Everyone likes to seem smart and sophisticated. It’s why I wear glasses. Instead of saying that I “agree” with someone, I say “I concur.” We all want to come across to the world as fancy, ascot-wearing socialites who clear our palates with sorbet between courses.
Yes, we want to punch above our intellectual and social weight. Did I just look up the word “socialite” before I used it in the previous paragraph? You bet your sweet ascot I did. I didn’t want anyone to think I was a Socialist.
This tightrope walk of acting smarter than we are is a perilous act. I could have said “dangerous,” but — again — I want to sound smart. Have you ever tried to sound smart, and, as a result of doing so, used the wrong word? This reveals us as the social-climbing-wannabes that we really are. I’ve noticed this recently when people confuse the words “ado” and “adieu.”
The first thing I think of when I hear “ado” is Shakespeare’s “Much Ado About Nothing.” I think Jerry Seinfeld got his idea for a “show about nothing” from Shakespeare’s play. “Ado” means “fuss, turmoil or hubbub.”
When people hear us use words like “ado,” they think we are the type of folks who know stuff about Shakespeare. Just don’t be surprised when you get peppered with a question about Richard III’s Machiavellian rise to power.
If that happens, simply jump through the nearest window.
“Adieu” is French for “goodbye.” In the same way the Spanish compound word “adios” literally means “(go) to God,” “adieu” also means “(go) to God.” The original French phrase was “A dieu vous commant,” which translates to “I commend you to God.” In fact, this translation is identical to the phrase “a dios vos acomiendo,” from which we get the word “adios.”
These fancy foreign language goodbyes began with strong religious overtones. Similarly, the English word “goodbye” was initially a contraction for “God be with ye.” Now we just say “bye.” “Bye” is shorter, but doesn’t sound nearly as artful as “adieu.”
If you don’t understand all the ado about “ado” and “adieu,” imagine you’re at an exclusive roof party in a secret neighborhood in Brooklyn called NoHoSoBro. At the end of an extravagant night of martinis and overpriced fish eggs, you make your exit by saying, “Thanks for inviting me to your soiree, Beyoncé. Ado!”
Because of your fancy phrasal faux pas, you won’t ever again be able to locate the secret neighborhood of NoHoSoBro.
It will vanish in a Chardonnay mist, just like any future invitations to swanky rooftop parties.
Curtis Honeycutt is a syndicated humor columnist. He is the author of Good Grammar is the Life of the Party: Tips for a Wildly Successful Life. Find more at curtishoneycutt.com.