Friday, April 10, 2009

Verbal Acerbity

As usual, I'm p-o'd about something. I admit to being insane about words, usage, language, and composition. I have tortured my children endlessly about their sketchy understanding of how to properly speak and write English, and I blame society for replacing K-12 courses in grammar and composition with courses about how they FEEL about things.

But the ninth circle of my hell (which, by the way, is “colder than hell”) is reserved for those who are supposed to be professional practitioners of language - writers and speakers - who apparently have never prepared themselves for a career using words.

The smallest thing can set me off. This morning, it was a sports column, where the sub-head referred to a “former Cy Young winner”. Former? They took it away from him? Same thing with “former Heisman Trophy winner”. Would you call Jody Foster a “former Oscar winner”? Once an Oscar winner, always an Oscar winner. Even OJ is still a Heisman Trophy winner.
I guess they’re afraid we’ll think THEY think somebody who won the Cy Young a few years ago, like Eric Gagne (yes, Brewers fans, he did indeed win the NL Cy Young in ’03) is the REIGNING Cy Young winner.

And don’t get me started on the number of sports writers and announcers who think prolific means the same thing as proficient.

Here’s another one that sends me into a frothy fit: all the TV folks who don’t know the difference between a lectern and a podium. And that would include just about all of them, from the networks down to the smallest local affiliate. A podium is something upon which you stand. Like the winners of Olympic medals at the medal ceremony. A lectern is something from which you speak. Like the lectern from which the lector lectures, in church. I know, I know. I’m insane.

Here’s another one from this morning’s news: “sawed-off” shotgun. SAWN off. Sew, sewed, sewn; saw, sawed, sawn. Absolutely nobody gets this one right, except G. Gordon Liddy. He’s the only (former) broadcaster I’ve ever heard say “sawn-off shotgun”. Except me.

Right after they did the story about the “sawed-off” shotgun-toting robber (why do they say shotgun-toting? The last person I heard using the word "tote" in a conversation was my late paternal grandmother), the TV station I was watching aired a commercial for a local car dealer, which had….according to the graphic on the screen…”hundred’s of used cars available”. Hundred’s. Presumably the author’s and copyrighter’s and editor’s and producer’s and director’s of those commercial’s don’t know the difference between plural and possessive.

Then they did the story about the “six-year anniversary” of the war on Iraq. In English, that’s written (and spoken) as “sixth anniversary”. Unless like the TV dweeb you’re from the Department of Redundancy Department. You can tell me I'm wrong when you find a Hallmark card that says "Happy 50th-year Anniversary".

However, in the spirit of Passover and Easter, all the transgressors are all forgiven, because I know the teachers who helped me learn this stuff - God rest their souls - would have found several errors in style and usage in this rant. May they forgive me as well. Healing is too much to hope for (for which to hope).


  1. Colonel,

    So, grammar mistakes are something up with which you will not put, eh?

    >> I blame society for replacing K-12 courses in grammar and composition with courses about how they FEEL about things. <<

    This is, indeed, in part what has happened. My own 10-year-old daughter was given a very interesting story about dolphins and the horrible treatment some receive in holding pens before they're shipped off to what amounts to petting zoos for aquatic life. The story dealt with the dolphins' rescue and transport by helicopter back to the area of the ocean from which they were captured (somewhere in the Gulf of Mexico, I believe). Lots of good, hard-hitting facts about the conditions of their captivity, the effort to rescue them, and dolphin factoids in general.

    So what was the first question my daughter had to answer on the worksheet that accompanied the story? You guessed it: How do you think the dolphins felt about being set free?

    I wound up writing a fairly lengthy e-mail to the teacher whom we respect quite a bit. We got no substantive reply, just "Thanks for your input."

    No wonder we're thinking about home-schooling our daughter for middle school.

    I also note that the link you provide to the NYT article about the low level of preparedness for college-level courses, mentions "A Nation at Risk", the study done a quarter century ago by the Dept. of Education that warned about the low level of preparedness of high school students for college-level courses. Wait...didn't I just say that?

    Keep up the good fight.

  2. There’s no taking trout with dry breeches.
    -- Sancho Panza

  3. Morrissey&#39;s ReflexApril 10, 2009 at 2:03 PM

    Trout wear breeches?
    -- Don Quixote

  4. Any student who is found to understand the concept of the split infinitive, even remotely, shall be sent off to education deconstruction camp. There, they will hone skills in snitching on their parents; and, they will enjoy not being able to bring an aspirin to school. Any student caught practicing grammar will attend sessions instructing them on how to cope with realizing there once was a language not based on Internet acronyms. With remedial sessions, any memory of good grammar should be relegated to, remission.
    Bob Keith