Friday, October 09, 2009

So Kathleen's like, "That's apostrophe abuse!"

The list we've all been waiting for is finally out. Most annoying expressions. According to a recent survey, the winners (?) are: #5 at the end of the day; #4 anyway; #3 It is what it is; #2 you know; and the #1 totally most annoying phrase is...Whatever. Or What! ev-aarrr. Apparently whatever annoys more Midwesterners than Northeasterners. I know I'm sick of hearing it roll off the tongue of one particular 5-year-old female.

I hesitate to proceed, knowing that whenever I stick my English teacher nose in the air I'm sure to trip over my own feet at least once in the ensuing diatribe. But I got nuthin' else this week. Here goes.
Cliches used in the media. Fun stuff. We all use cliches. Lord knows my head is full of them, and they do ooze out. The above small print puts at the end of the day at the top of the list. The other one that's beginning to get to me is thinking out of the box. (Where else is a square like me supposed to do her thinking?) And That said... Is there another transition out there somewhere? Just for fun what cliche or catch phrase would you strike from the airwaves if you could? How about from the printed page?

Onward. I haven't entered the Face Book world yet, but if and when I do, I'm going to check out the one called "I Live In Reading...Fear Me." A guy (after my own perverse heart) goes around taking pictures of grammatically incorrect signs and posts them on what is becoming a very popular site. I got this one from Google images. The apostrophe is the most tortured punctuation mark alive. (Yes, my children, they're alive!) In my younger, more insufferable days I tried to interest a waitress in removing a misplaced apostrophe from the menu. I actually tried to explain the difference between plural and possessive. My next heroine will be a waitress who has me for a customer. She will serve up a single French fry on a plate.

But seriously, writers and readers, I do think grammar matters. The media is falling down on the job. Why, just this evening I sat up in horror when David Gregory uttered "Take your hand off of me" on The Daily Show. Granted, he was quoting his son, but still... Off of is one of those nails on chalkboard utterances. What's happening to our models?

My daddy was a stickler for proper grammar. I don't believe in keeping kids from expressing themselves, but I do believe in gentle correction. We don't talk baby talk in our house, but we do talk. Complete sentences from birth on. And when I turn on the news, I want...well, news would be nice, but I expect the talking heads to communicate effectively, and that requires a working knowledge of English grammar along with an extensive vocabulary. They should know that a word like unique doesn't need a modifier. You can't be more unique. You try to; you don't try and. What is often times? If something is the same as something, it's the same. Exact same? Exact opposite? Come on. In this age of "speaking in thumbs" we're either firing vowel-less code into cyberspace or we're throwing out five words when one will do. What does "at this point in time" mean? Anything like now? When did utilize become the mark of an educated speaker? Does it sound better than use?

I'm not proposing stilted dialogue. Conversation should be relaxed. In our books, dialogue should be true to character. It should sound like people talking. But writers and reporters, pundits and people in the public eye should know the rules before they break them. We all indulge in lazy speaking and writing sometimes. But what's wrong with raising the bar? Children need models of good grammar. Heck, we all do. Becoming aware of the meaningless phrases, the tired cliches, the tortured construction and misused punctuation is half the battle. And it's a lifelong endeavor. English teachers screw up, too.
But you put that lesson in your toolbox, and you drag it out when you need a Friday blog post.

What are your least favorite commonly used expressions? Your language peeves? Your personal pitfalls (Damn you, lie and lay!) or funny flubs?


Lori said...

Standing O. Yes!

One of mine is "should of". Huh? No, no, NO. Should have. Please.

I always hated (still do) orientate. You're oriented to something, not orientated. Ugh. But some of my friends from the UK tell me that orientated is the accepted use there. I work with a lot of people in the UK on a lot of projects requiring orientation meetings. Imagine my frustration level.

Please don't get me started on the poor use of apostrophe's in the letter's that come home from the school's! If theres an "s", there must need to be an apostrophe in front of it, right? Possessive vs. plural - it really isn't that hard, is it? (NB: All incorrect apostrophes, or lack thereof, in this paragraph were intentional!)

Another of my pet peeves is incorrect usage of I and me. John and me went to the store. You hardly ever see that anymore. Most people seem to have gotten this by now. What I do see a lot of is this: "Jimmy went to the store with John and I." That drives me crazy.

OK, I need to stop before you get me really going, like I'm not going already...

Venus Vaughn said...

My newest annoyance is any variation of: "What happens in Vegas, etc."
However, I'm still okay with the original, "What happens in Vegas, etc."

Contrary bitch? Why, yes I am.

As for everything else you said. I agree. 100%. Even though I admit to failing my inner grammarian more than a few times daily. And since moving to the States, I am frequently appalled at the things I let myself get away with.

Oh, and my long-standing pet peeve is leaving the "ly" off "really."
eg, "That's real good."
"She was real bad."
"The pool was real cold."

Betina Krahn said...

Kathy, you can take the girl out of the English classroom. . . lol.

Lori, the "John and me" thing makes me crazy. I/me is not hard to figure out-- why can't we teach this and snuff out the problem?

Makes me nutzoid. As does the tendence to put "oid" on the end of any and every possible noun for intellectual/humorous effect. Arghhhhh!

Lie/lay was always a problem for me, though it didn't BOTHER me... until an officious ass of an English teacher I taught with stopped a conversation dead to viciously make fun of my rather colloquial use of the phrase "laid out in the sun." It was humiliating-- as he intended it to be, and after that I looked it up and NEVER made that mistake again. Up yours Mr. Toth.

In fact, I used the forms of "lie" correctly in my last couple of books and the copy editor had to be corrected by the editor! Score one for the editor AND ME!

"Irregardless," anyone? And "out of the box" should be boxed up and sunk six feet under.

Thanks, Kathy! Great post!

Laurie said...

I'm so sick of the word awesome!

Could you? Would you?
May I? Can I?

The saying:
"Ya don't say."
My youngest always said "funner" instead of more fun.

Laurie said...

Embarassing. I made the mistake of saying that something was ironic when it was actually coincidental. They made a point of correcting me in front of a group of people.

Anonymous said...

I'm of the "talking with thumbs" era (I'm turning 26 in one week), as well as the "millennials" that grew up with the internet.

My thoughts are if we're talking on the internet, I can forgive "u" and "b4" as it is the internet. It's supposed to be more laid back.

But in a school report, a novel, etc...unless you're simulating what a text message would look like, or a quick, simple email. to use a popular Internet meme, "DO NOT WANT!" Plain and simple.

Helen Brenna said...

Totally. I still here that and I'm totally sick of it!

Kathy - I can just see you trying to convince a waitress to remove a wayward apostrophe from a menu. That cracks me up. I see those apostrophes everywhere. And I do it in my own writing - typing so fast.

Lay/lie gets me every time.

Terry Odell said...

great posts. The "of" for "have" bugs me.

One I've started seeing too often is "baited breath." (Or do the characters eat worms?)

My kids had this nifty little paperback grammar reference they used in school, and it explains all those lay/lie things in very easy to understand terms. I kept it when they left!

PJ said...

Lose/loose. When did the spelling change? I see it misspelled everywhere. Drives me up the flippin' wall. I saw a big sign at the gym that said, "LOOSE WEIGHT - EARN POINTS." Loose weight? Hey, I have plenty of loose weight! Where are my points?

If I never hear "whatever" (said in that dismissive, "I could give a rip" voice) again it will be too soon.

Great blog, Kathleen! My 50's roots are applauding.

Twisted said...

Basically. . .Argh!

I hate the apostrophe and spelling mistakes. One night at the dirt track where I race, I took a red felt pen and corrected all the signs. No Consealed Wepaons Feminnine All Driver's Chek in Here.

I make my own share of mistakes and welcome the correction.

Cindy Gerard said...

Kathy - I think we should have a weekly grammar, spelling and usage lesson from you. Too much fun.

I received an e-mail the other day from a fan that had me scratching my head until I realized she'd basically typed a 'text' e-mail message. Not being of the thumb/text set, it took me a while to decipher it. It also scared me a little to think that it was her 'go to' method of communication and it makes me worry for the plight of the written word.
My grammar trouble spots remain the lie, lay, laid. I finally taped a note to my pc monitor to keep me straight on effect vs affect because that trips me up every time.
And I'm a BIG abuser of "There ya go!" even though that same phrase irritates me :o)
Thanks for the fun and informative post.

Christie Ridgway said...

Oh, yeah. Despise it when I see "loose" for "lose."

But I also still avoid "lie" and "lay" even though I think I have it right now.

Hate incentivize. Can't we just use motivate instead?

Janga said...

Great blog!

I confess that the nitpicking English teacher is part of who I am. Grammatical errors can pull me out of a book and send me ranting to whoever will listen.

"Between you and I" is one that makes me cringe, and I see it and hear it often.

Kathleen Eagle said...

Lori, thanks for mentioning some great ones. Should of! Her sister Would of and brother Could of need a comeuppance fer shur.

Venus, I'm with you on the hoof in mouth over grammar. I shove it in there every time I try to ride the grammar high horse. Hard to ride when you're eating one of your mount's hooves.

But I live to entertain!

GunDiva said...

I loved this post! Funny, we were just having a grammar and punctuation rant at work yesterday. My favorite punctuation book of all time is "Eats, Shoots and Leaves".

One of my biggest pet peeves is when people can't pronounce things properly. My children, from the time they began talking (and they talk incessantly) were expected to pronounce their words properly. They heard, almost on a daily basis, "there is no X in especially." That came back to bit me in the you-know-what when my daughter got to junior high and had a teacher who kept saying exspecially. My daughter almost failed the class because all she could hear was "there's no X in especially!".

My thought is that if a person can't pronounce something properly, there's no way they'll ever be able to spell properly.

Cate Masters said...

Loved this! As a Catholic school survivor (for eight long years), I'm a stickler for proper English. I'm so proud that my daughter is too - even when texting, she uses correct punctuation and spells everything out. Texting in all its varations frightens me, never more than when I read about a college course in translating Shakespeare into texting. Wha?
But I digress. My main peeve unfortunately relates to the area we moved to about twenty years ago. Apparently no one here knows about the phrase "to be" (no, not another attack on Shakespeare) - everything "needs done" rather than needs to be done. My teeth have shortened a bit with all the grinding.

GunDiva said...

There is one phrase that almost made me put down a book because it was used excessively..."she said with feeling" or "he said with feeling." This is overused by a NYT Best Selling Author and when I see it, I just want to scream. I've vowed to NEVER use either phrase. EVER. So far, it's been a pretty easy vow to keep.

Terry Odell said...

Cate - I SO hear you (is that another pet peeve phrase?) on that "the dishes need washed" construction. My son-in-law, who has a PhD in nuclear physics uses it all the time. He's from Iowa. I think it's a midwest thing. I once did a temp job transcribing reports and I automatically fixed it, while grinding my teeth, of course.

Kathleen O said...

Whoops.. don't get me started. My real pet peave is when someone pronounces wash, as arsh.. 'I am going to warsh the car'. Why did someone not tell me there was an 'r' in this word. This drives me nuts. Of course in our family of Irish and Scotish some words oare atrocious. I hate when people anilate the english language, be it American or the Queens english pronouciation. I used to correct my grandmother all the time with words or phrases and she used to get so mad at me..

Anonymous said...

When I read this type of post and the responding comments, I often wonder--which is more important, good grammar or good manners? How embarrassing was it for that waitress when you did a grammar check on the menu and proceeded with your critique while she had a number of tables to wait on?
And how about the people whose signs were corrected with a red marker?
Everyone (even a waitress) has strengths and weaknesses. Your strength is grammar.
Hers must have been long suffering.

GunDiva said...

Anon - that's a good point. But, on the other hand, if we hadn't worried so much about hurting other people's feelings maybe they would have learned proper grammar and punctuation. I think we've gone way too far to avoid hurting feelings. I'm by no means advocating getting rid of manners, in fact, I appreciate manners, but we've become awfully coddled as a society. But that's a whole other rant...

Minna said...

I recomend The English Language by David Crystal! It was fun to read.
My pet peeves have a bit more to do with Finnish language, as it's my mother tongue, but...
There is this direct loan from the English phrase, "in the long run" and more and more you get to hear the direct, Finnish translation of that one, instead of the Finnish phrase that goes something like "during a long period of time". And then there's my nephew, who says "iska" instead of "iskä" (dad). But languages, pronunciation, meaning of words etc. change all the time. What some think as mistake now, won't be considered as one some time later.

Minna said...

Oh, and in the book I mentioned there was also something about "Between you and I". It might not be quite as wrong as you think.

Janga said...

According to standard English, "between" is a preposition. Pronouns functioning as the object of "between" should be in objective case. Therefore, "between you and me" is correct standard usage.

Perhaps one day Crystal and other proponents of non-standard usage will win the battle, but I don't believe they can claim victory yet.

catslady said...

You named two of my favorites - whatever and you know

Minna said...

Janga, I have to check tomorrow what it said in the Crystal's book about "Between you and I". But I do remember that whatever it was, it wasn't Crystal's idea. The example was from some BBC radio series about language.

Debra Dixon said...

Oh, but there are so many.

I'm not allowed to use the word "just." It's my favorite word apparently. So, I have to take it out.

And then I take out the word "so."

One thing I do like though and continue to use is the sentence fragment.

I also like the odd conjunction opening a sentence now and then. (see above)

Kathleen Eagle said...

Christy, I'm in favor of shooting the ize out. Where is it written that we can just make verbs out of everything with our ize? Prioritize, anyone?

Kathleen Eagle said...

Anon, I was going for a self-deprecating tone in the anecdote about the waitress. Guess I missed the mark. Believe me, I've been corrected in front of witnesses more than once. Saints might be born humble, but I suspect most of us learn humility the hard way.

By the way, as a teacher, I used the red pen sparingly. I wanted students to express themselves. People learn to speak, read and write by speaking, reading and writing. Adults model for kids.

Kathleen Eagle said...

Deb, I'm using fragments in my fiction and "friendly" writing much more than I used to.

As for spelling, does anyone remember the ITA movement? The Initial Teaching Alphabet was popular in elementary education in the 60's, and it involved teaching reading using an alphabet that was supposedly phonetic. Some kids made the transition to standard spelling without too much trouble, but many did not. Spelling is a real challenge in English. I'm not the greatest speler. But, is what it is.

Kathleen Eagle said...

Wow. Great discussion. I got bogged down in a dang deadline and didn't participate the way I wanted to. I'll check back over the weekend, though.

Oh, how about alot and alright? Editors seem to be letting those two slide. I see them in print a lot lately, but neither is all right in my book.

Minna said...

Ok, here it is. It turned out to be an explanation why people say "Between you and I" from the BBC radio series English Now in 1986:
I shouln't be used in between you and I. The pronoun should be me after a preposition, as in Give it to me.

This is true; but many people are unconsciously aware of the way grammars have criticized me in other in constructions, recommending it is I or He's bigger than I as the correct form. They feel that I is somehow more polite, and as a result they begin to use it in places where it wouldn't normally go.

I guess this is one of those battles grammars will lose. Sooner or later.

Betina Krahn said...

I've had the occasional copy editor change "It's me" (written as dialogue) to "It's I" and I nearly had a stroke. Who talks that way? And it's DIALOGUE. You can write it the way people often speak it in dialogue. Hmmmm. Which may be the reason I love writing dialogue.

Also "It was him" to "It was he." Some things that are techincally correct sound harsh and unnatural to the ear and must give place in the name of writerly voice and readerly sensibility

Minna said...

If the English language made any sense, a catastrophe would be an apostrophe with fur. - Doug Larson

Kathleen Eagle said...

Speaking of between, I cringe when I hear it used when among is the correct choice.

Absolutely on the dialogue, Betina. I'm working with an editor--a real sweetie--who puts "colloquial, right? just checking" in the margin. I appreciate the checking. I also appreciate letting the character have his voice.