Brewer's Droop #275
I had to spend a short time in hospital recently which is a fairly boring place to be. But I started to ponder about a few things between bed baths. The first realisation I had was that it’s a big mistake to try to climb onto the fourth step of a three step ladder. Ribs break and lungs get punctured.
Then I tried reading some emails and became increasingly aware of how the English language is abused. The first glaring mistake I saw was when someone used “there” instead of “their”. It really does demean the intention of the message when you can’t get something as basic as that right. It looks stupid and that’s not what you want people to think.
There are many “laws” regarding the use of the English language (actually any language – except American which isn’t actually a language in the first place, but mainly an aberration of English).
Like many “laws” it’s sometimes fine to break them and actually add value to what you’re saying. Mostly though, some mistakes can be forgiven, like should quotation marks be placed after the last full stop or before it?
Many people can’t spell very well but there really is no excuse for that these days with the power of the internet at our fingertips. There is only one way to spell “separate” for example – you cannot use an “e” instead of the “a” – seperate is not a word. With predictive text being so widespread now there’s little excuse for spelling mistakes (but make sure your settings are on English and not American!)
I’m by no means an expert but I frequently see seriously bad errors in newspapers and magazines frequently. But then, the quality of journalism has declined alarmingly over the last decade or two.
Mis-use of the apostrophe is another thing that tends to make me cross. There’s a huge difference between the words “can’t” and “cant” – it’s lazy writing and totally wrong.
Here’s another example someone sent me recently:
Spelling: the difference between knowing your shit and knowing you’re shit. Big difference!
Generally speaking, the apostrophe means part of a longer word has been removed – as in “cannot”.
Another trend is the growing temptation to abbreviate words. How did “thanks” become “thx”? If someone’s writing to me I think I qualify for the full word. Another, albeit lesser, problem I have is replacing “Christmas” with “Xmas”. When I was the editor of a magazine I once used the shorter version and received a very polite letter from a reader who asked if I could refrain from disrespecting the day like that. I don’t hold strong views on the subject but I did understand that she was upset. I have never used any abbreviation of Christmas since then – and that was 30 years ago. Bit of a challenge when you have limited space though.
And putting words in the incorrect order is also wrong. Imagine what you’d think if you read a report which said “the bride was escorted down the aisle by her father wearing a white satin dress” – I don’t know what this error is even called. I just know it’s bad – contorted sentence construction?
And do you say “you and I” or “you and me”? Here’s an example: “He told Tom and I to get ready” which is incorrect. If you remove the word “Tom and” you’re left with “He told I to get ready”, so the correct phrase should be “He told Tom and me to get ready”. It happens when you have I/Me connected to another pronoun or name with “and” or “or”.
But the true beauty of the English language is that it changes continually. Shakespeare would fail any exam these days which is comforting to many poor writers. He regularly used nouns as verbs to the amazement and joy of his audiences no doubt. And many of his, and other, words have disappeared.
There are a couple of hundred irregular verbs from even before Shakespeare and many are still in use. Most of us still get a little confused and are not sure whether we should say hanged or hung, dived or dove, sneak or snuck, wove or weaved, swelled or swollen
are just a few examples. None of them are “wrong” although snuck is American but we won’t talk about that.
English remains a most beautiful language – not as colourful as Italian nor seductive as French – since it absorbs all the others. For example, many people believe there are no English words for several Afrikaans words. Well, that’s not true. Check out the word “trek” in the Oxford English Dictionary and you’ll see what I mean. English absorbs foreign words very easily. One every 90 seconds I believe.
I’m also generally tolerant of those people (in Parliament for example) whose first language is one of our other 11 or so other “official” languages. It must be incredibly difficult when you have to make an important speech and have to translate as you go.
However, while they’re re-inflating your lung you really don’t care about anything other than communication. When I say “Ouch” it means the same in any language. Unless you prefer Afrikaans in which case you might say “my fok Marelize”.
Summer’s nearly here! Yay!