English is a living language and freely adopts and adapts words from other languages. Kathy and I (fellow English majors) were talking today about some of the colorful, folksy terms we use to describe people, specifically words that are difficult to define, but that “we just know” what they mean. Examples include klutz, ditz, putz, doppich, frumpy, and schmuck.
Today, while I was reading The Mystery of Mrs. Christie by Marie Benedict, I came across a new descriptive term: “twee.” In the book, Mrs. Christie speaks of her husband, Archie, and says, “I toned down my natural exuberance and chatter, because Archie found it cloying and more than a little twee.” I had no idea what “twee” meant, so I looked it up.
I like the word. The problem? It’s British slang, so if I use it, it’s unlikely my listener will know what I mean and I’ll have to figure out a way to describe a word that “I just know.”
I was reading an article in my news feed about Trump supporters who gathered in Washington, D.C. to show their support for President Trump after the election. The speaker might have known what she meant, but the reporter, proofreader, and editor are all apparently unfamiliar with the difference between a ringer and a wringer. Or maybe all of the aforementioned people actually meant that the President has been treated like a bell.
I hear a lot of weird English language errors and mutations when I watch and read news stories. The errors and mutations are so frequent, that I can’t keep track of them all, but a few recent bloopers were especially notable.
(1) There was a special news report on flying safely now that the COVID-19 lockdowns are loosening. To reassure passengers that airplane cabin air is recirculated, the reporter mentioned that “most airplanes that fly in the air now have HEPA* air filters.” Question: What would be the purpose of an airplane that doesn’t fly in the air?
*HEPA: High efficiency particulate air. These filters force air through a fine mesh to trap harmful particles such as pollen and pet dander. The workmen who refurbished our bathrooms in 2017 used a HEPA machine to filter out drywall dust while they were working.
(2) I don’t remember what the news report referred to, but Miss Ditz told us that it moves in an “anticlockwise” direction. Really? Is she too young to know we already have the word “counterclockwise” to describe this?
(3) Finally, with the riots following George Floyd’s death, the leader of our nation expressed his sympathies for “the people of Mindianapolis.” It’s somewhere in the Midwest–Indiana? Minnesota? Geography lessons needed?
April 14 was the anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic. I saw a series of photos of the event and, although the pictures were interesting, I was amazed at the number of errors I saw in the captions. This was one of the most obvious ones.
The second sentence has one subject and two verb clauses. The subject of the sentence is “RMS Carpathia” and the verbs are “transported” and “were met.” The RMS Carpathia “were met”???? No, it “was met.” Aaarrrggghh! I’m hoping the error was the fault of Wikimedia and not the Library of Congress.
I thought my chances of eventually dying were 100 percent, but USA Today recently reported that, if I eat more fiber and grains, I can reduce that risk by nearly 30 percent.
I assume the World Health Organization used better grammar than this reporter, but maybe not. Unless fiber has become a true miracle drug, it would be more accurate to report that a high-fiber diet can contribute to longevity by reducing the risk of premature death.
Just in case, let’s all eat more oatmeal and go for immortality.
Author’s note: As an adjective describing the kind of person who seeks a professional service without an appointment, walk-in should be a single hyphenated word and it definitely does not need that apostrophe! Doesn’t anyone proofread signage before posting it????
Whew! I found out today that I’m not the Lone Ranger of the Grammar Police Squad.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo differs from his boss, President Trump, when it comes to writing. According to CNN, while President Trump tends to forego standard guidelines for punctuation and capitalization in his tweets, Pompeo has apparently “had it up to here” with improper comma usage among State Department staff. As a result, two emails have been circulated among State Department staff in recent months with detailed instructions pertaining to the proper use commas.
According to the emails, Pompeo prefers the Chicago Manual of Style writing guidelines. Personally, I prefer the American Psychological Association (APA) style because I think it’s far more straightforward than Chicago style, but I guess Mike likes a challenge. Here are two excerpts from one of the staff memos–one for including commas and one for removing them.
Attention to writing detail might come with the Secretary of State job. CNN alliteratively noted that Colin Powell “famously focused on font and font size,” and Condoleezza Rice was picky about margins and “cramming too much into the regulated length for memos.” Maybe I should consider becoming Secretary of State. I already have the grammar skills.
Everyone knows you should never use a preposition to end a sentence with. Where did that grammar rule come from? (Grammar humor taking place.)
This preposition rule is based on Latin grammar and makes no sense in modern English. Grammarly (and other high-ranking language professionals) tell us it’s now OK to use a preposition at the end of a sentence. We no longer need that Latin rule to hide behind. (Get it?)
For non-grammar nerds, the Oxford (serial) comma is the final comma in a list of things. People either love or hate the Oxford comma, and style manuals are beginning to compromise by advocating use of the Oxford comma as an option when clarity is needed. I always use it because it always provides clarity.
Without the Oxford comma: I love my parents, Lady Gaga and Humpty Dumpty.
With the Oxford comma: I love my parents, Lady Gaga, and Humpty Dumpty.
It’s been awhile since I found a reporting error that irritated me enough to share it, but it happened again today. The article was published in the aftermath of the school shooting in Parkland, FL. In the following excerpt from the news article, the author erroneously identifies two of the three generations mentioned.
Just as their grandparents feared polio . . .
Dr. Jonas Salk’s polio vaccine was developed in 1953 and was available for public use in 1955. Dr. Albert Sabin’s oral polio vaccine was available for use in 1961. I was vaccinated with both. A local drugstore provided the injections, and I remember going there after church on Sundays for the series of three injections. I also remember taking the pink oral vaccine dropped onto sugar cubes. It was from 1916 until the 1950s that polio was an annual summertime threat in one part or another of the United States. The worst U.S. polio epidemic occurred in 1949, claiming 2,700+ lives. I was two years old that year, and my oldest brother was an infant. It was my parents–“Generation Columbine’s” great-grandparents, born just before and during the 1920s–who feared polio throughout their lives, especially for their children, including Ted and me. I don’t remember being afraid of polio, but I know that large public gatherings were avoided during the summer months and public swimming pools were often closed during the 1940s and 1950s to prevent the spread of polio. I do remember my 4-H club collecting money from the good citizens of Hingham for the March of Dimes to support the fight to eradicate polio.
. . . and their parents feared nuclear war, . . .
Six of my eight grandchildren were born after the 1999 Columbine school shooting. (Alex and Kyra were born in 1997 and 1998, respectively.) Their parents are my children, born between 1972 and 1978. The Berlin Wall fell in 1989 when Jeff was 17, and the Cold War was lukewarm long before that. The parents of “Generation Columbine” did not live in fear of nuclear war; it was their grandparents–Ted and me–who were afraid Khrushchev would hit the nuclear button at any moment. In the 1950s–my elementary school years–some public buildings had fallout shelter signs on them, indicating that those buildings could protect us from nuclear fallout in the event of an atomic war. (Hah!) I doubt if “Generation Columbine’s” parents ever saw one of these signs.
In summary, there is a “Generation Columbine” and there were generations who feared polio and the Cold War. The author of the article named one of the three groups correctly, but he is off by a full generation for two-thirds of his main idea. Aarrgghh! Don’t journalists have to check their facts before publishing? Don’t they use proofreaders? Apparently not.
Go, Elon Musk! Of the 500,000+ objects of space junk orbiting the earth, the Tesla driven by Spaceman is way cooler than the old satellites and spent rocket boosters up there. The best part of the launch might have been the return of the reusable booster rockets to the launch pad. Wow!
An English major’s work is never finished. Notice that, even in cartoons, there’s a need for a good editor.
One of Ted’s and my favorite lunch restaurants often has a waiting line for seating. As an alternative to waiting for a table to become available, the restaurant has what it calls a “community table.” The community table seats ten and almost always has vacant chairs. If you don’t want to wait in line, you can usually be seated immediately at the community table where you get the same food, the same service, and a chance to meet new friends.
Today, while Ted and I were waiting for a table, we heard a server offer an incoming party the opportunity to be seated at the “communion table.” I don’t think so–unless it offers forgiveness of sins, as well as bread and wine, with lunch.
My favorite radio personality on Sirius XM radio is Phlash Phelps. He’s been everywhere in the U.S., although he admits he’s still “missing” sixteen parishes in Louisiana. He plans to visit them within the year. Last year, he visited all 50 states because it was his 50th birthday year.
People call in to the show and say, “Hi, Phlash! I’m calling from Themiddleofnowhere.” Phlash will respond with something like, “That’s right near Youneverheardofthisplace and they’ve got a 50-foot tall sculpture of a salt shaker made out of stainless steel margarita glasses in the town square.” Of course, this is a little bit of hyperbole but, seriously, he knows something about every two-bit town the people call from–and it’s always something interesting. I know there’s probably a few-second delay on the phone call being broadcast to prevent trouble with the FCC, but it doesn’t sound like Phlash takes time to look up the city and its attractions before airing the conversation. Sometimes I’ve googled the attractions he talks about because I think Ted and I might like to see them. Every one I’ve googled has been real.
Unfortunately, Phlash messed up yesterday. The caller was from Duluth, MN and Phlash immediately asked if the caller was planning to drive U.S. 61. Phlash mentioned that the highway begins in Duluth and has some spectacular views of Lake Ontario. Oops! Duluth is on Lake Superior. It’s the first time I’ve been tempted to call in to a radio show, but I got out of the car and had lunch with my friend instead.
Tonight’s TV news included a report about Puerto Rico in the aftermath of hurricane Maria. Mr. Dumbclutz told us that about half the population of the island is without “pot”-able water. Uggghhh! Wouldn’t you think that if the word was unfamiliar to him, he might have looked it up or asked a friend how to pronounce it? Maybe he should watch Jeopardy! more often. The show often has a category titled “Potent Potables”–pronounced poh’-tentpoh’-tah-bulls, not paht-ent paht’-ah-bulls.
Robin Cook needs to change publishing houses. After finding two (what I’d call serious) errors within a few pages of text in Cook’s “Foreign Body , I found another erroneous word in Cell, another book of his.
If he’s eating the food rapidly, rather than mocking it, the word should be “scarfed.”
I don’t know why I ever watch the news. Newscasters–both national and local–provide daily examples of terrible grammar and word usage. I can only surmise that the people who hire the on-air talent have equally poor English-speaking skills, so don’t realize what incompetent people they hire.
While preparing dinner tonight, I heard all of the following in less than 30 minutes of newscasting:
A water main connecting the city water line to multiple housing units broke today. This is an expensive repair and the question was “Who is responsible for the repair bill?” Unfortunately, the private property owners will have to bear the cost. Miss Woo-girl gave us a phone number to call if we want to find out whether or not our house is under a similar multiple-residence water main. Question: How many houses does she think are under a water main?
Mr. Handsome then introduced the next story by telling us “A family was shattered by a bullet today.” I couldn’t help picturing a family broken into pieces like a porcelain vase, and wondered how a single bullet could do that to humans. (Making this a ridiculously inaccurate sentence.) More information told us that two siblings were playing with a loaded gun in the house and one shot and killed the other–a seventeen-month-old toddler. While the family’s peace of mind might have been figuratively shattered, the family members were still physically intact. Note: I sympathize with what this family is feeling now, but I think they deserved a much better and more accurate lead-in line to this story, such as “A family is grieving today . . . .”
Finally, back to Miss Woo-girl to introduce the weather. It was 98 degrees today and a cold front is coming through, so thunderstorms are popping up in the area. Miss Woo-girl transferred narration duties to the weatherman with the line, “So, Chris, tell us about those severe storms out there.” Thankfully, the weather man is probably 20 years older than Miss Woo-girl and knows his stuff. He gently corrected her by saying that none of the storms is actually severe, although a few are stronger than others. Note: I know from Ted that when there is a severe weather watch or warning in effect, all civil defense entities are notified so that appropriate actions can be taken for public safety. This involves everything from blowing sirens to notifying hospitals and strategically placing ambulances and fire trucks in the affected area. Trained storm spotters and ham radio operators are called in to assist with observations and communications, and extra employees go on duty in a vast assortment of community agencies. I get frustrated when TV people imply that just because there’s thunder, the storm is severe. They use the word “severe” so often–even to let us know when the storms are not severe–that they are like the boy who cried wolf. I’m afraid people will begin to tune out the word “severe” and will not take heed when it’s important for their safety.
Yes, I’ve got to stop watching the news. (But I probably won’t, because it provides me with a plethora of examples of English language ignorance.)
When Ted and I were first married, I worked for three years as a writer-editor for the U.S. Bureau of the Census. I was one of three writer-editors in the department where I worked, and the expectation was perfection in print. This was in the early 1970s, before PCs and spell check. After writing and before publishing, we worked in a proofreading team of three, taking turns with one of us reading aloud and two following along looking for errors. A lasting result of that job is that it sometimes spoils pleasure reading for me because I’m so well-trained to find errors in text. (Not to mention being a grammar nerd with two college degrees in English.)
I’ve found lots of textual errors over the years, including factual errors such as the lady who took a coach from London to Dublin (not easy over the Irish Sea), as well as simple misspellings of homonyms and other “real” words that don’t make sense in the text, but don’t trigger spell check.
I found two pretty big errors within a few pages of each other while reading Robin Cook’s Foreign Body over the weekend.
Octaves go higher and lower in tone, not louder in volume. Let’s replace “octaves” with “decibels” here.
She’s flying from Los Angeles to Delhi, India. Depending on when you leave (orbital distance can vary), it only takes 7 months to get to Mars!
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch used the non-word sillily on the front page of its sports section last week. It reminds me of the Parisian bus with the “slididing” top and the “screeninings” available at the Lions Club. I think slididing and screeninings were probably typos, but I have a hunch this sportswriter thought he needed to change the adjective silly (the kind of hair extensions) to an adverb, even though it does not function as an adverb (how, where, when). He changed the y to i and added -ly. Well, at least he knows how to form adverbs, even if he doesn’t know how to use them. Aaarrgghh!
Much of the local evening news tonight addressed flooding rivers and road closings. One reporter noted that all roads to a particular area were under water, leaving that area “landlocked.” Of course, that reminded me of Inigo Montoya’s line in The Princess Bride.
All the holiday preparations in addition to our normal activities made yesterday a long day at the end of a long week. I spent far too much time figuring out how to make my Christmas letter idea work. By the time the light bulb came on with the simple solution, hours had passed and I knew the letter’s text by heart–a situation that has a negative effect on proofreading.
Ted and I finished the Christmas cards and letters job and had everything ready to mail when I decided to enjoy the letter and read it once more, just for pleasure. And that’s when I saw the typo and knew we had to re-print and re-stuff all the letters.
Who doesn’t love reading the Grammarly blog (http://www.grammarly.com/blog)? Really? Not everyone? Well, no matter. Fortunately, I read it regularly and can share grammar wisdom with my handful of readers.
Today, I learned about eggcorns–words that sound similar to and have a meaning that sort of works in place of the original word. (Who knew there was a real word for errors like this? Thanks to Grammarly, now we do.) The term eggcorn appeared in an article by a linguist in September 2003 and described the case of a woman who used the word eggcorn instead of acorn. To qualify as an eggcorn, the substituted sound must preserve at least some sense of the original word.Eggcorn appeared in the Oxford English Dictionary in 2010 and Merriam-Webster recognized it in 2015.
Lipsinging is an example of an eggcorn.Lip singing involves people moving their lips as if they were singing, and sounds a lot like lip syncing, the original word. Another example is old timer’s disease which sounds like Alzheimer’s disease and mostly affects the elderly. Eardropping means that you are listening in on someone else’s conversation, much like eavesdropping. A self-refilling prophecy not only fulfills itself, but apparently does so repeatedly.
There are some other types of errors that don’t count as eggcorns. One is the mondegreen, which is similar to an eggcorn, but misconstrues the lyrics to a song or other type of performance, such as “Hang on, Snoopy (Sloopy)” by the McCoys. Listeners (me) of Bad Moon Rising by Creedence Clearwater Revival might hear “There’s a bathroom on the right” for the line “There’s a bad moon on the rise.” (Again, who knew there was a real word for this?) Another type of error is the malapropism, which features a similar substitution of sounds, but results in a word or phrase that doesn’t make sense within the context. “Illiterate (obliterate) him from your memory” and “comprehending (apprehending) criminals” are malapropisms.
Tonight, I heard an eggcorn in actual usage when the TV newscaster unwittingly referred to the students’ after-curricular activities, rather than using the original term, extra-curricular activities. My all-time favorite eggcorn, however, is a word Kari used when she was about five years old: rememory. It’s so good, I sometimes deliberately use it when I have a rememory. I personally think rememory is an excellent word, and I’d put it on an advanced eggcorn level because it uses similar sounds of two related words to make a combined meaning of remembering a memory. Go, Kari. You rock!