That’s not write?
Wait, is that right, rite or wright? Dictionary, please help!
Before we begin, a brief self-assessment: On a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being “What’s the big deal?” and 10 being “Farewell, ye cruel, heartless and degenerate world,” rate your immediate gut response to the following words and phrases:
b. I could care less
d. I’m going to try and…
If your score is 5, please continue with your day and enjoy it! Hooray! No need to read this boring ol’ story that is, if we’re being honest, full of persnickety grievances and fuddy-duddy pet peeves. Ick!
If your score is 50 or thereabout, sit right down, snuggle up, you’re among friends.
And you know why? Because “heighth” is not a word. HEIGHTH IS NOT A WORD, OK!!! Height is! Length is! Heighth is not!
(Let us now take several deep, calming breaths, acknowledging the irony of getting hysterical about grammar while having just started a sentence with “and.”)
With students back in school — Colorado Mesa University began classes Monday; School District 51 began Aug. 10 — and learning what they should, plus the current tidal wave of public speaking we’re all *ahem* enjoying in this election season, now is as good a time as any to consider the words that exit our and others’ mouths and the rules of common decency and righteous living that underlie them.
Which is to say, let us discuss the little affronts to grammar and pronunciation that we wouldn’t dream of addressing with the people who spoke them, lest we be That Person, but which nonetheless feel like death by a thousand supposablys.
(The word is supposedly. SupposEDly.)
It’s good to talk about this, to get it out, to acknowledge the pet peeves of language that, if not addressed to a sympathetic audience, can seem insufferably petty and stuffy, like the man named Michael who bristles aloud at being called Mike: “Actually, it’s Michael.”
Oh, it’s Michael, is it. Miiiiichael. I say! Spot of tea, shall we? Pinky up! Curtsy to the queen!
No, these are the burdens we bear silently, never saying the thing we truly want to: “Actually, it’s ‘probably,’ not ‘prolly.’”
Oh, it’s probably, is it…
How did it come to this, though? How did the ones who just want good grammar and clear speaking or writing, who resist the anarchy of “your guys’s” as a possessive and “U R wrong” in written communication, become the ones with a reputation for having a stick where it anatomically shouldn’t be?
Is it so wrong to resist all intensive purposes (intents and purposes, please)?
OK, yes, language is an evolving work in progress: “It changes because the needs of its speakers change,” wrote Betty Birner, a professor of linguistics at Northern Illinois University, for the Linguistic Society of America (linguisticsociety.org). “New technologies, new products, and new experiences require new words to refer to them clearly and efficiently.
“Another reason for change is that no two people have had exactly the same language experience. We all know a slightly different set of words and constructions, depending on our age, job, education level, region of the country, and so on. We pick up new words and phrases from all the different people we talk with, and these combine to make something new and unlike any other person’s particular way of speaking.”
She noted that every generation, going back to the days of Geoffrey Chaucer and even earlier, has bemoaned what These Kids Today are doing to the language. Ultimately, the purpose of language is to communicate meaning.
Yes, but shouldn’t we want that meaning communicated well? Bucking against what some pundits say is our current culture of anti-intellectualism? Free of “alls,” as in, “Alls I want is good and correct language”?
It may seem like the small stuff, not to be sweat, but good grief, surely the Dalai Lama himself would think “irregardless” is a stupid non-word that sounds ridiculous.
Let us then discuss a few pet peeves with people who know the language:
” ‘Conversate’ kills me,” said Jackie Anderson, International Baccalaureate coordinator at Palisade High School. “Misuse of less/fewer is sure to catch my attention, too. Can you count it? Yes? Then use fewer. One good reason to shop at Safeway: their lanes read ‘10 items or fewer.’ Thank you, Safeway.”
“My bugaboos pertain more to incorrectly used phrases, like ‘begging the question,’ which means something more specific in argumentation and logic than simply ‘leading me to ask the question’,” offered Colin Carman, an instructor of English at Colorado Mesa University.
“I hate hearing (or reading) ‘I thought to myself…’,” said Randy Phillis, a professor of English at CMU. “There’s simply no other place/way to think! In short, redundancy drives me crazy!”
“EXpecially and EXpresso kill me!” said Steve Brown, an English language arts teacher at Grand Junction High School. “I can deal with some of the ‘we is’ grammar since I know it is really their parents’ fault for leading by terrible example, but I don’t understand how es could be mistaken for ex?”
Gabriele Mayer-Hunke, an instructor of English and German at CMU, admitted that the list can seem endless, but it includes “There’s a lot of people/questions/cars…” (“What is so difficult about saying ‘There are…’?”), “I could care less” (“No, you could NOT care less”), T-shirt’s for sale (“Any time people use the apostrophe for the plural. Aaarghhh.”) and, of course, alot (“This word does not exist”).
This is not to say that exceptions can’t be made for English as a second language, or for the quirks of accent and regionalism: “y’all” in place of the plural you, perhaps, or “worsh” instead of “wash.” Rhonda Claridge, an instructor of English at CMU, noted the western habit of saying “acrost” instead of “across.”
These are maybe not so painful, nor are obvious efforts to say things correctly: “Please give your grammar homework to Jim or I” (“Jim or me,” which though correct somehow sounds wrong). Plus, coming down on the wrong side of lay/lie isn’t so terrible — it’s an easy mistake to make, after all, like the whole por/para situation in Spanish — and it’s certainly not as terrible as pronouncing “nuclear” as “newk-you-lar” (or “mischievous” as “miss-chee-vee-us”, or, noted CMU English professor Julie Bruch, “tempachur” instead of “temperature”) or failing at your/you’re, their/they’re/there or it’s/its.
No, it’s about communicating, but also observing the rules that provide a baseline standard and frame of reference for understanding each other. If nothing else, good grammar and pronunciation just sound nice; they’re lovely on the ear, pleasing to the eye, familiar (NOT “FERMILIAR”!!! Sheesh.) and soothing.
Orientate? Artic? Excetera? Upmost? They are the Cheeto-stained sweat pants, the rusty car frame on blocks in the front yard, the not-drunk-enough last call of language. They are sloppy. We suffer them in agonized, “I’m not That Person who is going to correct you” silence.
Therefore, let us all try to (please not “try and”) lead by example and bear with grace the torture that is “could/should/would of.”