "to trifle with" / "trifling with"?

I'm going to hope / assume this wouldn't be interpreted as "being nasty with".

17 July 2008 at 20:08  
OpenID pauldwaite said...

Either way, they’d better keep their feet away from my donkey.

17 July 2008 at 20:59  
OpenID laurajeanette said...

I think it started out with people calling other people trifling (and meaning it in the correct way), and then when others who didn't know what the word meant picked up on it, they assumed it related to other aspects of the person so named. And from there, we can see how it might have come to it's urban dictionary meaning.

17 July 2008 at 21:09  
Anonymous kristarella said...

I hate this kind of thing. I also don't like when people make up words that are just wrong. See my rant on "addicting".

18 July 2008 at 00:52  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

In your "You learn something new everyday," The end of the sentence should be two words: "every day."

26 July 2008 at 04:12  
Blogger pinkmartini said...

kristarella said it best. Learn what the word means, or don't use it!

29 July 2008 at 05:58  
Blogger James said...

I heard "triflin" as slang going back fifteen years, and I didn't skip a beat when I read the word in the sign. Back then, and now, I understood it to have a trivial sense.

There are two senses, I think. If someone is worked up about something that really doesn't matter, like if she wants to beat up her friend because she flirted with her man, then that's triflin. Another sense would be like the one here: someone doing something so stupid and trivial that it makes no sense. If someone stole my car, that's major, but if someone stole my towels, that's just a nuisance, and that's triflin.

30 July 2008 at 05:22  
Blogger JD said...

I think James hit the nail on the head when he brought up 'trifle with'. The OED defines this as "treat without seriousness or respect". Perhaps this is also what's meant by 'trifling' in the note?

Trifling=disrespectful.

13 August 2008 at 13:16  
OpenID exquisitedolls said...

I upset a Six Flags employee the other day. I was throwing half of our dinner trash away and slipped on water by the trashcan, hurting my toes. Told one employee who started to mop up the spill. As I hobbled over to the kitchen to get a container for our uneaten food, she said "you aren't going to leave this table like that are you?" I told her I just fell and think I broke my toe. She said "Well how do I know if there is water there if you don't tell me. You aren't going to leave the table that way are you?" I said, "Yes I am" turned and hobbled away. Then she started going off on me, pointing at me and saying, "That white girl be trifling me" while stomping her foot.

trifling = making someone angry

16 August 2008 at 18:53  
Blogger Kainenchen said...

What James said... I think the implication is more of pettiness than nastiness. In the example Exquisitedolls used, the tone is more of annoyance, bothering someone... an extension of the phrase, "I am not to be trifled with."

31 August 2008 at 15:37  
Blogger Gez said...

I think the context of both the example and the urban dictionary definition point to "trifling" meaning gross or disgusting.

I've searched elsewhere and found it used in this context. I think it probably arrived at this meaning by the following route: meddling -> manipulating -> untrustworthy -> nasty -> gross.

9 September 2008 at 14:27  
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