Even today subjected as we are to the apotheosis of popular culture using the English language respectfully helps us maintain a sense of ourselves and our values. To do otherwise, to disregard the ways of our words, is to forsake our humanity and, perhaps, even forfeit our future. A society is generally as lax as its language. And in a society of this sort, easiness and mediocrity are much esteemed.
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Words are flawed, but they can easily be fixed. Words exist to be thought and then formed, to be written and then revised, and even to be said and then denied. They can be misused and neglected or cared for and corrected.
Grumbling About Grammar
Although few people can complain of another's grammatical mistakes with impunity, that is, without revealing their own, I am hopeful that "Grumbling About Grammar" will encourage us all to pay more heed to how the language is used by ourselves as well as by others while bettering our ability to speak and write it. The grammatical errors that I have assembled here come from publications like The New York Times, Wired, TV Guide, and Martha Stewart Living. Others come from websites like Salon.com and Winmag.com. And still others from TV newscasters, politicians, and businesspeople. These are the people we so often read and listen to whether or not we care to. Woefully, it is not Edith Wharton or Henry James from whom we learn to speak and write the language; rather, it is these sometime purveyors of confused, misused, and abused language.
aggravate Misused for annoy (or similar words). The first set of people I aggravated Tuesday were those of you who get angry when I don't stick to financial topics. USE irritated. [Andrew Tobias: Demystifying Finances: http://www.andrewtobias.com] Of course, it's a fear that his kid sister, the irrepressibly aggravating D.W., is only too happy to bolster. USE exasperating. [The Boston Globe.] Skunks stink up campus and aggravate students. USE upset. [The Wesleyan Argus:http://www.wesleyan.edu/argus] Other things have been pre-set at the factory in odd ways that puzzle, frustrate, and aggravate the owner. USE annoy. [The Blade:http://www.toledoblade.com]
We have quite enough words that mean annoy: anger, exasperate, infuriate, irk, irritate, madden, miff, peeve, upset. We do not need another; we do not need aggravate to mean annoy. We need it only in its sense of make worse.
The Grumbling About Grammar Awards (GAGAs)
1. In the meantime, me and my friends and my conservative colleagues will continue to use legal organizations to advocate that point of view. Tom DeLay, Majority Whip U.S. House of Representatives
Without a prepared speech to read from, Congressman DeLay speaks like any other ignoramus.
We all know far too well how to write everyday English, but few of us know how to write elegant English English that is expressed with music as well as meaning, style as well as substance. The point of this feature is not to suggest that people should try to emulate these examples of elegant English but to show that the language can be written with grace and polish qualities that much contemporary writing is bereft of and could benefit from.
1. All winter the land and I lay waiting. [E. B. White, Getting Ready for a Cow]
Whereas a witticism is a clever remark or phrase indeed, the height of expression a "dimwitticism" is the converse; it is a commonplace remark or phrase. Dimwitticisms are worn-out words and phrases; they are expressions that dull our reason and dim our insight, formulas that we rely on when we are too lazy to express what we think or even to discover how we feel. The more we use them, the more we conform in thought and feeling to everyone else who uses them.
every effort is being made This phrase serves to disarm people as it dismisses them. Every effort is being made to find the perpetrators of this heinous crime. Every effort has been made to make this verification as simple and painless as possible.
Clues to Concise Writing
Words often ill serve their purpose. When they do their work badly, words militate against us. Poor grammar, sloppy syntax, misused words, misspelled words, and other infelicities of style impede communication and advance only misunderstanding. But there is another, perhaps less well-known, obstacle to effective communication: too many words.
(8:00) a.m. ... morning(8:00) a.m.; in the morning. At the start of the week, everyone was predicting strong winds and rain, but who would have thought that at 11 a.m. this morning there would be a pleasant breeze and the April sun burning through the clouds? At the start of the week, everyone was predicting strong winds and rain, but who would have thought that at 11 a.m. there would be a pleasant breeze and the April sun burning through the clouds? I want the cost estimates by 9:00 a.m. tomorrow morning. I want the cost estimates by 9:00 a.m. tomorrow.More ...
Scarcely Used Words
Inadequate though they may be, words distinguish us from all other living things. Indeed, our worth is partly in our words. Effective use of language clear writing and speaking is a measure of our humanness. What's more, the more words we know and can correctly use, the broader will be our understanding of self, the keener our acquaintance with humankind.
caliginous (kah-LIJ-i-nes) adj. dark; obscure.