This week’s “On Language” column by the jovial and often clueless William Safire focuses mainly on the word bogeyman, alias boogeyman. Safire claims there’s a transition from the latter to the former in progress; I think the latter is a colloquial/childish version of the former, which has always predominated in formal contexts. A section of the tax code (cited by Safire) is a bogeyman; the thing that’s gonna getcha if you don’t watch out is a boogeyman. Furthermore, I seriously doubt his hypothesis that political correctness is involved; I certainly never associated the word with the rather obscure racial slur boogie, and I doubt many people do, though (as always) I’m willing to be corrected.
But what really surprised me was his use of the word scarifying in this context:
It’s apparent that the boogieman, bogeyman and (in the U.S. South) boogerman or buggabear is a monster, evil spirit, hobgoblin or chimera racing through our language, used by nefarious alarmists to frighten small children and innocent voters. He is known to Germans as Boggelmann, to the Irish as bocan, to the Scottish as boggart and to Icelanders as the linguistically related puki. Earliest citation I can find is in Old French, around 1200, as Bugibu, and in the Middle Ages the dark figure’s name became synonymous with the Devil, one of whose names was Old Bogey. There could be a connection with the scarifying ”Boo!”
While the verb scarify as a synonym for scare is in most dictionaries, it is usually rejected by exactly Safire’s sort of change-resistant language “maven,” since the older verb scarify means ‘to make shallow cuts in (the skin); to break up the surface of (topsoil or pavement); to distress deeply, as with severe criticism; lacerate,’ and hidebound prescriptivists are fond of announcing that there’s no scare in scarify. Dollars to doughnuts he writes a shamefaced correction in a week or two, saying the Gotcha Gang has caught him out in his “misuse” and he’ll never do it again.
One odd thing is that the piece ends (after a brief history of the outdated slang word broad) with a stray close quote:
No matter how you shuffle this deck, the slang etymology of broad has to do with a piece of paper that gets into mischief. In today’s slang, a broad—as Frank Sinatra liked to characterize the fair sex, now treated more fairly—is nicer than a slut but is not as trustworthy as a dame or as companionable as a babe.”
You’d think it would have been caught and omitted from the online version, but no, there it is. Another sample of Bad Proofreading in Our Time(s).