Despite being a literary critic of the New Critical persuasion, I've always had a fondness for the odd behavior of language. In fact, I date my decision to give academic life a crack from the moment I read a linguistic note in a Naval Aviation publication when I was floating on aircraft carriers for months at a time, flying A4s, or trying to make take-offs and landings on such a little floating thing look simple. The article described the crash of a multi-engine plane caused by a confusion in language. On roll-out during take-off, the pilot had told the co-pilot "Take-off power," meaning "apply power suitable for a take-off." The young co-pilot understood the order thus, "Take off power." Accordingly, he pulled back all four throttles. No one was hurt, but the plane did run off the runway. ... Who would think a mere hyphen in the first instance, a comma in the second, could mean so much?
Mr. Danziger missed one little joy granted to me in the sign language of New York. I had a friend long ago who rented a loft in Chinatown. On the floor below was a Chinese gambling hell. On its door was a nicely painted sign in Mandarin, which I am sure said something perfectly sensible. Below it was hung a more makeshift one in English: "Each person wish enter must show his member at the door."
Further Questions and Irritations
I have the impression that no cinema or TV script written in the United States these days puts the following question into the mouths of its users: "Have you ...?"
Instead, they seem always to be made to say, "Do you have ...?"
The, "Do you have" construction is illiterate: it contains a redundancy (the verb do), and redundancy in English is always an illiteracy.
Worse, this form of words also seems then to evoke (where a negative reply is necessary) the phrase, "No, I don't / do not," where one would properly expect, "No, I haven't / have not."
Thus the exchange, which is intended as "Have you? / No I haven't" is expressed as "Do you have? / No I don't," which is clumsy and foreign-sounding.
Can it be that, in the United States, TV and cinema "English" is in fact being composed in a foreign tongue and then (simultaneously?) translated into (warped and inadequate) English for transmission?
This might explain why everyone in the US, according to their TV and cinema, "lays" in bed, or "lays" on the couch; and most corpses are reported as found "laying" on the ground. These sorts of solecism are particularly conspicuous when the actor delivering the words is playing the part of a reasonably educated person such as an academic or lawyer or governmental adviser or, indeed, a woman president of the United States.
Today, I printed copies of the "A Few Rules..." series that ran
in the February, March, and April issues. I intended to give them to two
nieces who are in high school. I decided I couldn't do so when I saw that
the first example sentence of the second part begins "Piss off...." I'd
rather than not explain myself to my sister-in-law, so her daughters won't
be receiving some otherwise excellent information.
Write how you wish. I'm not complaining, and I'm not threatening to drop
my subscription. That said, because an objective of this publication seems
to be improving the quality of discourse, I'm left scratching my head why
you'd include examples that tend to make that discourse more coarse.
I confess that I use words such as "piss" more than I care to admit. But
there's a time and place for everything. I'm not suggesting that you begin
labeling articles as appropriate for readers of certain ages. Just give
some thought to whether the purpose of the article warrants the use of
certain language. I thought the series was excellent; I wanted to share it
with some young people to instill an appreciation for language; but I
can't do so because of the language.
I assure you: The world won't end, and I'll keep subscribing. Just
consider your audience.