March 25, 2010 in Washington Voices

Word fads are not amazing

By Correspondent
 

It’s time once again for whining about words. There is just so much fodder out there, how can I resist?

I do tend to go on and on about bad word usage, which, to the uptight wordies among us, is like squeaky chalk on a blackboard. Surely, people still remember chalk and blackboards – and I know some readers remember and care about speech and words and writing as well. I know because they tell me they do.

So I rail on and share the pulpit with those of you I consider fellow travelers in language. But I begin by revisiting an old friend. I have spoken about the word “amazing” before, but it deserves an encore, now that care about it has been officially, sort of, sanctioned by TV’s “The View.”

I complain that everything is amazing. Listen to any conversation or interview or any group of words spoken aloud, and there it is, ad nauseam – a new bauble is declared amazing, as is a new application for your iPhone, haircut or whatever other new little distraction is being discussed. These items may be pretty, nice, colorful, sweet, silly or maybe even mildly interesting. But please, let’s snatch back amazing from trivialization and save its use for things that truly are – a breakthrough in research on a dread disease, discovery of a new species or a near-death experience.

Earlier this month on “The View,” daytime TV’s topical gab fest among a group of women, Joy Behar, a comedian whose style I find irritating (I irritate easily, it appears), complained that amazing is overused, applied equally to someone’s outfit and something of true significance. I may have to rethink my evaluation of Behar.

I’m also not fond of redundancies. Very unique, for example. There’s not a sliding scale for unique. Either it is or it isn’t. A reader named Karine wrote to say that hearing “right now currently” is the redundancy that gets her the most. We also use the wrong word often when it comes to such pairs as infer/imply, farther/further and immigrate/emigrate. Picky, I know, but there are differences in meaning, and isn’t clear meaning what communication strives for?

Or how about words that don’t really exist – “irregardless” or “theirselves” or boughten, for example? Then there’s the rampant misuse of the form of a word. A reader named Joan pointed out “I feel badly about that.” Does the person really have a faulty sense of touch, she asks?

Another reader took on Spokane’s slogan, “Spokane – Near Nature – Near Perfect.” OK, it’s a catchy phrase, and I get it. The reader, Tim, said: “The city fathers have not looked favorably upon our suggested grammatical improvement: ‘Spokane – Near Nature – Near Nearly Perfect Grammar!’ We gather that our offering does not have the necessary cachet to attract conventions of skaters and golfers to our nearly perfect area.”

Oh Tim, comrade in grammar, I feel your pain.

Jim thinks we talk too darn fast, which certainly doesn’t help comprehension. He related a classroom experience when another teacher was taking attendance and was dismayed at what she overheard in her students’ conversations. The teacher spoke quickly, admonishing the students to be careful of their sexual innuendos. At the end of class, a student stopped by and asked her, seriously apparently, “What’s sex in the windows?”

But sometimes when you know you’re right about something, you leave it alone, as Mary did. “My late husband was in the habit of saying ‘have went,’ ” she wrote. “I gave up trying to correct him when he asked, ‘How can I say they have gone if they haven’t went yet?’ ”

Apostrophes are frequently misapplied, especially on signs – egg’s for sale, home of the Johnson’s, some examples readers pointed out. But I do love it when a sign is right, but ends up so, so wrong. A gas station located next to a restaurant shared a sign which read “Eat Here, Get Gas.” That might seem like an invented story, but, hand to heart, the mother of a friend saw the sign herself many years ago while on a trip.

Sometimes (not often) I feel mean-spirited ranting on about word usage and grammar and the general decline of civilization, as expressed in language. Am I too harsh? I turn to a tale that reader Tim shared with me. He was on a trip to Italy and saw a medieval sculpture that celebrated different professions – medicine, law and others. One of the professions depicted was grammar. The symbol for grammar, he noted, was the whip.

There it is, set in stone. I am encouraged and will flog on.

Voices correspondent Stefanie Pettit can be reached by e-mail at upwindsailor@comcast.net. Previous columns are available at spokesman.com/columnists.


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