On Language: Grammar Gripes and Other Stuff

by Eric K. Williams

I want the mid-1970’s book written by the late NBC-TV National News reporter, Edwin Newman, to be RE-ISSUED and revised now. Re-issued and revised in this new century.

Talking about Newman’s book: ‘STRICTLY SPEAKING: ‘Will America Be The Death Of English?’ The News Director at my very first television news job made EVERY REPORTER working under him read it. Why?

In his book Newman is an advocate of precision when it comes to Americans speaking and writing the language. Edwin Newman

What are your thoughts, dear reader, of this sorry state-of-affairs in the computer age with annoying bits such as: SMH, instead of ‘Shaking My Head;’ LOL, instead of Laughing Out Loud; WTF, instead of ‘What The Fuck?’ I could go on….. For example, I happen to think that ‘Ha!’ works better than ‘LOL.’

But, other examples pointed out in a social network ‘thread’ where Grammar Gripes was the theme got me to thinking that I am not alone in re-thinking the way we express ourselves. Here are a few bits to ponder:

For all intensive purposes instead of, “for all intents and purposes.” It makes the reader think that the person who wrote this is a medical doctor administering emergency techniques during an operation for ‘intensive purposes.’ Ha! Ha! Ha!

Not to mention the lack of precision as pointed out by one writer in the thread that piqued my interest. Below here are some examples……

Using the word “on” in front of an unspecified day or date:
– correct: I expect it to arrive on the 13th.
– incorrect: I expect it to arrive on tomorrow.
– correct: I’ll eat too much on Christmas.
– incorrect: I’ll eat too much on next week.

Prolly instead of probably. Good grief!!!!! How many times have you seen this written by so-called intelligent folk?

And don’t get me started about the use of certain slang I hear in my community. I am PROUDLY African-American. I currently live in a Black and Brown working class neighborhood in New York. That is, a neighborhood not that different from the one I grew up in as a youngster…… Yet, hearing such bits as, say, “conversate,” instead of converse, and “mannaise,”instead of mayonnaise, REALLY makes me cringe. (I nearly dropped my groceries when I heard a young lady order a sandwich at a local store. “I don’t want no mannaise,” she said, while ordering a turkey and cheese sandwich with lettuce.)

This is not to say that I am opposed to ‘color’ in the American language. No pun intended here. Okay? Ha! Ha! Ha! I love the linguistic input from my own folk, Jewish folk, Latinos, and others, who all make the American language, and tongue, rich and strong. And thus, quite different from what is spoken, and written, and found in, say, London, Toronto, Auckland, Kingston, Cape Town, and Sydney.

It is important to note here that American Black and minority folks are not the only people on U.S. shores guilty of misuse in expressing themselves. EVERYONE IS GUILTY HERE. From the same Grammar Gripe thread there was this example that another writer posted: “Deep seeded instead of deep seated.

One has to ask if the original writer was a farmer who criticized other farmers who did not insert their seeds in the earth deep enough. Perhaps there was the fear of the seeds getting blown away. Bad language uttered by supposedly intelligent folk certainly blows me away.

Then there was this other example pointed out: (“The) incorrect usage of ‘decimates’ drives me bonkers too,” another reader added. “The word you’re searching for is extirpate!!” Indeed. How many times do you get to see that in print? Too many times for my stomach.

Again, with computer-speak, yet another writer offered this view: “another one I’ve just been reminded of, having just gotten a message with people using “can,” instead of “may,” when I’m in a (computer) chatroom, and someone typed, “can I ‘pm’ you?” I’d reply, I don’t know, can you? or, “no doubt you can, but you may not.”

“I’d then invite them to look up the different meanings,” is how this writer concluded her thoughts on that “can’ and “may” exchange. Ha! Ha!

The woman who started the thread on her Grammar Gripes did add this bit further down in the conversation. Serious food for thought. She wrote: “I befriended a man who capitalized every noun. It turns out that English is his second language, and German is his first, which is why he carried over that habit. Once I find out that English is not one’s native tongue, I am quite forgiving of mistakes. However, I am forever disappointed that so many people who are born and educated in the U.S. have no clue how to write well. A typo is one thing, but a consistent error frustrates me. Yet I’m not always comfortable enough with that person to correct them (so my correcting your writing means I love you).”

Indeed, given that English, and principally the American Language, is the Global lingo used in so many sectors the lack of precision is, or at least should be, cause for concern. I am a journalist and published writer who has that very concern. Yet, I do wonder about what the British-based newsweekly magazine, THE ECONOMIST, talks about in their annual survey on ‘WORLDE ENGLISH.’ That is, a real fear that as the English language becomes more globalized that the ‘original speakers’ of it will also lose control of it.

“I shouldn’t be here,” wrote another participant in the thread. “I am a Norwegian having a youth in English speaking countries. My grammar education from school is severely lacking. What has carried me through, is only my sense of language. I agree with Athene-October (another writer shared above!) “He should of” – makes me cringe!”

Think about it…… the H.L. Mencken book, THE AMERICAN LANGUAGE (originally published in the 1930’s,) is revised and republished every ten years. Why not add Newman’s book to this mix?

I do not want what the French have, with their Paris-based Language Academy, that was set-up to stem the tide of change, whose founders were terrified of English ‘pollution.’ Unlike French and Spanish, English is the only language I know of that has three dictionaries. They are, if you consider the Macquaire Dictionary for the Aussies and Kiwi’s in Australasia.

Then, for Canadians and USA-folk there is the good old Merriam-Webster dictionary.

And finally, the Brits have Oxford. Amazing! And also confusing.

There is a difference between making a verbal flub, say, either in a person-to-person conversation, or while on-the-air. Such events are excusable, and even funny. Here is a bit that comes to mind.

Lethal orgasms was uttered by a colleague once while on-the-air, when he meant to say, lethal organisms. He was describing a polluted lake that made some young people sick in a Florida district. A viewer with terminal cancer had called-in following the broadcast, asking my colleague where he may get a ‘lethal orgasm.’ Ha! Ha! Ha! You cannot make this stuff up.

Yet, to me, ‘mannaise’ makes the person uttering that mistake, sound thuggish and moronic, irrespective of gender. Now THAT sort of linguistic pollution is my Grammar Gripe.

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