Are you Improvising or Improving? Or Neither?

Please forgive a rant by a lover and protector of the language

Photo courtesy Ryan Franco on Unsplash

No, no, no! ‘Improvise’ does not mean ‘improve’. It may sometimes achieve that, but it’s not its intention. Improvise means to think on the spot, get out of a sticky situation adroitly, spontaneously save the day and such.

Don’t believe me? Incredulous? Incredible? Fine then, have a stare at the definition below, taken from where else but the hoary Cambridge English Dictionary (blame Google if you prefer Merriam-Webster).

Now I am going to go yada yada yada for a few lines before I put the meaning of improve below, to avoid the slightest chance of aiding the ‘association confusion’ that runs rampant in the world of almost-homonyms.

The regularity with which I see ‘improvise’ misused for ‘improve’ is the stuff of private legend in my mind. And it afflicts all sorts. When it comes from someone I want to respect otherwise, I slot them with dismay into the category of the English-clueless that lies between the English-mensch and the English-forgivable. It evokes more head-clutching than the overuse of ‘surreal’, another chestnut, not hoarded squirrel-like but dropped in the forest of blather in all seasons.

Okay, have I got enough space in between now? Nah, one more paragraph ought to do it.

So the other problem I have is the need to be a gentleman, kind, patient, tolerant, chilled, and the like when I catch improvisation where improvement is being called for. I undergo an intense internal struggle not to yell, “You mean improve, blast and damnation. You don’t have the faintest, do you, that we’ve already given up if all we can do is improvise. Improve, you philistine uncaring-for-language unobservant git.” I blame my meditation and limited but detectable emotional intelligence for getting in the way of letting it all out and improving the world. (Wo)Man, how I improvise to save my reputation of niceness just one more time.

Now, this is what improve means. Quite different.

So my outburst is here now, improving my usually improvised mental invective. Feels good to get it out.

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