Monday, February 16, 2009

More Nuisance - Misuse of Language

Split infinitives.  Classic grammarians insist that we shouldn't put adverbs between the "to" and the verb form.  "To actually think" or "to necessarily respond" etc.  This is an example of a sin that has crossed over into questionable virtue:  Even talented and informed users now employ this construction with impunity.  But I advocate respecting the rule.  If it's comfortable not to split an infinitive, I try not to.     

"One of the ones."  One of those.

"Kind'a"  "Could'a"   "I could'a been a contender."  Kind of.  Could have.  

"Eck cetera."  It's et cetera, stupid!

"Ex-presso"  It's an Italian word, caffe espresso; there's nothing "express" about it.      

"I axed you"  This one makes my teeth ache.  

"...which I did that."  This bad grammatical error has crept into conversations throughout the media.  Even college-educated moderators will attach this pronoun to begin a dependent clause in a sentence, then will proceed as if the pronoun were a conjunction.  "A-Rod has said he didn't use the stuff after 2003, which the league has said it believes his decision."  What results is two predicate objects in the same clause.   "Which" should receive the action of the verb in any phrase it precedes.  This is a stubborn misuse, which we'll have to be vigilant to stamp out.  I don't see any excuse for it.  

"Had I of had it, I wouldn't have had to get one."  "If I had of done it...."   Had of isn't English.  Most educated people don't make this mistake, but it's almost an accepted form among the common legumes. 

"He has got to be nuts!"  This is a lazy use of the verb to get.  The proper usage would be "he must be nuts!"  To get doesn't mean to prefer; nor as an imprecation.  Its proper use is to obtain, to acquire or to arrive at.  "I gotta go" or "I've got to get going."  You need to go!  


Kirby Olson said...

It's amazing how language slides.
The word "academic" for instance, originally goes back to Plato's academy, which happens to have been built on property leased from a man named Akatemo, or Akademo.

Now we say things like, "We need fewer leftist Academics," and people generally understand what is meant, which is to say that we don't mean the Akatemo's land needs less nationalization, and more productive industry on it.

I think your notion that the original meaning mustn't ever slide, or mutate, is very purist, and I enjoy it.

I think that even Allen Ginsberg once used the term "jejune" in the sense of "jeune" (young, in French), when it means in fact arid and pedantic. My memory goes back, but I can't find the exact place.

There are so many slips, and bits of whimsy in the language, it's really hard to know what anybody means unless you are willing to go with the flow.

You can't really outlaw phrases like "I gotta go," which is what everybody now says when they are about to pee their pants. You can't just stop them and say, "You NEED to go, dumbkopf!" It might already be too late.

I wonder if there is anybody who always speaks perfectly, and who never makes any kind of mistake. If there is, I bet they don't speak much.

The Sopranos is very funny for introducing the way that the mob tries to sound educated. One malapropism after another. Very fun.

Student papers! My favorite thing of all was when a student wrote the word "instinkt" and I wondered what it was that stunk, and then realized, he was talking about an intuition that he had had for playing baseball.

Curtis, was your mother very hard on these kinds of things?

Mine was, and so I care, but I also rebel against it to some degree. I like my shoes roomy. I can't stand feeling pinched.

Curtis Faville said...

I was a terrible offender as a child. "Me and Bobby wanna go out and play."

My parents were fairly indulgent, but they did get around to reminding me every so often about some faux pas or another.

I remember when my Mom straightened me out about Keats and Yeats. I think I called them Yeets and Kates. Woops.

What I perceive is the worst problem is when sports announcers produce this stream of garbled English which is then picked up by all the adolescent viewers and listeners. It perpetuates all the worst habits these kids pick up in school and with their friends. It all reinforces bad behavior.

Then, when some of these kids move on to college, they have to go back and take "remedial" English to brush up their terrible diction and grammar.

The general level of literacy has declined in America, despite the wonderful opportunity which the various media have created. A kid living on a farm in 1880 had his parents, and his school teacher to show him correct speech. Today, there's radio, television, the computer, movies, music, and lots of social interaction. Despite this, kids today have poorer language skills than their remote predecessors.

Just "going with the flow," I'm afraid, is a recipe for mediocrity.

Kirby Olson said...

I remember one sportcaster who spoke well, and one only: Howard Cosell. I think that was his real bond with Ali: they were both wordsmiths.

In one bout between heavyweight Pinklon Thomas and who know who, Pinklon was wearing pink trunks.

Cosell actually said something like, "Pinklon's sartorial display outmatches his boxing skills by a ratio of ten to one."

I thought it was hilarious. Nobody talks like that any longer in sports casts.

I never heard Dennis Miller on the Monday night football games. I never watch football. It's a barbarian game.

I can't understand why chess and badminton are not more prominent in our evening viewing. Also, why aren't there more televised debates between philosophers and poets?

In France and in Finland, that is very frequently the case. In this country it's as if we are ashamed of our poets and philosophers, and prefer to listen to meat-headed slobs with business degrees yack all night about nuttin.

So that Obama comes off as a paragon of verbal agility. He has nothing to say, and is only a standout because his competition are a bunch of graceless meatheads who couldn't write a poem if they had until the sun burned out.

Curtis Faville said...

I think America's fascination with football is related to the obsession with "blood sports" in the UK.

Rugby, polo, wing shooting.

In the East, the Baltics, Slavic countries, the Middle East, it's wrestling and weight-lifting. Something about the body....

In America it's about COLLISION.

Kirby Olson said...

I can't stand collisions.

I prefer to finesse my way around them, when possible.

I wonder how you feel about the chorus in Louie, Louie, which goes:

Louie Louie, oh no
Me gotta go
Aye-yi-yi-yi, I said
Louie Louie, oh baby
Me gotta go