Where possible, it is nice and righteous and comfortable to be a purist, but so few things we encounter in our busy, messy lives allow for such a luxury. That certainly includes the language we speak. If we insisted on linguistic purity for our language, then all its speakers would have to revert to the Old English of the Anglo-Saxon tribe, to which even the works of Chaucer and Shakespeare would be irreverent jive-talk. Furthermore, when you got to high school, you could not opt for French or Spanish to fulfill your foreign language requirement. Latin: like it or lump it. Take it from one who had to slog through Caesar’s Gallic Wars, you would lump it.
OK, let us all agree that English, like any language that wants to stay around for a while, has to change somewhat over the years. That said, ought we to countenance outright stupidity in the name of progress? I certainly hope not.
What I propose to do is to start a dialogue. I am not really optimistic that any such dialogue will follow, but let me put a few ideas out there and let’s see what happens. There are some changes I have noted, not all of which you or I might consider grammatically correct, but which we ought to let go, because, once again, they are part of how we grow our language. After that, I will show where I would draw the line. Feel free to consider me an old fuddy-duddy in that regard (and, as a Medicare participant, I will certainly answer to the first part), but please consider my choices in this area with some measure of reason.
Fine, now let’s start with the OK stuff.
Often, as in “Off-ten”
Please understand, the correct way to pronounce the word is “offun,” not “off-ten.” Yet, if I were to hazard a guess, I would say that 60% of Americans who speak the word include the letter T in so doing. I find this regrettable, chiefly because, if the present-day “wrong” pronunciation succeeds in obliterating the “right” one, then we will lose a very amusing but of dialogue from Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Pirates of Penzance, which involves a confusion between “often” and “orphan,” made plausible when filtered through a British accent.
Still, this is something that can and does happen to inexplicably silent letters from time to time. In fact, the reverse process has been known to happen. The single word meaning devoid of content used to be spelled “:emty,” but when you say it, there is a natural “P” sound that cannot be ignored and, eventually, was not.
Either and Neither, as in “Eye-ther” and “Ny-ther.”
Hold on, there, you might interject (Or not: this is America, after all, the land of the free.), isn’t that the correct way to pronounce these words? Well, yes, the dictionary allows for “either” pronunciation, but, in truth the other way is the true English, while the way I have pointed out is, technically, the imposter.
When Shakespeare said “Neither a borrower nor a lender be,” he meant the actor to say “nee-ther,” not “ny-ther.” How do I know this? Nobody in the English speaking world said “ny-ther” until the reign of George II. That would put us well into the 18th Century, long after Shakespeare had gone to his reward. When the British throne ran out of immediate male heirs, they looked to the Continent to find a close relative, as international marriages were quite commonplace amongst European royalty. George the First was a prince within the Holy Roman Empire, occupying the title of “Elector of Hanover.” At that time the leaders of the many provinces within the Empire were free to “elect” the new emperor, providing they voted for the heir to the Hapsburg throne. George I, who had been functioning in German for a good number of years, was perfectly willing to accept the British crown, but made no effort to speak English. His son, George II, who had also been born into a German-speaking society, decided to at least make an effort. In German the “ei” diphthong is pronounced as a long “I,” rather than a long “E.” Not wishing to embarrass His Majesty, everybody in the royal court affected the same pronunciation, and there you have the roots of its widespread use. In fact, it is probably considered the more “intelligent” way to pronounce these words. Fine, do as you like, but please to not mark me down as a boob if I choose the King James pronunciation over the King George one, OK?
Please bear in mind, I am not referring to this popular preposition in its proper context, as in “Meet me at the corner of Broadway and Uncle Zeke’s Trail.” I am talking about using the word unnecessarily “at” the end of a sentence. While it may be accurate, it is also redundant. During my youth in Ohio, it was a rare thing indeed to hear a question pertaining to direction or location that did not end in that word, as in “Where’s Uncle Throckmorton at?”
During my years at Kenyon College, a very distinguished Ohio institution of higher learning, where I’m sure we all knew better, I saw my all-time favorite unit of graffiti. The major jock fraternity on campus was Beta Theta Pi. Suffice it to say, they were not noted for their brilliant minds. Somewhere within the Kenyon English department, there was a cartoon, etched in black ink, of a three-toothed troglodyte saying “Duhhh, I am a typically dumb Beta. Where’s the football?” Beneath that cartoon, in much larger blue letters somebody else had come along and written, “AT !!” Perhaps I am allowing this one for sentimental reasons, in deference to my many Ohio relatives, but I say, let it pass and let’s move on to the next one.
My Own (or My Personal)
If it is yours, as you have indicated with the first-person possessive pronoun, then it is already your own and pertains to you personally. That said, if someone hits you with the phrase, “my own” or “my personal,” let it go. Into every life a little redundancy must pass. On the other hand, if you hear “My own personal…” then it is time to throw the flag and blow the whistle.
Come on, do we really have to say “That’s I,”? Give us a break!
Let me put an end to my short list of acceptable aberrations. I’m sure if I thought long and hard and banged by head against the wall, I could come up with a few more, but I would prefer to move on, the quicker to get this piece published and drop another nickel into the old bank account. If you can think of any expressions that belong in this category, I would very much like to learn of them through your comments. Keep in mind, though, I am not really looking for long-accepted idioms, such as punching somebody “:in” the nose, for which you would otherwise need an exceedingly small fist assaulting an exceedingly large nostril.
Molto bene, as the vile corruptors of the Ancient Roman tongue might say, let us proceed to the juicier part of the essay wherein your narrator gets to drop the mask of civility and vent his spleen or other such contiguous organ. Many of these next words and expressions are widely-used, sad to say, and it may be next to impossible to thwart their permanent infestation into our language.
When I was a child, even in the state where people frequently appended “at” to their inquiries, pretty much everyone knew this was a bogus word, though it was uttered by a native of that same state. Warren G. Harding, who seems to have edged out such worthy competitors as Old Doughface and #43 for the title of Worst President Ever, coined the expression in the 1920 Presidential campaign, not because he thought it was a clever turn of phrase, but because he was too piss-ignorant to know the word was “:normality.” As I said, back in the middle of ye olde 20th Century, the overwhelming majority of Americans knew Mr. Harding’s expression was not a real word, but, today, even newscasters use it with distressing regularity. Let me go on record: as a non-pot smoker who does not wish to see people incarcerated for same, I am foursquare in favor of both NORML and normality.
I strongly object to this construction because the adverb totally ignores the definition of the adjective. OK, class, if a thing is unique, what does that mean? It means there is only one of it. Any more and it is no longer unique; any less and it is non-existent. Like my first word on this roster of biological waste, this is a term you often (or often, if you prefer) hear from people who ought to know better: our political leaders and broadcast journalists. If your thought process is that lazy, maybe I should vote for someone else or change the channel.
Between You and I
“You and I” is a euphonious and perfectly respectable turn of phrase for the joint subjects of a sentence. As the object of a preposition, it stinks on ice. Now then, let us consider the verb “between…” What’s that you say, “between” is not a verb? A thousand pardons; I stand corrected. But then, if it’s not a verb, what is it? A preposition, you say? You know something? I believe you. Between you and me, I wish a lot more people did.
I Could Care Less
Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing grammatically incorrect about that short sentence…if you wish to convey some measure of concern over the item it pertains to. If it is complete disdain you wish to convey for that same item, then you couldn’t care less. This too is an expression that has achieved a great deal of undeserved circulation in our modern language. In a way, I can understand how this situation came about. After all it must be a severe strain on the vocal chords to say that extra “n’t.” I realize there may be many of you among my vast dearth of followers who believe I should not get so worked up over such a small technicality, but, in all truth, I could care less.
You know, there are more of these unwelcome intruders into our language, without even considering racial, religious and ethnic epitaphs (as well we should not), but I have probably taken up enough of your time. But then, I am only here, as I said, to start a conversation. If you wish to weigh in on the subject, feel free to do so, and, if I have anything useful to say, I will be happy to throw in an additional comment of my own. Between you and me, we may get this crazy language sorted out for good. Bona Sera.
Online Etymology Dictionary
Hamlet, William Shakespeare