It’s rare that I come across someone in life who knows how to correctly form a conditional “if” clause. You often hear, “If I was rich (or fill in the blank),” uttered without a clue to the grammatical mistake they just made.
Conditional “if” clauses always take the plural form. (I know, some jackass out there will find some web reference disputing this, but he, she, it and they will be wrong.)
Thay’s why, tonight while I was watching the “KIDSCAST” of the Little League World Series Hawaii-vs.-Virginia game, I was surprised to hear Mo’ne Davis — the designated ESPN “analyst” — say, “If I were they,” using the conditional perfectly.
I say “surprised” only because I hear people in all walks of life — high, low, medium — butcher the conditional so regularly. Most people would probably have quipped, “If I was them,” or inching closer to correct usage, “If I were them.” The problem is them. Was/were is not an action verb and doesn’t take the objective (them) but retains the subjective usage (they).
By most accounts, shibboleth is an interesting word, whose concept seems to cross most, if not all, cultures.
According to Wikipedia, a shibboleth is “any custom or tradition, usually a choice of phrasing or even a single word, that distinguishes one group of people from another. Shibboleths have been used throughout history in many societies as passwords, simple ways of self-identification, signaling loyalty and affinity, maintaining traditional segregation, or protecting from real or perceived threats.”
However, the best take on this biblical word comes courtesy of Jonah Goldberg in his National Review column, “Shibboleth Is a Fun Word.”
The term gerrymander, commonly used as in “gerrymandering a Congressional or other electoral unit to the benefit of one political party or the other,” should not be pronounced with a soft “g “resembling a “j.”
So say the good folks of Marblehead, Mass., once home to Elbridge Gerry (hard “g”), a governor of the fine state and also a U.S. vice president, after whom the term gerrymander was coined.
The Selectmen of Marblehead (kind of like supervisors and city councilpersons, one would assume) even fired off a letter to Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts to inquire of how he pronounced the word.
Jeffrey P. Minear, counselor to the chief justice, wrote back:
I had ESPN on as a prelude to the NBA Finals, featuring the highly favored Golden State Warriors against the undermanned-except-Lebron-James Cleveland Cavaliers in what will probably be a snorer, when all of a sudden the National Spelling Bee came on.
First off, I was impressed by the sheer verbal genius of these kids (teenagers for the most part in the latter rounds), and second, by the sheer number of South Asian natives — whose Queen’s English seems to serve them admirably.
I was even more impressed when the 2015 Co-Champion, Vanya Shivashankar, now 16 maybe, did a roving interview asking luckless people on the street if they could spell the word by which she co-won — to wit, scherenschnitte, whatever that means. Looks German anyway.
Ms. Shivashankar, who seems to be a natural for TV and probably every other pursuit in life, concluded that a dog she asked for the spelling came the closest.
I agree. My dogs are always smarter than I am. Which probably ain’t saying much.