March 10, 2008
One’s inner prescriptivist can take any of several forms. Some people get all worked up over singular they and that/which and the like. Such people have spent too much time with The Elements of Style and not enough with the English canon.
Others are driven to rage by common spelling and punctuation errors. I recognize that these indicate sloppiness, but I use a fairly broad definition of “informal” and say that in informal contexts this is no big deal. Especially since I frequently mistype my itses and put my theirs there. As one of the afflicted, I know that it does not mean I am unaware of the distinctions in meaning and the proper usage.
What pushes me over the edge is when a common phrase is used in a way which makes it clear that the speaker just doesn’t get it. For example, when proverbs are applied literally, to precisely analogous situations. [Name withheld] always uses “sau chuhe kha ke billi hajj ko chali” to refer to bad people going to hajj. Uff.
The most abused phrase in the English language has to be “beg the question.” Someone needs to rescue the poor thing. People in the media consistently misuse it. Maybe one in a hundred times is it used correctly. This really, truly infuriates me. This morning, in his weekly ten minutes, the host of WHYY’s therapy hour subjected these three words to the usual torture. Which, compounded with my general distaste for psychology, sociology, and the Social Sciences in general, as well as their practitioners, just pushed me right off the edge.
Yes, yes, you could say the same thing about this that I said about that/which and its friends in the first paragraph. But see, I’m right and they’re wrong. Which does not beg any question, though it might raise – or even beget – a few about my own priorities or emotional stability.
In a related note, this woman fundraising on WLVT has been reminiscing about growing up with Sesame Street (she looks like she must have been at least a teenager when it premiered in 1969). She casually said – in a very Lehigh Valley way – something like “Of course back then we didn’t learn Spanish [on the show.]” Unless I misheard or misunderstood that, I’m going to have to call complete and utter BS. The Rodriguezes (Luis and Maria) were there from 1971 on. Certainly there was plenty of Spanish on there by the late ’70s. Khair. The real question is who could possibly think that 10 minute pledge breaks in the middle of Sesame Street are appropriate? Maybe if there was some promise of hope: “Alright parents, your kids are probably pulling your hair out by now. As soon as we get ten more pledges we’ll go back to Elmo and Big Bird. It’s all up to you.” But no.