Wednesday, May 09, 2007


Words, words, words!
I’m so sick of words!
I get words all day, first from him now from you;
Is that all you blighters can do?

Recognize those lines? They were Eliza Doolittle’s complaint to Freddie in “My Fair Lady,” when that smitten young man tried to tell her of his undying ardor. The song was titled, “Show me.” Like the advice given to writers, time after time: Show, don’t tell!

My mother, a high school graduate who was plenty smart enough to go to college but never did (most girls didn’t back in the 1930s even if their families could afford it, which hers couldn’t) never took advanced English courses. But she knew that people formed an important first impression within minutes, based first on a stranger’s appearance; and second on his grammar and vocabulary.

As a youngster growing up I was never allowed to use improper grammar or pronunciation. If Mom was in doubt about a certain word or usage, we’d stop and look it up.

When my daughters were in their early teens, Carol and I fought battles with them about “goes.”

You know—the verb kids used to use before “like” became so pervasive?

Example: “I saw Paula this afternoon, and she goes, ‘Hi, Christina,’ and I go ‘Hi Paula,’ and she goes, ‘Have you seen Star Wars yet?’ and I go, ‘Only three times!’”

Carol and I would ask, “Go where?” The girls would roll their eyes and say (in total disgust), “Okay...(theatrical sigh)... I SAID!

For the last ten years that same story would sound like this: “I saw Paula this afternoon, and she’s like, ‘Hi, Christina,’ and I’m like ‘Hi Paula,’ and she’s like, ‘Have you seen Spiderman 3 yet?’ and I’m like, ‘Only three times!’”

Anyway, based on all that, I cringe when I hear some words and syntax that are misused repeatedly. Here are a few:

How many times a day do you hear people say “Undoubtably?” (The word is “undoubtedly.”)

How about “perimeters” when they mean “parameters?”

Almost every TV golf announcer says, “There’s a ridge between he and the hole.” HE and the hole have a ridge between them, but that ridge is between the hole and HIM.

When you want to drill into brick you use a masonry bit, not a “masonary” bit. (Were you thinking of “missionary?”)

“I need to orientate the new employee.” No. The employee goes through “orientation.” In the process he hopefully becomes “oriented.” You orient the new employee, you don’t orientate him.
The plural of “matrix” is not “matrixes,” it’s “matrices.” Oh, and not every graph, chart or table is a “matrix” either.

Got some of your own? Want to share? Feel free!

I resist the urge to correct people at work. They wouldn’t appreciate it. Folks become embarrassed to learn they’ve been mispronouncing a word for years.

I would know. I used to say “peculiaralities” instead of “peculiarities.” I think I somehow combined “plurality” with “peculiar.” Carol laughed one day and asked, “WHAT did you just say?” I said it again, like I always had, and was mortified to learn I was incorrect.

She assured me that most likely nobody had noticed (or cared, if they DID notice.) I felt like taking Eliza’s advice,

Don’t talk of spring, don’t talk of fall,


kenju said...

I can't think of any other than the ones you mentioned. "Oriented", or the misuse of it is one of my pet peeves, so I'm glad you said that. If I think of any, I'll come back.

Peter said...

Hi John, some of these can be very funny too; I don't like your altitude instead of attitude. or other clangers.

Anonymous said...

Between you and I, instead of between you and me, sets my teeth on edge. (obj. of preposition)

When my children started to school, they would come home with some of the most illiterate expressions. I always wondered if the kids who used them would go home with standard English expressions and their parents would correct them.

Unknown said...

Oh yes, I'm nodding like mad over here! Favourite?


Duke_of_Earle said...

r.e.: OH, yes! I can't believe I left that one out. Another that clangs in my ear is "nucelar," the way President Bush says it, instead of "nuclear." I know there are many more. Others will doubtless list some. (Or is that "undoubtably?")


Badabing said...

'Nuculer' was the one I was going to contribute. Jimmy Carter mispronounced it all the time. "I am a nuculer engineer." One that I used to hear repeatedly while growing up was 'pusgetty' when referring to spaghetti.

Hale McKay said...

This would make an excellent "guest post" over at Verbicidal Tendencies.

These are the kinds of things my partner, Serena Joy and I look for to post.

Perhaps you'd consider allowing us to use it as a guest post, with full credit to you, of course.

(That is course and not coarse, right?)

Has any writer ever spelled "vittles" correctly as "VICTUALS?"

Good post John.

Anonymous said...

I try really hard to use proper english. Sometimes word usages are so common, they sound right. For example, 'John he wrote a book', instead of 'John wrote a book'. OR another of my hated favories is 'where does he live at' instead of 'where does he live'. Well I'm sure I say a lot of things wrong. I like never write as bad as I like talk though.

Beverly said...

The one that kills me is the use of the reflexive pronoun myself. See myself, or give it to myself. That drives me nuts.

Candace said...

My parents were sticklers for good grammar, too.

Have you noticed that we are seeing and hearing more of these examples on the news, in the papers, on the 'net? We can thank our public education system.

Nankin said...

Mt father was very much like your mother when it came to langauge. I crunge when I hear, "That's are boy." Ny ex-hubby would say things such as, "It behooves me why you can't just do it my way." I finally figured out he meant confuses.