Friday, December 14, 2012

Grammar Yammer

John Simon, the pugnacious and astute grammarian, writes: Is anything more parlous than the state of our beloved mother tongue? Well, not mine actually [Simon was was born in Yugoslavia], but at any rate stepmother tongue. It may be a kind of haughtiness, but I wince whenever I encounter an offense against grammar, spelling or pronunciation. If only it weren't considered bad manners to correct someone else's speech or writing, things would still be bearable; but nowadays, instead of thanks, you might get a punch in the nose. 

In no way do I put myself in the same class as Simon (well, except maybe the pugnacious part!). However, I do believe our language is being dumbed-down on a daily basis, *ANGAS. Read on to discover a few of the latest language missteps I've come across.

I read the following in a monthly magazine: "When children start learning about [blank] at an early age they better understand ... ." Does this mean "children darn well better understand!" or, "children understand better"

Another article in the same publication stated, "The average professor's salary is ... ," I couldn't help but wonder what the above-average professor's salary might be!

An item in our local newspaper touting a new ethnic restaurant stated, "... the menu was built around ... recipes for street food he'd picked up while visiting [a foreign country]." I immediately thought of this restaurant owner literally picking food scraps off the street and crafting recipes from them! 

How about this one? In the same paper, a reporter wrote about a neighborhood burglary: "...some items she knew belonged to her neighbor, in tow." Poor neighbor, robbed and then towed! 

A recent review of a local medical office states the practice was "...established in 1968 and has been in business until now." I interpreted that statement to mean the business had closed. Not so. 

                      ...all I know about grammar is its power.
                                     ~Joan Didion, author

If I broach friends with word and sentence twists such as these, their sometimes dismissive comment is, "Well, you know what the writer meant."

True enough. Although, because my mind will have veered toward focusing on what I deem an oddly worded statement, it may take some time to get back into the swing of what I'm reading. 

Oh, about that word "broach." Have any of you noticed how often "broach" is used when the speaker is referring to a brooch, a pin for a woman's blouse or jacket? Actually, after polling a few friends, I've come to understand that this pronunciation is regional (as is adding an "s" to toward and anyway).  

How many times have you heard people say something is not their "forte" and pronounce it as "for-tay"? This mispronunciation has become so wide-spread that it's almost an acceptable variation. The fact is there are two "fortes" in English, each with a different pronunciation. Forte/for-tay means "strong" or "loud" and is usually used in a musical context. Forte/fort means "strong point" or "strength." 

Fortuitous originally meant accidental. Due to incorrect but common usage, a second definition of "lucky" is now in our dictionaries. 

A story about a returning veteran and his wife stated they attended "...a recent friend's wedding." Is the person a fairly new friend of the couple or do you suppose the author meant the wedding was recent? 

                   Words are the currency of human discourse
                                                ~Anu Garg
There seems to be a huge misunderstanding about the proper use of quotation marks (speaking here of double quote marks). They are appropriate when using nicknames and jargon (or slang), when referring to an artistic work, or to indicate irony. They should not be used as emphasis. 

When I see quote marks used as emphasis in signage it's as though the advertiser is saying, "Well, not really. Just joking." 

With photo and story, an article in today's paper told of an Oregon man who won $5,000 a week forever. A picture of the lucky winner shows him holding a large sign stating this fact. Publisher's Clearing House chose to put quotation marks around the word "forever."

One final gripe. Why do business advertisements often state, "Free Gift"? Isn't a gift always free?

A dear and compassionate friend of mine often says she feels "badly" about something or other. Actually, her sense of touch is just fine—she means she feels "bad" about ... whatever it is. We two laugh about word foibles such as these. Our friendship is such that we understand we can correct or question each other at any time about word usage, spelling or grammar. We both learn something and never feel we have been on the receiving end of a "lesson," or that we have come off as a pedant. 

I am aware of many of my own language missteps and work to correct them, yet I know errors continue to pop up. As I've asked before, please do not hesitate to set me straight or to discuss those errors! If you know me at all, you know I want to learn, I want to understand. 

                                 A man's grammar, like Caeser's wife,
should not only be pure,
but above suspicion of impurity
~Edgar Allan Poe

*And Nobody Gives a S _ _ _!