Friday, May 10, 2013

The Return of the Grammar Nazi


Perhaps the best evidence that a bad grammatical mistake is actually taking root in the language, is when you see people doing it on "bad grammar" discussion sites online. I noticed this not less than three times on separate links on the first page of a Google list this morning. When people who claim to care about good grammar have unconsciously taken up a mis-usage, you know we're in trouble.

Back in the 1950's, hip or beatnik speech included the over- and mis-use of the word like. "Like, man, it's cool, don't ya' know?" 

Valley Girl speech incorporated "like" as an insert, to a degree that almost every sentence had at least one "like" in it. "And then I was, you know, like, wow!, who does he think he is, like Genghis Khan, or something?!" Or "Then I was, like . . . ahhh . . . huh??"

Presently, everyone seems to be using the phrase "I feel like . . ."  or the even more offensive "I feel like that . . . " in place of the more correct "I feel that . . . . "  

But to feel like is not at all the same as to feel that. It's pretty clear that most people know that when you say you feel like something is so and so, you really mean that you feel that it's so. But it's an incorrect use of the word like. Like is not the same as as if. It is perfectly possible to feel as if something is the case, whereas it is entirely incorrect to state that you feel like something is the case. 

To be like something, is to resemble it. To feel like something is to share an identical emotion or sensation. To feel that something is the case means that you think or believe or deduce it to be so--which is what people really mean when they use feel like

To feel like doesn't mean you think or believe or deduce something to be the case; it means something else entirely. You could say "I feel ill" or "I feel it's getting chillier this morning" or even "I feel like a new man today." But you can't say that you feel like you know something is true, when what you're actually saying is that you know or believe something is true. 

The next time you're tempted to use the phrase "I feel like" stop yourself and consider saying "I feel that." Chances are you should be saying that instead of like.      

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Remember that grammatical mistakes aren't necessarily evidence of the helpful growth of language. As often as not, they are simply the result of people being sloppy or lazy or just stupid. Stupidity, as an excuse for bad grammar, seems a poor justification for the abuse of our tongue. When we capitulate to ignorance, as if it were proof of our democratic tolerance, we're dumbing down the culture. Being happy or easy-going, or indulgent with other peoples' mistakes shouldn't include the use of bad grammar as a bridge to understanding. Deliberately doing so is a form of condescension.  

3 comments:

Ed Baker said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Charles Shere said...

There's a difference, I can't help thinking, between ungrammatical constructions, on the one hand, and imprecise speech or writing, on the other. I care about both, and each; but I differentiate them.

Perhaps it doesn't matter. Just saying.

Conrad DiDiodato said...

Posts like this--and particularly a lines like "Stupidity, as an excuse for bad grammar, seems a poor justification for the abuse of our tongue"--always remind me of Fowlers' "The King's English". The solecisms of language always considered a case of bad manners, which (I agree) oftentimes are.