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Sunday, March 9, 2014

Why Can't the English [Speakers] Learn to Speak? (or Where Have You Gone, Henry Higgins?)


I recall being in grammar class in elementary school and our teacher was teaching us past tense and past participles. I recall seeing a chart in our grammar book that showed which words went with "should have" or "could have" (like "should have come" or "could have gone") as opposed to words used without "have" -- like I came, I saw, I conquered (ok, "conquered" could go both ways....)

I remember thinking that everyone knows that, this grammar stuff is easy. And, to be honest, for me it was. I didn't realize until way later that the reason it was easy was because my family spoke in a grammatical fashion. My mom (and several of my aunts/great-aunts who were teachers) would correct me if I misspoke and used inappropriate verbiage.

 I guess with that background it's no wonder certain grammar errors annoy me. Here is a list of just a few:
  • I'm going to lay down [my answer to that "what are you going to lay down?"]
  • Yous guys [unlike Hebrew, English doesn't have a plural for "you" except in the south]
  • Between you and I [Between you and me]
  • Joe came over to help Nancy and I [would you say "Joe came over to help I"? Why does the me change to I when Nancy is added to the mix?]
  • Dangling participles of any sort [particularly those where the meaning is ambiguous]
  • Alls I want to do is... [Alls is not a word -- All's -- as in All's Well that Ends Well -- is a contraction meaning "All is"]
  • I should have came; I should have went [I should have come; I should have gone respecively]
(For those of you who didn't grow up with the grammar/usage police at your door, Lay means put -- you can put your body down, but you can't just put down -- you have to put something down -- Lie  means recline. What makes it confusing is that Lay is the past tense of Lie, so today I lie down, yesterday I lay (not laid) down, in the past, I have lain down. As for dangling participles, my favorite is courtesy of Charlie Weaver in his book Letters from Mamma -- his Mamma wrote (I'm quoting from memory, so forgive me if I'm off a bit), "I met an Eskimo with one tooth named Nanook. I don't know what his other tooth's name was.")

I also hate it when people use the word "misnomer" when they really mean to say "misconception". I'm also a bit picky about pronunciation. Library and February both have an "r" after the "b" and I want to hear people pronounce those "r" sounds. 

I realize it's often too much to ask of people at a murder scene, for example, to say "I saw the body lying there" instead of "I saw the body laying there" (I keep thinking of necrophilia when I hear the latter, but I digress...). But is it too much to ask for people reading previously written text (news commetators, commercial actors, etc.) to use proper grammar? 

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