Talking Points | March 21, 2008 | Pleasanton Weekly | |

Pleasanton Weekly

Opinion - March 21, 2008

Talking Points

Wordsmiths will boldly edit and correct abuses up with which they will not put

My grimacing at incorrect word usage on restaurant menus and groaning over split infinitives on school newsletters has caused me to be ridiculed by family and friends. While called many unflattering names when I lament the decay of grammar (or especially when I slip up and correct someone), I am proud of the title given to me by a friend not too long ago: "wordsmith."

It's good to know I'm not alone.

Last week I wrote about National Grammar Day, which was celebrated March 4, and I made public a few of my personal pet peeves. When I asked for readers' vexations, the emails and comments online started almost immediately!

Nancy Lyness of Pleasanton emailed, "I have so many!" Her number one peeve is when people use "a large word (to sound smarter) when a small word will do the trick just as well." She gave the example of "utilizing" versus "using."

Nancy Freedom's example was using the word, "'transitioning,' instead of the perfectly good verbs 'transferring' or 'changing,' " she wrote.

On the same note, Andrea Brennen and Nancy Freedom both referenced the common practice I refer to as "verbization." Brennen wrote of her 19-year-old daughter, "I am appalled every time she uses nouns as verbs and try to correct her. For instance, she'll say something like 'I Facebooked her,' or 'I Googled (fill in the blank topic),' or 'I texted so and so.' Why can't she say, 'I sent a text to so and so,' where 'sent' is the verb? I notice that it's not just teenagers who are doing this, but I cringe every time I hear a noun turned into a verb."

While these grievances aren't exactly as grammar-related, they are irritations nonetheless.

Many people voiced their intolerance for incorrect word usage. Nancy Lyness commented on use of "then" versus "than."

"Why can't people just commit to learning when to use which word, and then (not 'than') get it right?" she asked. "Next on the list is 'infer' versus 'imply,' " she continued. "To 'infer' means to come to a conclusion or to form an opinion about something on the basis of evidence or reasoning."

And it drives me and Nancy Lyness crazy when people write or say, "In lieu of the fact that….." when they really mean "In view of the fact that….."

Lyness said, " 'In lieu of" means 'in place of"--it is not synonymous with "in view of." It just sounds similar.

"Bill O'Reilly used to do this all the time on Fox News Channel's 'The O'Reilly Factor,' " Lyness continued. "I sent him an e-mail about it. He didn't read my e-mail on the air, but not once since I sent it has he said, 'In lieu of the fact that…..' He now routinely says 'In view of the fact that…' "

Brian Leonard of Pleasanton referenced the improper use of the word to "bring" in place of the word "take." Using the example, "When I go on vacation I am going to 'bring' my new camera," Brian advised, "the easy way to distinguish between the use each is remember that when one goes, one takes. When one comes, one brings."

Freedom said in addition to "verbization," her pet peeves include substituting "who" for "whom" and adding unnecessary prepositions, such as saying, "Where's it at?" as opposed to "Where is it?"

(My efforts to correct both of these offenses usually results in the recipient of my good-natured suggestion giving me an eye-roll and a heavy sigh.)

Frank, an online poster, and I agree that the consistent misuse of "effect" and "affect" is somewhat frustrating. The way my high-school English teacher taught me to distinguish between the two was that "effect" is a noun and "affect" is a verb.

Brian Leonard mentioned that his junior college English instructor did not allow sentences beginning with "but," "and" or "however," but that this seems to be common among columnists and authors.

I admitted last week that I split the occasional infinitive to make the writing more conversational and I believe that is why using "but," "and" or "however" is common. It just sounds better. I have also been known to end a sentence with a preposition for the sake of rhythm. (gasp)

In the words of Winston Churchill, "Ending a sentence with a preposition is something up with which I will not put."

Stacey, a frequent contributor on, noted that I didn't follow the infinitive rule in my poem last week when I wrote, "I obviously missed National Grammar Day."

"I missed obviously National Grammar Day" simply doesn't sound right. The most popular split infinitive is from the television show "Star Trek," in which the Starship Enterprise's five-year mission was "to boldly go where no man has gone before."

However, (sorry Brian), Nancy Freedom said, according to the English teacher author of the book "Woe is I," it is permissible to split infinitives when you think it is best.

"So," Freedom told me, "split away unabashedly without impunity."

Editor's note: I had so many responses to pet peeves concerning grammar (or more accurately, the abuse of the English language), I ran out of space. I will share more next week.


Posted by Stacey, a resident of Amberwood/Wood Meadows
on Mar 21, 2008 at 10:08 am

Zero derivation (verbing, verbification, verbization) is getting a bum rap! As I wrote in the last thread on this topic, language changes and this is a prime example of that process in action. It helps make English a truly international language because foreign speakers don't have to remember obscure morphological suffixes, native speakers can fit new or foreign words into English easily, and the sentence is semantically more efficient. Saying "I googled..." is not much different from saying "Can you xerox this?" "Can you xeroxize this or xeroxify?" sounds whacky. Saying "make a copy" doesn't communicate the request to reproduce by xerography because a copy can be made other ways too. Equally, "Send a text" doesn't communicate the method the text is being sent. What kind of text is being sent; a letter or a business plan or a contract? When saying "I texted..." it is immediately known that the person is sending an SMS message using a cell phone. Wikipedia article on zero derivation: Web Link

Neologisms aren't the only words _affected_ by zero derivation. Affect and affect are both noun and verb (as are effect and effect). If you don't believe me, look it up.

Posted by Cholo, a resident of Livermore
on Mar 21, 2008 at 9:06 pm

I believe you, no need to look it uup here. What about "been had"?
As in, I been had lunch! Is them good English".

Signed, Proud to be an American

Posted by Grace, a resident of Highland Oaks
on Apr 1, 2008 at 12:06 pm

I also grimace and scratch my head when I read the information sheets that the high school teachers hand out to the students for the parents to sign at the start of each school year. I've found many grammatical errors in these, and it's clear that many of these aren't simple typos, but glaring errors in word usage. I'm often tempted to take out the red pen and make corrections before I sign the paper, *especially* when these errors appear on the English class handout, but don't want the teacher to hold a grudge against my student for the rest of the year.

Another glaring example of the "dumbing down" of the English language is the sign on 580 Eastbound at Castro Valley: "Drive Careful".

Posted by Leslie, a resident of Dublin
on Apr 3, 2008 at 5:18 pm

I have been amused by this post. The 'dumbing down' of the whole English language is the US version!

Tyre- Tire

I can go on. I have often wondered is this a deliberate attempt to be just different. Things should not be spelt as they should be spoken, just because it is easier