Thursday, May 29, 2008

English Lesson

Let's take a quick break from politics and the sorry state of the world. Please, work with me for one post. I want to turn attention to something near and dear to my heart: the English language.

As a lifelong "word person," I've gritted my teeth for years as I catch spelling, syntax, and grammatical errors in articles in newspapers, magazine articles, and now, the major internet blogs. They make me cringe, every time.

It's not so much the fact that mistakes are made--I see the same errors every day in the e-mails of the business world, where I simply sigh and keep reading. Not everyone was an English major, I remind myself. But in the case of the printed media, there are people who are paid to 1) know the rules, and 2) apply them. These people are called "editors," and in my opinion, they should either do their jobs--or learn them.

Here are my "Top Ten Typos"--for lack of a better term:

1. Loose/Lose - To "lose" is a verb meaning to misplace or fail at something. The adjective "loose" describes something not tight, or as a verb conveys the action of setting something free (e.g., "loose the anchor"). These words are not interchangeable.

2. It’s/Its - "It's" is a contraction of two words, "it is." This has nothing to do with the single word, possessive pronoun "its" which denotes ownership. It may be my imagination, but the incorrect usage of "it's" instead of "its" seems to be increasingly common. It's leading English grammar to its degradation, if not destruction.

3. You’re/your - Not as ubiquitous as "it's/its" errors, but seen often enough to indicate a growing laziness among writers. "You're" is the contraction for "you are." "Your" is a possessive pronoun. If you're using "your" instead of "you're," grammar is not your strong suit and you're in need of a proofreader.

4. To/too - Another common error, but more forgiveable. It's such a tiny word. Using the preposition instead of the adverb is usually the result of the writer going too fast.

5. Pundit/Pundint - This is a relatively new mispronunciation, heard mostly on cable TV and talk radio. There is only one "N" in the word "pundit," which means an expert or learned teacher. But many commentators insist on sneaking in the second "N"--thus proving their lack of expertise, at least in speaking English.

6. Divisive/Divisive - There used to be no divisiveness over this word. It was correctly pronounced "di-VY-siv" and there was no debate. Now, we have the trendy "di-VISS-iv" strain racing through talk media like a runaway verbal flu. Did someone just make this up? Will we soon start hearing "in-SISS-ive" commentary rather than "in-SY-siv" analysis? At the rate the language is deteriorating, don't be surprised if we do.

7. Old adage - "Adage" means a proverb or a saying of long usage. This definition describes an old saying. To say "old adage" translates as "old old saying." How very, very redundant.

8. Could've went - Along with "should've ran," your basic grammatical nightmare. I hear it on a regular basis, even from M.B.A. holders. Perhaps especially from them. This is a blog, not a textbook, so I won't belabor the issue here. But if you don't see the problems in this usage, you owe it to yourself, and to your mother tongue, to look it up.

9. Nuclear - It's pronounced noo-clee-ar. Not "noo-cu-lar"--no matter how many times Jimmy Carter says it, that's completely wrong. If you're plagued with mispronunciation of this word, try this simple exercise. Say "new," then immediately say "clear"--there, that's it! "New-clear"--you've got it!

10. Exact same - You see it everywhere, hear it from everyone. I must confess this one doesn't bother me as much as it did my father. An English language purist, he groaned as though in pain every time he heard it. "Exact" means "same"--see #7 above. So "exact same" is "same same."

English is a complex language with plenty of room for error. We're all going to make mistakes occasionally when we write and speak. But I think we should make the more honorable and obscure mistakes, and scrub the common errors from our personal usage.

It's not right that we lose our native language to the divisive pundits who would turn correct English usage into an adage. You're too smart for that. Although we could have gone separate ways, let's stay nuclear on this and keep accurate grammar the same.