Wednesday, June 18, 2008

. . . ranted about language

Nit-picking Pet Peeves: "The possibilities are endless." Overused, and mostly inaccurate. Can you think of even one thing wherein the possibilities are truly endless? The numbers after the decimal point in pi are endless, but that's not considered a possibility, is it? I'm certainly no math genius, but I'll bet there is a formula for calculating the possibilities of almost everything. And usually I end up thinking of only a few possibilities, which then makes me realize how incredibly stupid and creatively challenged I really am.

Voila', or even worse, the horrible blogsite usage of wha la and its cute or ignorant variations . . . if I never ever hear or see that again, except maybe in France, it will be too soon. I bet the French won't even use it any more.

Using the word ""less" in place of the word "fewer" which is becoming more prevalent especially in spoken English, on TV and radio. There was an ad that ran on TV almost every hour for a while. It was for a weight loss system. I counted more than five grammar or usage errors in that 30 second ad, including "less calories" and "less pounds." It irritate me to the point where I emailed the company pointing out the errors, the first and only time I have ever compelled to do something like that. I couldn't think of a grammar rule that applied, so I looked it up . . . the explanation was too convoluted to make sense, something about using "fewer" when referring to measurable quantities. Apparently ad copywriters have no innate sense of which word to use. I beg them to please learn . . .

Of course, I was taught in the literal "old-school" way to use the proper words, how to construct a sentence, how to punctuate and spell. I don't believe that is stressed as much in education any more. I took an interesting class not long ago in the history of language and some elementary linguistics. My instructor held to the theory that all the usage rules that we grew up with were arbitrary rules mandated by a bunch of old guys in the 17th and 18th centuries, and who were they to be the deciders, anyway? That's all well and good, but when you go for a job interview, maybe the employer didn't take the same class and thinks you are unfit for employment if you don't adhere to the "old school" language rules. I really try not to be a stickler and never correct people. But, oh yes, I notice it, I do.

In that language history class, one of the books we read was by Bill Bryson, who could make anything enjoyable and funny. I don't remember whether it was in his book or some other one in that class, but I do remember that studies show that immigrants in the first generation will probably stick mostly to their own language; the second generation is bilingual, able to communicate in both the parents' language and the new language; and by the third generation, the native language is all but lost, taken over by the new language. Also: children have an easy time learning languages, but after the age of about 12, it becomes difficult. These facts hits home: both my parents were from Germany. At home we spoke German, and as little kids we were fairly fluent. But as school time approached, my mom and dad understood it was important that we speak English. They encourage us to hang around with the teenage neighbors to hone our English skills. None of us now know how to speak German; we used to be able to eavesdrop on telephone conversations in German and understand at least some of it, but I can't any more. My sister is always coming up with German words from our childhood that I have completely forgotten.

Many people fear that the new technology will destroy the language, citing text messaging and its shortcuts as the culprits. Personally, I like the WTF's and BFE's better than their correctly spelled-out counterparts.


Anonymous said...

I agree, I catch myself wanting to correct people that misuse the word "was" We was going......
why don't people know this doesn't sound correct.

I will always get a kick out of
"po po heitzong" (probably misspelled)

See you Thursday pm

Martha Marshall said...

Damn, Mary, I'm way behind in my reading! I am with you all the way here. Here's another one for you that I hesitate even to mention, because some of my best friends do it: the use of it's as a possessive.

That's all I'm sayin.'

(The period comes before the apostrophe, right?)

Mary Buek said...

GOOD GRIEF: Did you guys notice? In a rant about language, I used "there" in place of "their". Talk about hubris. I really do know better, and that it another one of my quirks. They're, there, their. Okay, I'm officially and deeply embarrassed.