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Front Porch: Let’s hear it for well-spoken English

I saw a nicety-for-the-day posting on Facebook recently: “Me and God have this little arrangement. If He wakes me up to see another day, I promise to try and be better than I was yesterday.”

Lovely sentiment. Lousy grammar.

I realize I’m zooming past the forest to settle into the trees here, but this is the kind of language assassination that makes me very grumpy (I have a low threshold, obviously). I don’t require strict adherence to the Queen’s English, but my teeth grind at the coarsening, misuse and general disregard for well-spoken language.

And so, because I cannot help myself, I am now compelled to present my current list of egregious grammar and language grievances that I would like all of English-speaking mankind to heed and rectify.

I begin with, I and me. Both are first-person singular pronouns. I is the subjective case (“John and I went out to dinner”). Me is the objective case (“Please pass the potatoes to John and me”). But everybody on the planet ( OK, slight exaggeration) says “Me and John went out to dinner.” This is wrong, twice over, as the objective case is used where the subjective is correct and it is proper to put the other person’s name before yours in a sentence. Besides, it hurts my eyes and ears.

Less and fewer. This is pretty close to the top of my list of irritatingly misused words. Fewer refers to things you can actually count, as in “George has fewer dollars in his pocket than Ralph does.” Less speaks to things in aggregate, singular mass nouns. “George has less money than Ralph.” If you want to drive a grammarian to distraction (easy to do), just say that George has less dollars, cars, unicorns, ideas, whatever than Ralph. It won’t be pretty.

Literally. The word means actually, factually, really. I know dictionary people are getting squishy about this, but we band of purists hold fast. If you maintain that your head literally exploded at having witnessed some particular thing, all I can do is send condolences to your family at your premature demise.

And, of course, there’s my old foe, vocal fry. I’ve written before about this abomination of speech. If you’ve ever heard Kim Kardashian speak, you’ve heard vocal fry. It’s that guttural growl that comes from the back of the throat, a creaky voice or – more technically – dropping one’s voice to the lowest register and speaking below 70 hz.

Though the experts say men do it more often, we notice it more in women because it stands in contrast, sounding lower than their normal speaking voices. Women tend to use it toward the end of their sentences, while men sprinkle it throughout, according to the people who study such things.

It’s been written about a lot (yes, people actually do that), with some taking the stand that engaging in vocal fry is anti-feminist because it creates sounds that are not in women’s authentic voices but rather in imitation of lower-pitched male voices, which are considered more authoritative. Others say that criticism is really just an attempt to police or silence women’s voices entirely.

I just find the sound irritating, like fingernails on a blackboard (you remember blackboards, right?), and I kindly wish people would stop this unpleasant vocal habit. It is something that is learned, so please unlearn it.

Next, upspeak – you know, uttering a simple declarative sentence and raising the intonation, often at the end, so that it winds up sounding like a question. Take the sentence: “We’re going out to dinner.” A clear statement. But if the final word is pronounced in upspeak, it sounds like “We’re going out to dinner?”

In articles I’ve read about this (and, clearly, I do read about this stuff), persons engaged in conversations with upspeakers find themselves having to affirm or turn back the statements, which have been misinterpreted as questions.

Anything that interferes with clear communication, which this does, is another bothersome thing, and I call for a universal cease and desist order. And if one should in fact be inquiring about the evening’s dinner plans, just like on “Jeopardy,” please put it in the form of a clear question: “Are we going out to dinner?” Simple fix.

With all due respect. When you hear this phrase, you know that the words that follow will most definitely be disrespectful. Skip the pretense and just get to the insult. We know it’s coming. (First cousin to this: no offense, but …)

I could care less. If that’s true, it means you do care somewhat, and if you really and truly don’t, then, in fact, you couldn’t care less. Say what you mean.

I would like to wax eloquent on noun-pronoun agreement crimes, but I fear for my safety the deeper I dive into exposing the decline of civilization as viewed through the lens of spoken language. Time to stop lest my head explode – figuratively speaking, of course.

Voices correspondent Stefanie Pettit can be reached by e-mail at upwindsailor@comcast.net.


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