Everyone Fears The O-Word
I took a Business Law course in college. I can’t remember the name of the prof, where the class was held or the names of any of my classmates.
I also can’t remember my final grade. But that’s probably a defense mechanism.
I do remember one thing, however. This professor would become enraged - literally flushed in the face with veins pulsing in his temples - whenever anyone in class would slip and utter the forbidden words: “verbal contract.”
“Every contract is VERBAL,” he’d scream. “Verbal means it’s composed of words. From the Latin verbalis."
“Look it up,” he’d order.
“What you are apparently referring to is an ORAL contract,” he’d continue, calming somewhat and getting right in the face of the English language miscreant. “One that isn’t written, but may be binding nonetheless.”
“Do not fear the word oral.”
No one snickered. This was a different time. Pre-Lewinsky.
And I did look up the word “verbal” after my teacher’s first outburst. I was a smart aleck in college and would have loved to prance into class the next day holding a dictionary aloft with the page open to the Vs to show him that verbal and oral were synonyms.
I scoured a numbered of dictionaries - even that massive one no one ever used on a pedestal in the library - and it turned out my professor was right.
Verbal meant made of words. Period.
Ever since that class, I’ve cringed when I hear anyone - especially a lawyer, who should know better - spouting off about verbal contracts or verbal anythings.
So yesterday was a tough one for me.
As I watched ESPN for the latest college recruiting news, sportscasters were promiscuously dropping the V-word, as in this or that recruit was “verbally committed” to a school before he flipped to another.
It was an absolute festival of verbals and before long I was yelling at my TV: "He was ORALLY committed, you dopes!"
Then, just to be sure, I again hit the dictionary.
While the first - and best - definition of verbal continues to be “of, in or by means of words” and likewise the second definition is “concerned merely with words” the authors of my Webster’s seem to have finally allowed common usage to edge out common sense, noting in the third definition that verbal can also mean “oral rather than written.”
They’re wrong. And I’m pretty sure if my old Business Law prof is still alive he agrees with me.
Everyone fears the O word. I blame Bill Clinton.