Friday, December 28, 2007

Cars and English? What do they have in common?

Probably not much, unless you're reading this blog post. (Read on, past the automotive gibberish, to get to the real content of this post: modern English.)

I need to work on my car - the negative battery cable is loose - I can wiggle the cable off the battery post, and recently it's started not, um, starting - but I'm not sure if I can tighten it. I ought to give it a try, though, before I try something else (like adding a metal shim around the post or a new cable connector to allow me to tighten it more). However, since:
  1. It's raining;
  2. I don't have room in my garage to bring the car inside to work on it; and
  3. I don't feel like working on it in the rain...
I guess I'll do something else, like post on my blog. And I'll post about English... hence the connection between English and cars (and, I guess, rain) if you're reading this post.

Recently I came across a great blog post about the overuse of superlatives and how they lose their meaning when used too frequently, especially in regards to ordinary, mundane things. It's the absolute, greatest, most amazing, awesome discourse I've ever seen on the subject! :) I have to agree (see my comments over there). We're allowing the English language to be degraded into meaninglessness. The way things are going I could see American English being reduced to a sequence of clicks and grunts within the next one or two hundred years (internet shorthand acronyms, for instance, which are showing up in hand-written schoolwork nowadays).

How do we, as a nation, and as a minority of those who really care about proper English (my mom and aunt are both college English professors, so I come by this naturally), make a difference? How do we correct the inconsistencies, the incorrect grammar, the mis-use of words? How do we save the English language? I don't know. This is my small attempt at getting the word out (so to speak) about words. Hopefully my reader (I think I have one) will read this (and perhaps the post linked above) and spread the word. Quit ending sentences in prepositions! Quite using objects where subjects go! (E.g., "give it to John or I" - NO! NO! NO! You don't say "give it to I" do you? Then don't say "give it to John or I" - say "give it to John or me"!!!!!) Quit using shorthand in everything you do (shorthand is fine for short notes to yourself, but come on, say what you mean when you're talking to someone else! I rarely use things like "LOL" or "L8r" or stuff like that, even when I'm sending a text message on my phone). Preserve the English language so that future generations will be able to read and understand writings such as this one!

Thanks for listening; now spread the word!


Hence said...

A delight to read (and not because it included the promised link).

I'm afraid I'm guilty, though, of ending sentences in prepositions, mostly because they sound so overly formal when spoken properly. (I think most must do that, because once when I heard someone use the correct order, it startled me, it was so noticeable.) I'm not very good at that sort of stuff; all those indirect objects and such my home schooled daughter wades through are sort of lost on me. I must have internalized it when I learned it, since for the most part I do well enough, but when it comes to correcting her work, I rely heavily on the answer book!

I only hope for basic things, no "there's three of them over there" type stuff. I've been known to cross out wrongly placed apostrophes on grocery store signs.

Tony M said...

"Graffiti for Grammar" - I like it!

Winston Churchill, supposedly, once said something like, "Ending a sentence in a preposition is something up with which I will not put." (See this page for more info about the quote.)

Yes, sometimes it does sound weird to do it the "right way" - but that's the folly of our modern English - the incorrect way has (unfortunately) become the norm, and (like any bad habit) takes some doing (effort) to undo. But, when you think about it, usually it's not too difficult. For instance:

- "turn the light off" - replace with: "turn off the light" (maybe this one isn't so bad)
- "where are you at?" - replace with: "where are you?"
- I prefer to put "yet" in the middle of a phrase instead of at the end of the sentence (that, also, is probably not so bad, since yet is more of an adverb, I think, than a preposition)

I can't think of any of the more frequently used "ending prepositions" at the moment... will post more later if I think of any (and, dear readerS - all two of you - feel free to add your own phrases that should be replaced in common communication).

I used to complain about finding participles and gerbils in sentences in English class (gerunds, I know, I was being ever-so-slightly amusing at the time).

Hence said...

Hmm, I do usually say "turn off the light" and never say "where's it at?" etc., so I guess I'm all right. (Actually, having European parents, for some reason I grew up saying, "Close the light", but that's beside the point.)

Out of curiousity, say your wife asked you to take out the garbage while you were in the middle of something, so you delayed, and she asked later if you had taken it out and you hadn't, how would you answer? From your comment I'm guessing I can rule out, "Not yet". . o O ("Not yet, dear.")

Hence said...

p.s. Now you have me tiptoeing all around my blog to see I need to correct anything. I'm sure I do; I'm constantly finding at least typos all over it.

Hence said...

See? I left out the "if".

Tony M said...

Well... we make our 14-year-old take out the trash, so she asks him, and I don't have to fret over that response. :) (I'd probably respond, "How'd you guess that I was about to do that very thing?")

Here's another one that bugs me: "I've got to do this" or "you've got to hear this" - it should be "I have to" or "you have to" - not "have got" - but this, of course, leads to the strange sounding (assuming you want to keep the contraction), "I've to do this" or "you've to hear this."

Weird English. And of course the funny plural things (how's that for a fragment in a comment about a post about correct grammar?). You know, "house" and "houses" vs. "mouse" and "mice" and "rice" not being the plural of "rouse" (in fact, if you look at the Merriam Webster definition of "rice", you'll see that, in fact, there is no singular version of rice). Weird English.

Sometimes I wish I spoke German (I did take two years of it in school) or Japanese (the place of my birth! but I'm still only an American citizen - to become a Japanese citizen you have to be born of a Japanese [citizenry] father). Of course, the Japanese alphabet - both of them - are killers... and in Japan you'll see signs that have both of their written languages intermixed, and some English thrown in for good measure. Confusing - probably as bad, written, as English is spoken. And they date their coins "in the year of [insert emperor here]"...

Ok, this is way off topic now... but thanks for the comments! More than I've received in a long, long time.

Hence said...

Fine. Switch garbage to a phone call that had to be made or something.

On the other hand, isn't it kind of arbitrary? Who decided one shouldn't end sentences with prepositions? Maybe I learned it at one time, but don't remember why it appears to be inherently wrong to end a sentence in that way. And it's right in one language to put the adjectives after the verb (la maison bleu, the blue house) but not in others. Incendentally, it was once pointed out to me that English is the only major language that capitalizes "I". (Non, je ne suis pas fatigue.) (Sorry, I took French, not German.)

I don't mean all grammar, obviously. One must have uniformity to understand each other. But who is it confusing if one begins a sentence with 'but'? ;)

Hence said...

There are some things I do deliberately wrong as well, such as writing O.K. or OK as ok, because it looks like yelling to me when it's in caps. Only in informal things, though (ooh, those fragments).

Tony M said...

If you read this comment, feel free to reply, but know that I intend to continue this line of reasoning in a new blog post. Hopefully sometime today, but we'll see.

Hence said...

I feel a great sense of foreboding.