Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The English Language

english, spelling, grammar, metaphor, simile
Why is it the average Middle Easterner seems to have a better grasp of English than the average US blogger? Sure, nonnative speakers will misplace apostrophes, misspell and construct the occasional awkward sentence*, but I rarely see them abusing English the way native speakers do.

For example, certain words cannot be combined with modifiers, such as "unique" or "confidential". One of the attorneys where I work just told me something is "very confidential". No. Either something is confidential, or it is not. Nothing is "somewhat confidential" or "really confidential". The same goes for unique. Either something is entirely unlike everything else or it's not, but nothing is somewhat entirely unlike everything else. Duh.

Oh, and can we discuss metaphors for a moment? Most people seem incapable of creating appropriate metaphors. I offer up for your perusal an example that while screamingly funny, also makes me want to cry. Or punch kittens.

A Stronger, Healthier America by Scott Robinson. It's a screed about letting poor children starve and letting old people die of easily treatable illnesses because, well, that's American or something. What's actually worse than the uberGOP rhetoric? This metaphor**:

Fortunately, she didn’t let the looks she was getting, where people seemed to scream with all the color in their eyes “why is there a crazy person taking a picture of the poster on the wall?” stop her from capturing this image.

"Scream with all the color in their eyes"? Really? How does one do that exactly? Can I, a brown-eyed person, scream louder than a blue-eyed person? (Less melanin, dontcha know.) That left a big ole bruise on English's tender face.

We'll end with a quick reminder of what appear to be very confusing English words:

They're, their, and there: they are, possessive of they, a place

It's and its: it is and possessive of it.

insure and ensure: relates to insurance and to secure or guarantee

affect and effect: when you affect a situation, you have an effect upon it. or, verb and noun.

continual and continuous: continual is frequently, recurring and intermittent. continuous is unceasing.

whose and who's: possessive and who is.

feel free to add your own. oh, and "add" is to unite or join so as to increase in number. "ad" is short for advertisement.

*Really, don't we all? I do it, though part of the problem is that I know what I meant to say, so when I reread what I've written, I'm not entirely reading what's on the screen, I'm also reading what's in my head.


  1. That is why my English profs always recommened proof-reading a paper backwards to catch punctuation and spelling errors along with skipped or repeated words.
    I have no excuse for my abuse of the English language, I know better but sometimes I get lazy. I think these people don't even know better.

  2. The recommended even. See what I mean?

  3. I loathe grammar.

    who and whom

  4. Ah, yes, the poor abused English language.

    Other common errors include mixing up "to", in the direction of, with "too", having excessive muchness.

    (Yes, I know, excessive muchness is not a correct word or phrase in any sense. These words are so basic, though, that it's tough to describe them without using them!)

    There's "lose" versus "loose", as well. After I saw a picture of a lady who had "born to loose" tattooed on her arm, I was so distressed at the idea of having a grammatical error permanently affixed to one's flesh that I had to give the phrase a different meaning. So in my poem denizen, which is narrated by demons, I included the lines

    we are born to loose
    what's bound in you
    as a corpse's bowels go slack
    when the noose snaps to.

    Not a pretty image, but one I hope is badass enough that a tough and cynical babe would not be ashamed to wear it on her arm.

    On a more positive note, giving the shout-out to some defenders of the tongue, there's always Strong Bad. In one email (I wish I could remember the name!) he sings a song about grammar that goes, in part:

    Y - o - u - r
    Y - o - u - apostrophe - r - e
    They're as different as night and day
    Can't you see that night and day are different?
    What's wrong with you?

    My English prof loved it, when I emailed her the link.

    Or in my beloved Kingdom of Loathing, players are barred from the chat until they can pass the challenge at the Altar of Literacy. When you pass, the Ghost of the English Language exhorts you to "go forth, and avenge my death!" The challenges aren't even that hard. Yet KoL chat, perhaps as a result, is the most grammar-friendly chatting zone I've ever encountered on the web.

  5. I need to get past (or should I say "boogie past") the Mountain of Noob. That sounds awesome!

  6. "born to loose"

    That could be an interesting one depending on if we're talking about one "o" too many or one too few. Is it "born to lose" or "born too loose?"

  7. Yaaay! *dances* I have proselytized another convert into the joys of the Kingdom (of Loathing)! Going on a hunch, I searched for your name and sent you some stuff. :D :D

    That's a good point, Geds. If it was "too loose", though, the person would be implying either that they consider themselves too promiscuous, or that they don't think they're quite right in the head. Which there are any number of other ways to say. Even so getting a tattoo different than the one you wanted is uber suck. "He asked for a 13, and they drew a 31", and all that.

  8. dude, Kingdom of Loathing. What could possibly pique my interest more?

  9. "He asked for a 13, and they drew a 31", and all that. my own mind I'm the, I'm the dopest trip...

  10. My favourite ones to hate are "then" instead of "than" or "its" instead of "it's."

    My most common mistake: resent & recent.

  11. English can be so confusing. No wonder it's so tough for English language learners. Laugh a bit and sigh a bit as you check out English Can Be So Confusing.


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