Not sure about these …

I recently encountered three usages which I’m not sure are good or bad. About half of the articles I subedit come directly from companies, and about half from PR agents. If PR agents have an official title, it’s usually something like “account manager”. But one has the title of “chief wordsmith”. It’s a real word, dating from 1895-1900, meaning:

1. A fluent and prolific writer, especially one who writes professionally.
2. An expert on words. (The Free Dictionary)

So a PR agent certainly fits that definition. But there’s something slightly strange about the word. Most smiths either work(ed) with metal (blacksmith (iron), coppersmith, goldsmith, ironsmith, redsmith (copper), silversmith, tinsmith, whitesmith (tin plate and galvanised iron)) or make/made artefacts from it (2). Also, the slightly problematic fingersmith, a midwife or pickpocket. A hammersmith may once have been an occupation, but the only references now are to the suburb of London. And goodness only know what a sexsmith such that it became a surname. One genealogy website suggests ploughshares (French soc) or sickles. That’s not what I was thinking.

Then there are wordsmiths, songsmiths and tunesmiths, all of which sound to me to be slightly less capable than writers, songwriters and composers, respectively. Maybe there’s something too non-physical about words, songs and tunes. 

In the end, it didn’t matter, as a PR agent’s name and title don’t appear in a published article.

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wish … quit … directed

I love a good digression, and I certainly got one last night. The main grammar point was ‘I wish I was/had/could …’, ‘I wish you/[people/things] were/had/would …’ and ‘I wish [a person/thing] was/had/would …’. While the students were completing a grammar worksheet, I typed ‘I wish I’ into a Major Search Engine to see how it would complete that. One of the suggestions was ‘I wish I knew how to quit you’, which seemed a random idea. Further investigation showed that it is a line from Brokeback Mountain, which I have never seen, but which I know the basic story of. I showed them the video of that character saying that. Most of the students knew about the movie. A Taiwanese student said ‘That was directed by Ang Lee’, then ‘I’m confused about that word directed. Is that the same as direct flight?’. My gut feeling was that it is, but I had to check. Yes, those words, and others, are derived from Latin dērēctus, the past participle of dērigere to align, straighten, guide.

Wordfind.com reports that there are 25 words beginning with direct:
noun: director, directors, directrix, directrixes, directrice, directrices, directress; direction, directions; directory, directories; directive, directives; directness; directorate; directivity
verb: direct, directs, directing, directed
adjective: direct, directer, directest; directorial; directional
adverb: directly

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