This blog represents most of the newspaper columns (appearing in various Colorado Community Newspapers and Yourhub.com) written by me, James LaRue, during the time in which I was the director of the Douglas County Libraries in Douglas County, Colorado. (Some columns are missing, due to my own filing errors.) This blog covers the time period from April 11, 1990 to January 12, 2012.

Unless I say so, the views expressed here are mine and mine alone. They may be quoted elsewhere, so long as you give attribution. The dates are (at least according my records) the dates of publication in one of the above print newspapers.

The blog archive (web view) is in chronological order. The display of entries, below, seems to be in reverse order, new to old.

All of the mistakes are of course my own responsibility.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

February 24, 2005 - grammar cop

Every couple of years I just can't stand it anymore. There are some phrases or constructions that I strongly disapprove of. They irritate me. People should stop using them.

That's not to say I consider myself a grammar cop. For instance, you'll note that my second sentence ended with a preposition. The grammatical "rules" that say that's bad, like the rule that you shouldn't split an infinitive, are just dumb. They were based on the notion, back in the 18th and 19th century, that English had gotten unruly after those wild Elizabethans. It needed to be tidied up, by which English professors meant, "made to behave more like Latin."

In Latin, you CAN'T split an infinitive. You can't end a sentence with a preposition. What that has to do with English is beyond me. So I reject all those rules. Latin is dead, English is alive!

Having said that, there are a variety of expressions that some consider piquant or quaint. I come from the Chicago area, and I can spot anybody else from there, too. Why? Because we say, "I'm going to the store. Do you want to come with?" Of course, you don't need the final "with."

I've run across people from rural New York, who seem to like the phrase "off of." They'll say, "based off of the book by Johnson...." So by "off of," they mean "on." Or they'll say, "he's going to jump off of the roof," when "off the roof" would do the job.

I've noticed that a lot of people who grew up in the Denver area say this: "they have went." It should be "have gone."

But those are small things. They add flavor to language by introducing regional variation. They don't bother me. Much. It's not as bad as "between you and I."

There's actually surprisingly little difference among the varieties of English spoken in the United States. Linguists identify just five "speeches:"

* Eastern New England (Maine, mostly),

* Inland Northern (upstate new York, and west along the Great Lakes, the Dakotas, Montana and northern Washington),

* North Midland (Pennsylvania, then through the midwest and West),

* South Midland (West Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas, Oklahoma and Texas), and

* Southern (the Carolinas, Georgia, Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana, and Florida).

In England, where most of our accents originate, there's more variation in 100 miles than in the whole of our continent.

As I recently learned by reading "The Story of English" (my own copy) and "Do You Speak American?" (from the library) the biggest swath of American dialect (North Midland) has been tracked back specifically to Philadelphia. How did linguists do that? Easy. All of the other speech patterns had the characteristic "unvoiced r." Remember JFK, who spoke of "viguh" (vigor), and "Cuber" (Cuba)?

The folks who settled the west pronounced their "r's" where they were supposed to, and didn't add them where they weren't. They, our western pioneers, had more of a Germanic language mix, and carried their linguistic history with them.

But back to what people should stop saying. I continue to be disgusted by the application of the suffix "udge" to perfectly good words to indicate a plural. Usage. Acreage. Sewage. Garbage. Signage. How about "uses, acres, sewers, garbs (just kidding), and signs?" At that, however, "signage" might be better than "wayfinding."

"Utilize" just means "use." Save the extra letters for an emergency.

"To service." This should ONLY be used for machines. You service your car; people, you serve.

"Proactive, not reactive" -- aargh. Can't we say, "let's plan," or "let's get ready for the future," instead of "let's be proactive?"

"Let's dialog." Let's not. Let's just talk.

Our language, of course, continues to grow, acquire new words, and invent others. Not all the new sprouts mature into the sturdy lumber of our common speech.

But really, wouldn't it just be much easier on all of us if we just agreed to adopt MY prejudices?

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