Tuesday, September 27, 2005

It's Not an Altar Boy, Stop Abusing It!

The language, I mean.

When did it become okay to speak like a moron and still be taken seriously?

Smirking Chimp (aka GWB) said this yesterday: "...we can all pitch in by using -- by being better conservers of energy."

Deep breaths. Conservers? CONSERVERS?

Every day I am bombarded with evidence that the English language, which I love in all its nuttiness, quirkiness, and fluidity, is doomed to irrelevancy by people who don't care enough to use it properly. Yes, I know, the lexicon changes constantly, but still, there are things that drive me absolutely bugshit.

For instance:

1) Turning a noun into a verb. Example: Scrapbook. It is, was, and ever shall be a noun. How it became a verb -- there are television shows devoted to "scrapbooking," for the love of Mike! -- will remain a mystery to me until I die. I think I'll try an experiment in opposites and turn some verbs into nouns. "Every morning I get up and put some of my writes into a journal." Does that work?

2) Using too many words when one will suffice. Example: Mission Critical. I used to call talk like this "Wanker Speak," because at the height of the dot-com boom, self-important college graduates making 100K a year in the tech industry (aka Wankers) used to use phrases like "mission critical" when the more concise "important" would have served just fine.

3) Making up words when there's already a word for the word. Example: Uncomfortability. During my 90-day experiment, I used to hear the self-flagellators use this one a lot. And while I was supposed to be listening empathetically to yet another tale of woe with the self-aggrandizing coda "but I didn't have a drink," all I wanted to do was jump to my feet and scream (while tearing at my hair), "The word is 'DISCOMFORT!' 'DISCOMFORT,' you fucking moron!" As a matter of fact, maybe I'll just start making shit up, too. Isn't that ungusting? It makes me so dishappy.

4) Using a word you think you know, but getting it all wrong just makes you look like an idiot. The point is "moot" not "mute." George Bush is a "warmonger," not a "warmongrel." (though there is a certain Mrs. Malaprop charm to that one.)

So, as a devoted conserver, I'm going to go home via public transportation and dewind.


At 9/28/2005 3:03 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


I just learned from my father, when asking him to help me fill in a timeline of my history, that I was correcting grammar as soon as I could speak. There are some grammatical slaughters that I just cannot STAND, and then there are several of which I find I am guilty and I am quickly humbled.

I think I use adverbs incorrectly quite a bit, and I may "over-comma" my sentences; I don't know. Oh, and the whole "ending a sentence with a preposition" is my new policing.

"What are you afraid of?"

"Of what are you afraid?"

I am starting to sound a bit biblical in relation to current use of English, but whatever... SOMEONE's gotta try!

Thanks for contributing to a dying art.


At 9/28/2005 11:51 AM, Blogger Anocsanamun said...

I am guilty. Drag me out to the middle of grand street and slice my tongue out of my gluttoness throat. I am trying. I am an ebonics/spanglish refugee, trying to grasp the language of my new residence. Help me hunny, help me!!!

At 9/28/2005 1:15 PM, Blogger Jane Doe said...

Dear YKW,

"What are you afraid of?" reminds me of the old joke... When someone says, "never end a sentence with a preposition," you just amend your statement thus: "What are you afraid of, asshole?"

Still makes me laugh.

I am always very careful to not correct people in public -- my father used to do it to my mother all the time, and it infuriated her no end. English is not her first language, so as far as I'm concerned, she gets a pass.

And I know how annoyed I get when people correct me. It's a tough spot -- on the one hand, you want to jump in and show someone the error of their ways, but on the other, I think it's kind of rude to correct him publicly.

If I have trouble pronouncing a word, I'll just ask someone. Or look it up. (one of my favorite websites is Merriam-Webster, go figure).

I remember a department meeting a few years back in which we spent about 15 minutes having a lively discussion about the pronunciation of the word "detritus." These were bright, literate people, readers all, and each of us pronounced the word differently! Of course, after the meeting we all raced for our dictionaries to see who was right! (revealing another interesting thing about human nature -- particularly Americans -- and our need to be right!)

I recognize that there is a difference between colloquial speech and formal written English. I would let "What are you afraid of?" slide, and I find "It is I" to be pompous, but it makes my teeth hurt to hear someone yelp into a cell phone, "Where you at?" This is even, horribly, the tagline of an advertising campaign, so it has been legitimized by the media! And unfortunately, a lot of people aren't critical thinkers when it comes to language and honestly believe that because they heard it on TV that it must be correct!

All I can do is try to speak well and with clarity and color.

But I do believe that every high school student should be issued a copy of Strunk & White and The Chicago Manual of Style upon matriculation!

At 9/28/2005 1:19 PM, Blogger Jane Doe said...

Irene --

I wouldn't worry -- you write with flair and passion, which is better than newscaster-ese any day.

I'm just a language nerd. My father is an inveterate punster, so I think in my case it's genetic!



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