February 10, 2011 in Washington Voices

Front Porch: Problem of noo-kew-ler proportions

 

So here I am, home sick with the flu – too bleary-eyed to read, not enough energy to do anything useful and drifting off frequently into unintended naps. But I have managed to stumble upon the landscape of daytime television. Wow.

No, I’m not warming up for a diatribe about the vast wasteland that is daytime TV, but what is coming is a loud lament at the state of language and grammar as reflected on the tube. If it’s bad out there on the street, which it is, it’s certainly going to be bad on TV. I just didn’t realize how bad.

For example, as I flipped through the channels, I came across some of the judge shows – you know, Judge Judy, Judge Joe, etc. True, they tend to have colorful people on those shows because, after all, dull people make for poor ratings. Even so, can’t anyone speak anything close to grammatically correct English anymore?

In telling her story one young woman began her sentences with “me and her went …” After a few runs at that, the presiding judge corrected her and said, “no, it’s she and I.” “Right,” said the plaintiff, continuing on, “her and me went …”

So many others just used wrong words, period. One man, discussing someone he believed was harassing him, complained that “he called me repetitively.” Another woman wanted a loan repaid. In describing how the loan came about, she explained how she borrowed her friend the money to buy whatever the heck it was that he purchased.

These folks were young and middle aged, nicely dressed and tartily dressed and seemingly a cross-section of Americana. Lord help us all.

On various news shows, all kinds of names got mangled. I realize when a name or location is new to most of us, it is initially subject to mispronunciation. Every time there’s a new newscaster in Spokane, we hear about Mah-knee-toe Boulevard – until the newbie has been here a week or so and settles in (or manages to read the phonetic spelling provided in the script). But I digress.

With the focus recently on Egypt, 2005 Nobel Peace Prize winner Mohamed ElBaradei has been much in the news. OK, maybe you’re going to slaughter pronunciation of his name the first time or two you say it, but by day seven of the protests in Cairo, surely the name should be mastered. Sadly, no.

And allow me to note that Washington’s governor is Chris Gregoire, pronounced Greg-wahr, not Greg-wire, as I so often hear TV newscasters say on the air.

And the commercials are just as bad. Less and fewer, for example. The mantra “more movies, less commercials” is still wrong, but it’s still out there. There’s a commercial for a major car company that screws up the less-more thing, too. OK, not everyone is an uptight grammarian, but for those of us who care about these things (and we’re out there, too), we’re paying attention and we are annoyed.

So here I am feeling better now and getting back into my life again. I return to the exercise facility where I try to push and prod my body into some semblance of shape. I see big signs, such as “More than 25,000 adults in Spokane County have diabetes.” That’s a disturbing number, of course, but the message arrives grammatically correct. And then I see the next sign, “Over 12,000 adults over the age of 65 are hospitalized each year due to falls.” Unfortunate statistic. Unfortunate grammar.

I often hear from readers who have their own pet peeves. Seems only fair that I share a bit of this space with them. Jeff wrote about a sign he saw that said “Remember Your Loved.” Darlene said the one that drives her especially crazy is hearing people say “I seen” or “we seen.” And she’s also not fond of the redundancy, also high on my own personal list of fingernails on the blackboard, “at this point in time.”

Kathryn wants to know why we can’t get I and me right. “They picked up my wife and I at the airport.” Wrong. It’s “my wife and me.”

Sherry pointed out that American presidents seem to have particular words they never get right, mentioning President Bush’s pronunciation of “noo-kew-ler” for nuclear. She also observed that the word “Realtor” is often pronounced with an extra syllable, even by Realtors themselves, emerging as Real-a-tors.

Retired school teacher Natalie notes that a picture hanging on the wall or in a frame is not a pitcher. “And sometimes I’m asked to do things for others,” she said, “but never ‘axed!’ ”

Teacher Lars shares his dismay over newscasters speaking of a “samonella” scare. He’s also hears about beverages being served such as “orn juice” and “limmonade.” English is not the only language with lip-lazy characteristics, he said, adding “ya nome sain?”

Yes, Lars, I do. And what I also know – and am heartened by – is that my grammatical pique is not driven just by the fever that comes with the flu. Apparently a lot of nice folks out there have it, too. Welcome, brothers and sisters, to the curmudgeonly zone of language fussbudgets.

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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