Way back when this blog was a static Web site, a student from the University of Pennsylvania (as memory serves me) wrote me an e-mail with a question that she had to answer for an English final.Â That question involved this sentence, “We are going ice skating,” and asked the grammatical function of “ice skating” in that particular construct.
I was taken back a bit today when I visited my favorite newsrack to pick up a copy of the Orange County Register.
A top banner announced, “Saddam Hanged.”Â But just inches below it, and in a font size not much smaller, another header read, “Tribute fits the man.”
Check over on the right in the sidebar and you’ll find a Word of the Day feature.Â Click on the word for further details. Enjoy!
Speaking of memory, mines (intentional pun using an infamous notword) is tricky, whichÂ I suspect is the lot of most of us.
When I learned of President Gerald Fordâ€™s passing at 93, I was quickly reminded of a quote by Shakespeare and howÂ Ford had defied the meaning of it. The quote I remembered was, “So good, so young, they say, never live so long.” However, the actual quote is:
So wise so young, they say do never live long.
Over the years, I had morphed (sic) the Richard III quote into a bit of a different meaning, and thus felt today that President Ford had escaped the curse of virtueâ€™s being rewarded early–with death!
Our thanks to President Ford for being the quintessence of decency and a man of the hour when the country needed him. His long life certainly represents the goodness that he embodied.
Here we go again with what I call notwords, those American English expressions, whether single words or phrases, that have no legitimate basis in actual English.Â I’ve mentioned mines as a particularly egregious and unlearned (read: stupid) interpretation of mine but with a possessive “s” added for some unknown reason.Â I also hinted at “my bad” as a notphrase.Â Let’s include that express.Â Sorry, Dan Patrick.Â
Here’s another category–words or phrases that are legitimate English but have degenerated into meaningless gutterspeak and thus impart no meaning when uttered or written.Â “Awesome” is my first nominee and current winner here.Â What isn’t awesome?Â Also, does “awesome” connote good or bad or both?Â What’s its valuation.Â I’m afraid the word has entered notword gutterspeak, and many a middle class person has thus stumbled into the gutter by not speaking correct English.
Okay, so we go from the exquisite English of James Joyce to gutter English, but I am now compiling my list of notwords, those usages that have absolutely no grammatical or linguistic basis in real English but areÂ uttered by way too many people.Â Notwords, of course, can also include phrases such as “my bad.”Â Now, when even Dan Patrick uses “my bad” to appear as one of the masses, you know we’re in trouble–or maybe not given the source.
However, the first nominee and entry into the Notwords Hall of Fame is “mines,” which is some sort of ignominious and ignoramus perversion of “mine.”Â “That’s mines” is a typical usage.Â Yes, indeed, it is yours, and does it contain coal or ore of some sort?Â I hope this is just a California perversion, but it’s definitely pervasive here.
Feel free to submit and comment on your nominees.
I dedicated this blog to abusers of English, so what’s one of my first posts about?
Superb writing as evidenced in James Joyce’s novel, The Dead. Actually,
I was spurred to post this after reading a review of the 1987 movie version of The Dead, which is still unavailable on DVD or I’d rush out and get it today, in today’s Wall Street Journal. Without repeating the plot (space limitations), here are some passages of Joyce’s that come toward the end of the novel when the main character, Gabriel Conroy, confronts his own mortality:
His soul had approached that region where dwell the vast hosts of the dead….His own identity was fading out into a grey palpable world: the solid world itself which these dead had one time reared and lived in was dissolving and dwindling.
A few lines later:
His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead.
Who doesn’t?Â Anyway, I hope to expose the phoneys of the world here who abuse English and get the big bucks for it, while at the same time clarifying how simple it is to compose clear English sentences.Â This will be a periodical blog, depending onÂ my mood and discovery of the latest big-name abusers andÂ their abuses. Actually, that shouldn’t be a hard task.