Sunday, January 3, 2010

More Howlers from the Crumbling Media

Here's a new list of additions to the hall of infamy in the castle of bad grammar. 
"...had they of been able to...[or]...if they'd of..."
Again, the confusion between use of the participle had with the preposition ofHave had thus becomes had of--which is meaningless. Drop the of and simply say "had they been able to" or "if they had."    
"...the good thing is, is that it is what it is..."
The redundancy of is/is here, sounds obvious, but I actually heard a television newscaster use this phrase in a sentence. This tautology of "it is what it is" explains nothing, and seems a poor way to summarize the self-evidency of any assertion or principle.        
" best as I can..."
In comparisons, you can't use a superlative in degrees of difference. The principle becomes obvious if you try to subsitute another superlative in place of best. Like, for instance, as funniest as, or as prettiest as, or as stupidest asAs best as isn't English. Don't use it!
"...a mute point..."
Misuse of the word moot. This mistaken mispronunciation tends to suggest that the speaker doesn't know the real definition of either word--mute or moot
"'s just simplier..."
One television newscaster let this one slip by in a rush. She meant "more simply" or "easier" and somehow confused the two constructions.   
"...for my breakfastses..."
For a while, I thought that maybe I was just hearing people pronounce breakfasts wrongly, but I realize now that some people seem to think the plural of breakfast is breakfasts-es. Really uneducated people pronounce breakfast "breakfus" (as if it had no "t"), and then call plural breakfasts "breakfusses". Sounds loony, yes?   


J said...

The conditional beginning with "if" in about any form in Anglo sounds wrong, or at least...fugly...and should of not been used---oops.

Yet...what about the prescriptive vs descriptive issue, Sir F? In regards to a serious, academic, or editorial situation I agree with most of your recommendations....yet consider the use of dialect in many novels (especially....Merican)-- about any yankee tome from late 19th cent. makes use of the vernacular. (one reason I still enjoy EA Poe's prose, actually--he rarely resorts to the crackerbarrel jargon...yet avoids the chichi-British- tone as well)


Curtis Faville said...

Dear J:

"In regards to" is not English. "In regard to" is fine, just drop that S.

Creative originality and coinages are just fine. Smart writers and speakers engage language at a high level all the time. But most bad coinages and linguistic mishaps occur as a result of ignorance, and usually end up creating confusion, not new meaning. Bad usage which is the result of ignorance or deliberate misuse (which is largely what minorities do in America) undermines sense and soils the language, making effective discourse in the public sector impossible.

Those in the media who drop their standards (like dropping their trousers in the rest room) also degrade the language. People who use language in their work, or in the public sector, have a responsibility. When they don't live up to it, they betray their craft, and their audience(s).

We all make mistakes, but intelligent people shouldn't adopt common misuse as a convenience, as if it were "okay" to do so, using the excuse that usage drives meaning. That's only half the story.

If you want to mangle language, first find out what the right way is, and then consider altering it. Split infinitives are commonly employed these days--even I do it occasionally--but it should be avoided.

If you accept the notion that crude slang and ignorant grammatical mistakes deserve to be accepted, how low are you willing to go to accommodate it? Are you willing to let tenses be abandoned? To let misspellings drive new pronunciations? Should we adopt every new boner and casual lazy indulgent error that we hear?

Colorful, charming regional dialects--such as that adopted by Twain in Huckleberry Finn--are not suitable for intellectual discussions. Twain was really satirizing the backward, ramshackle South, through its language. He himself was an educated journalist, and Huckleberry Finn was a crude half-nostalgic cartoon of a style of life largely gone by the time Twain described it. The book is not an argument for salty glot; it's a picaresque narrative in native tongue.

Art, and discourse, require intelligent understanding. Allowing failures of understanding (ignorance) and laziness to dictate use is just dumb.

J said...

(Mr. Faville--I posted this earlier--not sure you saw it).

That's not exactly what I said. In editorial and academic contexts, I generally agree with you, but even then we should focus on content before mechanics. As with "in regards to." A schoolmarm, or Strunk and White might not approve, and would probably call it non-standard. But it's been in use for some time. Sitting at a copy desk (which I did, for a few years), I would probably edit to "in regard to," or "with regard to". But it's not an egregious error. Same with minor spelling or punct. glitches.

I agree the language has been dumbed down by pop culture, gangsta-slang, and writing. Most people now go for a breezy, colloquial tone: it requires some work to produce eloquence, even of the Favillian sort.

Or bloggers attempt "snark", a sort of techie pop-irony. Thug-speak or Mickey Spillane might be preferable to the chat of Mac-heads who consider their HTML templates like a revolutionary advance in human intelligence.

At the same time, English writing needn't be polysyllabic and Tory-british to be effective. I agree Twain's Huck Finn was sort of quaint satire, but not THAT far from how many folks in dixie still converse. Huck's Pap lives! heh.

Dash Hammett's prose--or Hem.-- carries some weight because it's direct, unaffected, non-pretentious.I prefer Orwell or EA Poe to Shakespeare or Proust as well. It might not please the editors of the London times, or Cal Berk. postmodernists, but well, whatevs (but ever read anything by Cal "philosopher" Searle? Not exactly Bertrand Russell like eloquence).

That said, I think the latinate and greek roots of English (not to say Latin, and latinate languages) have also been displaced, or forgotten, and that's not such a good thing. Few hicks know any French, or even ..spanglish (...small spanish, less french here)--indeed, I think that the average WASP considers latinate languages sort of....alien, or sinister.

Travelling in Europe a few years back, I overheard germans, french and dutch people speaking flawless Queen's English. Then they would shift back to hoch deutsch, or french. Most speak another romance tongue also, perhaps Danish, swede, etc. We schtoopid Americans seemed rather pathetic after that.

Not to bring up St. Pound again, but he at times (going from Literary Essays) seems to suggest Anglo-saxon's a sort of peasant's dialect itself--the "piratezunge" or something, even at the level of Shakespeare (though I suspect WS was probably a noble, knew Latin, italiano, etc).

Thanks TH Huxley and Merican edu-crats for that, perhaps: they removed Latin from US public schools (greek having been removed a century ago), and now have pretty much removed french, and Deutsch. Spanglish survives (but mex-espanol is not usually that close to castillian).

Thus endeth the language rant.

Curtis Faville said...

Language is slippery, it can't be contained inside tidy beds, like domesticated shrubbery.

But I question whether much of the "decay" or obfuscation which passes for linguistic invention these days serves any useful purpose.

Linguistic accuracy and power are goals we all must aspire to. It does no good to attempt to defend laziness and ungrammatical constructions as being in the process of acceptance. That's like saying you have to out-breed your enemies, lest their descendants overwhelm you by sheer numbers. Every time we misuse "regards" we slice away at the efficacy of that word. [In] regard [to] is a pointer, not a sentiment (which is what regards means). By misusing it, you obscure the meaning of both words at the same time. How is this "okay"? If you and Silliman keep saying "in regards to" in your prose, you're tacitly investing in confusion. This is a small example, but an easy one. Why should it be so difficult to get it right once, and stick with it, instead of carelessly making the same mistake over and over? Trying to defend this behavior is counter-productive.

You have to earn the right to violate standards. Until or unless you've mastered the right way, you're not entitled to suggest changes.