The headline is a non pre-sequitur, whatever the term for that is, but my subject is light, in a way anyway.
My penpal in Taiwan, who is also an English teacher and whose grammar (learned as a second language) is infinitely better than most native Americans, even college graduates, was perplexed when I used the phrase “[tag]lightbulb went off[/tag].”Â She thought it should be “lightbulb came (or went) on.”Â Made sense.
That got me thinking, so I scoured the Internet for about 10 minutes (figuring that was about all the subject was worth) to find the derivation of the phrase, but I failed.Â The best I could conclude was that it derives from the days of those old flashbulbs thatÂ would definitely go off in a flash, thus leading to the phrase “lightbulb went off,”Â indicating a flash of realization.
Anybody got a better idea of the roots of the phrase?Â If you do, please post a comment.
These two–neither/nor and either/or–are known as correlative conjunctions.
Where most people get tripped up in using these conjunctions is in verb tense and pronoun usage.
Let me give you a couple of examples:
Now it’s perfectly okay for [tag]Marlon Brando[/tag] to bemoan that he “coulda been a contender.”Â People (some, a lot sometimes) speak that way, and that was a line inÂ a screenplay.Â Verisimiltude counts.
However, the construction could of, which some/many native users of English think is the correct verb form for could have, needs to be banished forever and corrected immediately.Â I don’t care how much “I could’ve been somebody” sounds like “I could of been somebody,” folks, that’s just bad English.
Speaking-wise, who cares?Â But when this usage starts popping up (alongside other abominations like thru) in college-level writing, the alarm clocks should be going off.
Is anybody teaching proper English usage in the lower twelve grades?Â Put another way, is anyone paying attention to what’s being taught?Â I’d have to sit through several K-12 classes to get a good read, but I bet most instruction never gets much past, “Never start a sentence with because,” which of course isn’t even a rule in English.
I think I just answered my own questions.
I was a little curious as to how the collective American media could pounce upon phrases such as “worst school tragedy in American history” so quickly and so effortlessly.Â Probably, the only point of comparison was Columbine, and that made the 33 deaths at [tag]Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University[/tag] the “worst ever.”
Now, my target here is the media.Â I in no way intend to belittle the tragic consequences of one man’s shooting rampage.Â What gets me is the felicity of judgmentÂ and nonchalance with which those reporting the event immediately determined it was the “worst ever.”
As it turns out, a man named [tag]Andrew Kehoe[/tag] slaughtered 45 Michigan school children in 1927 using homemade bombs.Â Now, those who said “worst school shooting ever” would be on more solid ground.Â However, I think the whole intent of using the superlative worst in any configuration was to sell the news rather than objectively report it.Â That’s my beef.
Media literacy rule:Â Whenever you read or hear a [tag]superlative form of an adjective[/tag] being used, ignore it.Â They’re selling you just like a used car salesman does with “the best 1999 Chevy you can find.”
In the tragedy that consumed [tag]Virginia Tech[/tag] on April 16, leaving 33 dead bodies on campus, I was glued to the TV like anyone else who had the time to do so. I even watched a whole press conference, during which [tag]Security Chief Wendell Flinchum[/tag] said in answer to a question:
"It was probably one of the worst things I’ve seen in my life."
When I heard this, I didn’t think too much about it, but when the same quotation appeared in the newspaper the next morning, I stumbled a bit when I got to it. The understatement of it all suddenly hit home.Â If this were "one of the worst," what’s the worst? Unless Mr. Flinchum served in Vietnam, and he looked too young for that, it’s hard to imagine he’d ever seen something worse. Anyway, the point here is just that it’s very hard to speak during a crisis because of all the emotions, stresses and challenges. I have no intention of making fun of the gentleman, just to point out how words can escape or confuseÂ the best of us in the heat of a tragedy.
The actual Cold War, which pitted the U.S and Soviet Union in a battle forÂ global political supremacy, is reputedly dead, but the term itself was fashioned 60 years ago today.
I teach both communications and history classes to college students, and I’m always shocked at a) the poor English skills and b) the historical ignorance.Â Few even know who Dwight D. Eisenhower was, let alone the [tag]Cold War[/tag].
Anyway, it was financier and presidential confident Bernard M. Baruch who coined the term that swept the world for the next half century while he was speaking at the South Carolina Statehouse on April 16, 1947.
If you’re one of this site’s many visitors from a country other than the United States, you may not even know who [tag]Don Imus[/tag] is. In fact, I barely know who he is other than that he’s a just-fired talk show host.
I’ve had students who say they listen to Imus all the time, but my total exposure to the man amounted to probably less than 30 seconds.
Why is that?
With [tag]baseball season[/tag] upon us, one of my favorite (not!) NotPhrases is back in constant use, to wit:
“There goes a line drive off of the bat of Joe Baseballer.”Â Or, “He just got a hit off of pitcher Sam Flamethrower.”
I’m here to reaffirm that off of is not just redundant but incorrect.Â How about, “There goes a line drive off the bat of…” and “He just got a hit off pitcher…”?
Of course, these are jocks and sports announcers using this construction, but a lot of people hear “off of” and think nothing of it and even use it themselves as a consequence.
Just stick to off, as in, “Get off my back with your lousy English.”
DuringÂ the Supreme CourtÂ confirmation hearingsÂ over Reagan nominee [tag]Robert Bork[/tag], Democratic venom and personal assassination got so ugly that the word bork became a transitive verb.Â “Let’s bork Alberto Gonzalez,” one might hear some in Congress saying today.Â The meaning is to destroy the reputation of said person, whether it’s based in fact or not.
Now, in light of all the baseball steroid scandals here in the U.S., I’m proposing a new verb, though this one is intransitive but also named after an individual, that person being ex-Chicago Cub [tag]Sammy Sosa[/tag].Â To sosa means to cheat, whether by steroid use, corked bats or any other means possible, primarily in baseball but in any sport–and in life in general by extension.
Come to think of it, sosa could also be a transitive verb.Â “I sosaed the IRS,” one might say, or even, “I sosaed the odds.”Â Folks, let’s sosa our way to fame and fortune like our epinonymous hero.
“Say it ain’t sosa.”
When was the last time you wrote a personal letter to someone?Â Now, I realize we all use and abuse e-mail, but how about a genuine, heartfeltÂ handwritten letter in which you poured out your innermost thoughts and emotions?
Sadly, I bet there’s a great segment of our population, especially among the young, who have never written a letter, except maybe a “Dear John” here and there.Â (I once got one of those in the form of a poem.Â I should’ve kept it.)
I bring this up because letter writing is one of the greatest proven techniquesÂ for mastering a language, certainly the English language.Â I still remember the advice I got when I first started out in the writing trade:Â “Pretend like you’re writing a letter to a friend.”Â In other words, relax and be yourself and be honest.Â The words flow better that way.
Now, don’t get me started on e-mail.Â What an abomination most e-mails are.Â Many are more like cave drawings or inscriptions than actual writing, closer to tagging than thinking.
But try writing a sincere letter to a friend, and you’ll see what I mean.