Skip to comments.American Elites Batter the English Language
Posted on 02/24/2007 10:03:44 AM PST by rhema
"If I was President, this wouldn't have happened," John Kerry said during Hezbollah's war on Israel last summer. As 2004's Democratic presidential nominee should know, he should have said, "If I were President "
It's sad, but hardly surprising, that the subjunctive evades someone of Kerry's stature. The English language is under fire, as if it strolled into an ambush. It would be bad enough if this assault involved the slovenly grammar, syntax, and spelling of drooling boors. But America's elites -- politicians, journalists, and marketers who should know better -- constantly batter our tongue.
The subjunctive, for instance, lies gravely wounded. Fewer and fewer Americans bother to discuss hypothetical or counterfactual circumstances using this verb mood. "This would not be a close election if George Bush was popular," Rep. Chris Shays (R.-Conn.) told reporters last summer, using "was," not "were." He erred further: "This would not be a close election if there wasn't a war in Iraq."
Similarly, a HepCFight.com newspaper ad declared: "If Hep C was attacking your face instead of your liver, you'd do something about it."
In an Ameritrade ad last year, a teenage girl begs her father for $80. "80 bucks?" he asks.
"Well, there's these jeans, she replies, adding later: "There's these really cool shoes."
Forget the shopping spree. Dad should have sent his daughter upstairs without dinner until she mastered noun-verb agreement. Since they are plural, "there are" jeans and shoes, not "there's," the contraction for "there is."
This is a burgeoning linguistic blunder.
United Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten told a Manhattan labor rally: "The muscle and the zeal that built our union is still with us." As a teachers' unionist, for crying out loud, Weingarten should know that muscle and zeal are still with us.
Likewise, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D.- Nev.) said, "There was no terrorists in Iraq." Actually, there were, and Reid should have used that plural verb with those plural Islamofascists, even if he considered Baathist Iraq a terrorist-free zone.
In a taped, on-air promo, one cable news network's announcer said, "Inside the UN, theres more than a thousand doors." No, there ARE more than 1,000 doors.
In another odd grammatical glitch, plural subjects of sentences interact with singular objects. Confusion follows. As one cable TV correspondent reported: "Every day, 1.5 million Americans ride a 747." Visualize the line for the bathroom on that jet. Make that "747s," and the turbulence vanishes.
Just before January's Golden Globe awards, a major newspaper's headline read: "Stars put their best face forward for the Globes." Wow! Eddie Murphy and Helen Mirren share a face?
A cable channel's news crawl correspondingly revealed: "Iraqi authorities find at least 21 bodies, many with nooses around their neck." Who knew so many Iraqis shared one neck?
Consider run-on sentences. A sign in a San Francisco M.U.N.I. streetcar recommends: "Please hold on sudden stops necessary." At the local airport, a men's room sign asks: "Please conserve natural resources only take what you really need."
Would it kill people to spell properly? A New York outdoor display company solicited new business by announcing in huge, black letters: "YUOR AD HERE."
A cable-TV news ticker referred to the "World Tade Center." Another explained that President Bush said he needs wiretaps "to defend Amercia."
Such sloth generates nonsense. Ponder these three items, all from cable-TV news crawls written by practicing journalists: Arab diplomats last August tried to change a U.S.-French peace plan aimed at ending nearly a month of welfare. Imagine if Hezbollah lobbed food stamps, rather than rockets, into Israel.
Another channel described a deadly, anti-Semitic attack at a Seattle Jewfish center.
And then theres this beauty: Disraeli troops kill two Hamas fighters including one implicated in the June capture of an Disraeli soldier.
Today's explosion of rotten English should motivate Americans to speak, write, and broadcast with greater care, clarity, and respect for grammar and spelling. Also, when even college graduates in Congress, newsrooms, and advertising agencies express themselves so sloppily, America's education crisis becomes undeniable.
Is it pedantic to expect linguistic excellence? No. Unless Americans want English to devolve into an impenetrable amalgam of goofs and gaffes, protecting our language, like liberty itself, demands eternal vigilance.
Where's the onoma, rhema?
Another construction that appalls me is "The reason being is ..." "Being" is the verb, not an adjective. "Is" is unnecessary (and, in Bil CLinton's case, ill-defined).
Or "The laundry needs washed." No, the laundry needs TO BE washed. Or the laundry needs WASHING. "Washed" is never a noun, so whatever the laundry needs, it must be some form of verb.
Don't even get me started on spelling ...
Color me skeptical. It's a little hard to believe. ... But it's more than a little stirring that old Ben hasn't been entirely forgotten.
That's because THEY DON'T TEACH SUCH RUDIMENTARY THINGS AS LANGUAGE anymore. Just like they don't teach the true history of America anymore.
What they teach is multi-culturalism and homosexual relationships .. the dumbing down of America.
I wanna get me a huntin' license.
¿Por qué debemos preocuparnos de inglés?
"The media is..."
The one the always annoys me is the use of "he and I" when "him and me" should be used. "He and I" are the lazy default. As in, "Give some of that cake to he and I."
You're right, and if I remember my high-school grammar instruction correctly, both constructions that follow the transitive verb needs are direct objects, so the infinitive phrase to be washed and the gerund washing both have noun functions in each sentence.
"Fewer and fewer Americans bother to discuss hypothetical or counterfactual circumstances using this verb mood."
Perhaps if the experts learned to express themselves more simply, hopeful students would improve their grammar.
The distinction between "was" and "were" is outmoded. The meaning, in either case, is clear. Why pressure the student with extra worries when there are egregious errors such as, "He gave the book to I"? Or, "Me and my wife went to the show."
Or perhaps they should start teaching grammar to the teachers. One teacher who wrote to a local paper to rebut the complaints about failing grades on teacher's exams, started her first sentence with these words, "I and my colleagues..."
A post talking about politicians mangling the English language, and not one mention of President Bush's legendary malapropisms? He may be many things, but an effective communicator he certainly is not.
Reminds me of a great Dave Barry "Ask Mr. Language Person" column:
Q. When should I say "phenomena," and when should I say "phenomenon?"
A. "Phenomena" is what grammarians refer to as a "subcutaneous invective," which is a word used to describe skin disorders, as in "Bob has a weird phenomena on his neck shaped like Ted Koppel." Whereas "phenomenon" is used to describe a backup singer in the 1957 musical group "Duane Furlong and the Phenomenons."
One grammatical error that's been grating on me in recent times is the use of the word "less" when the word "fewer" is the correct choice.
btw (webisms piss me off too) my six year old grandson corrects other kids' grammar on a regular basis.
As a teacher, I'll respectfully disagree, kitkat. The meaning of "Me and my wife went to the show" is also clear. Just as students should know pronoun cases, I think they should also know the three moods of verbs: indicative, imperative, and subjunctive.
Yup. A wise old journalism professor told me, "Always use who with people and animals (pets) with names."
For example, "'thuh' Earth" rather than "'thee' Earth".
This always sounds childish to me, kind of like Valley Girl speech.
Many people -- media people, notably -- who substitute the nominative case for the objective do so in an attempt to sound grammatically knowledgeable, I think. They're just not aware of constructions like direct and indirect objects, objects of prepositions (your example), and subjects of infinitive phrases ("We asked him to be our captain").
I don't know when "irregardless" became a word, regardless, I hear it a lot.
I listen to the local evening talking heads here in SoCal. Sheesh.
Both are objects of the verb "needs," and therefore, need to be nouns or noun forms. Youre memorree iz korekt.
I'll see your 'people that' and raise ya 'my sister, she...' :)
¿Por qué no?
Ouch. Some grammarians are harder taskmasters than others. All of us language students probably need to heed
the Bard [The Bard? the bard?] Shakespeare: "The quality of mercy is not strained . . ."
Boy, did you ever post this in the wrong place, as it was...
What do you expect from dumbys?
You may have a point, history is sooo boring.
Great article. I struggle with some aspects of grammar and this is a great reminder for me to figure out my trouble spots.
You can't just settle for removing one Burma Shave sign.
" The English language is under fire..."
...and subject to hyperbole and false characterization. I'm surprised he didn't say "literally under fire" for emphasis.
The language is losing rigor because people are not fastidious in its use. That's not the same as being under attack.
My favorite peeves are the misuse of apostrophes in the 'its' formation, and the terminally stupid inability to differentiate between the use of 'him and me' and 'he and I.'
Malaprops need no props.
It's a participial phrase. Participles belong to a class called "verbals," and they're always used as adjectives.
I don't know if that first example is necessarily wrong. We could always write FreeRepublic posters' idea . . .
You and George Will.
Not to mention your's and her's.
the worst one is laying and lying
Al Capp started that ball rolling over 50 years ago.
The rumor was that he loved to sneak something past the prissy editor.
That may become necessary as gender confusion assumes its proper role.
"I'm going to the movies."
"I said, I'm going to the movies."
It really bugged me until I realized that the Dominicans use 'que pasa?' the same way and the local culture just co-opted it in translation.
The main reason they should be mentioned is to show how the smug Left makes fun of his intelligence while making similar errors of their own.
Okay, so here is a semi-grammatical-only-slightly-off-topic question for southern California experts on the "thuh" and/or "thee" word.
Here in the midwest we refer to Interstate Hwy. 57 as "I-57", Interstate Hwy. 80 as "I-80", etc. When I lived in SoCal, I noticed insertion of "the" as in "the I-5", "the I-15", "the I-8", etc. What gives with that?
I'd put it in my top five, to be sure. Lying is rarely used (except by those who invoke the name of Bill Clinton). Poor little old whom is just about extinct,too, at least in spoken English.
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