05 June, 2012

That Would Be Myself

Just after I wrote the first draft of this post, I turned on the radio to the news that the Queen's English Society was closing down. This post, therefore, is a tribute to them...

A few weeks ago I made a comment on facebook about my current grammar hang-up. It got a lot of comments from people agreeing with me! I like it when people use correct grammar. I also know, that I don't do it all the time, not even when writing, so I try not to get too angry about such things. Grammar fascists do not make good party guests.

However, this particular trend was really annoying me. Why do some people insist on using 'myself' and 'yourself', instead of 'me' (or 'I') and 'you'? It's terrible English, and the bit that really annoys me is that they don't seem to be doing it just because their English is bad; they appear to be doing it to make themselves look better - as if the more letters they say in one sentence, the more impressive it is. It was The Apprentice that tipped me over the edge. I know what you're thinking - anybody who watches The Apprentice doesn't have the right to criticise anybody else - but it's not just them. I got an e-mail once from an editor of something I contributed to, which said something along the lines of, " ---- or myself will send you the contract". An editor. I almost sent an e-mail back saying, "Myself will sign the contract when yourself has sent it to me," but decided that was not the best way to develop a good working relationship.

I won't continue the rant here, but it got me thinking about these hang-ups. I guess we all have them - writers perhaps more than most. I've learned to my cost that one of my loyal readers does not approve of 'alright' (apparently it should always be 'all right'), and another is driven crazy by 'try and...' instead of 'try to...' (something which annoys me too, but I still have to correct it in my own work all the time!). So what's your hang-up? And what do you find yourself doing - if you dare admit to it?!

I suppose the real question in all of this is: does it really matter? Does it matter if good grammar disappears? Everything in me screams 'YES!', but our language is evolving and the changing use of grammar is part of that. I once jokingly corrected a friend who said 'wedding invites' instead of 'wedding invitations', and one of her friends - who (or should that be whom?) I didn't know - told me that as the common usage of words change over time, I was stupid for not thinking 'invites' was perfectly acceptable now. I didn't really have an answer. Why should we cherish some points of grammar and not others?

I quite happily google things and facebook someone, when technically Google and Facebook started as nouns. I pronounce the word "garage" as gar-idge. I know some people hate that and think it should be pronounced with a long vowel in the middle and soft ending. But I bet those same people pronounce "village" as vill-idge. They are both words we took from the French, so why do people get hung-up on one and not the other?

What are you happy to let slide when it comes to good English? Are your standards different for written and spoken English? Have you got any good examples of terrible grammar you've spotted anywhere?

27 comments:

  1. "of" instead of "Have". as in "would have liked" !!
    It is very interesting how language evolves (as in "invites") but some changes will never be right! It also annoys me when the pronunciation of words changes - as in "controversy". But I guess in the grand scheme of things it's not that important!

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  2. I'm not sure which is the correct pronunciation of controversy! I also find it amusing when people mispronounce 'pronunciation' - but that's becoming more common now, so I imagine it will be the "right" way in another few years.

    I enjoy pronouncing housewifery the correct way (huzzifrey!), but I think both the idea and the word is dying out!

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  3. More please, if only to highlight my ignorance!

    Commas and semi-colons are my nemeses. I pronounce the word controv-ersy, as opposed to contro-versy. Am I out of step with the march of progress? And I too thought alright was a word in common usage, despite spellchecker's outrage.

    On a a serious note, I think part of the problem is that grammar was stripped from the school curriculum (unless you had a...grammar school education or similar) back in the 1960s. Consequently there are two generations who were never taught the subtleties of our wonderful English language.

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    1. I'm with you on commas and semi-colons! I scatter commas throughout my work like nobody's business. I'm forever posting sentences on my Mum's facebook wall so she can tell me if the commas are right. Usually they are in the strictest sense, but she advises me to lose a few to make it read better.

      I wasn't taught much grammar at school. Punctuation I was taught (except the correct use of semi-colons!)but not really grammar. That was a 1991 - 2005 education for you!

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  4. There are so many things that wind me up that seem to have either become common in everyday parlance or in written language on Facebook (and I mean when people are trying to write correctly, rather than "Heeyyyyyy, I sw u lst nite nd wnted to say haIIIII").

    A few examples would be than/then confusion, there/their/they're and where/were mix-ups and a common issue (especially in the South West) with identifying the proper uses of were/was, such as "There was five of them", or "There were nothing that I liked".

    That said, languages do evolve and adapt to common usage and even though it pains me to say it, invites as a noun is not really a big issue and the main point of language is to convey a point - if that point is still getting across, what does it matter if a word was used incorrectly.

    I have so much more to add to this (because I am not satisfied with leaving grammar to be butchered) but I have to get on. I may add another comment at a later date...

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    1. Please do - I find this topic fascinating in a geeky kind of way!

      I will try and grin and bear "invites" from now on...

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  5. never heard that pronunciation of housewifery before! Also, have any of you had the email where there is a whole sentence of mis-spelt words but as long as the first and last letters are right most of us can read it? Which is amazing as it looks like rubbish! Wouldn't work with 'have' and'of' though would it!

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    1. Apparently it's the old-fashioned way of saying it, but I like it!

      I haven't seen that e-mail, but I've seen something similar. Our brains are very good at correcting things as long as we have certain points of reference!

      The have/of issue is really irritating!

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  7. I was the same Chloe, grammar taught in my school was pretty non-existent. Plus, when I was growing up my hearing was terrible so spelling (and more) was abysmal as a result.

    I really hate grammar fascists, mainly by the way they choose to "correct" people in an insensitive way. On facebook etc, I'm amongst friends, and a quick post full of errors when I'm tired, is a place where I expect to be forgiven. Not pointed at publicly, as that often feels hurtful. I haven't had this, but I have seen Christians laughing and mocking (or getting angry) people's grammar on facebook and it sits badly with me.

    I'm a strong believer that it's the message that matters. Grammar is there to make sure the message is conveyed correctly and clearly - not to set up barriers. This nit-picking of grammar that doesn't really matter reminds me too much of the pharisees - more focused on the rules than anything else.

    Anyhow, I guess I wouldn't have arrived at this realisation if it wasn't for the wonder of being badly taught grammar, and not being amazing at it now.

    To correct someone in love, is to do it with respect; a gentle, private nudge.

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  8. Sorry - 'hate' is a too strong a word. I'd like to replace that with "Grammar fascists really upset me". : D

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    1. I think generally (outside joking with friends), correcting an adult's grammar when they are communicating socially is silly and can be offensive. Correcting someone to help them - e.g a child, or someone writing a job application is another matter - and, you're right, it's the manner of the thing, more than anything else.

      I remember a story in Malory Towers by Enid Blyton(did you read that?!), where one of the girls gets told off for laughing at somebody's grammar, because her Dad was a grocer or something and therefore she couldn't be expected to know better! Different times!

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  9. I have a lot of language blips that make me flinch, but I keep myself in check! 'Very unique' is one, 'different to' is another, and I suspect I shall just have to get used to them as they become adopted through common usage. Like you, Chloe, I can't bear 'myself' used instead of 'me' (or even worse ~ 'I'), and 'would of' etc drives me mad. One wouldn't say, 'I of done it', so how could it possibly be 'I would of done it'? It's not logical, and most language, except perhaps the impossible variety in English spelling, is extremely logical. There's plenty more, but don't start me! Or even myself. Ceve

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    1. I get annoyed when people correct me for saying, "Paul and me" when it's correct. Some people appear to have been taught that it should always be "... and I" no matter what!

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  10. I was discussing the spelling of Philip (as in Prince) with an American friend who is following our Jubilee thing from afar. She thinks the common American spelling is Phillip (don't get me going on American spelling) but we both agreed that in general people can't even spell names any more (note how any more should always be two words?!) and that it's as much to do with poor literacy as being imaginative. My daughter Chelsee agrees with me on this point.

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    1. I get really confused with Philip/Phillip! Microsoft Word uses 'anymore' when talking about something happening ("He didn't want to carry on anymore...) and 'any more' when talking about an amount of something "He didn't want any more cake..." I'm afraid that makes sense to me and so that's how I use them too (mainly to avoid getting little microsfot squiggles under my writing)! However, it has made me uncertain about which words you can do that with. I can't remember what it is, but there's one that I get wrong every time - in fact it's possibly 'everytime'! Everyone, everywhere, everytime...

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  11. Well I'm a big fan of Bill Bryson's Troublesome Words. It's far from comprehensive - just his personal selection of words, phrases etc that cause problems, but he's quite emphatic about anymore and that's good enough for me!

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  12. I heard about this! In fact, I used an article on the Guardian on this to teach a lesson on the use of relative pronouns- I have a fact for you Chloe B, 'that' is never preceded by a comma, because it introduces a defining relative clause (ie: essential to the understanding of the first clause); who/which... can be used in both defining and non defining relative clauses.

    Having said that, my first lesson in linguistics taught me that all grammar is subjective because created/devised retrospectively. Now, as a linguist I know that grammar (idioms aside) is foundational to meaning, (implicit and explicit), but grammarians are basically foremost nostalgics. So we should keep it sweet. =)

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    1. Good grammar/punctuation fact! In my dissertation viva I got told off for missing out the comma after starting a sentence with, "However...". The examiner told me that there is always a comma after 'however'. He was right in that case, but he's wrong about always, isn't he? "However hard we try, we can't expect our writing to be perfectly punctuated." Didn't need a comma there!

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    2. = ) Well that's a bit pedantic, although he was right. I think it's because although both 'however' and 'although' are adverbs, in that instance you were using 'however' as a conjunctive, ie introducing a new clause. But in your final sentence here, you were using 'however' as an adverb of degree. HOW ever (PUN!) in the course of being a designer did I become a poncy grammarian?!

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    3. * although both 'however' and 'ALWAYS'

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  13. oh- and language and correct grammar matters because it's the crucible of identity and culture. Yes, I did just write that.

    I don't actually have any grammar hang ups, despite all of the above; but every time my Egyptian student reads 'noise' as 'noisee' it cracks me up, because things get interesting when we come to 'noisy'! =)

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  14. Sorry, I know I'm late jumping on the bandwagon here and this is my third consecutive post, but with five minutes' worth of reflection, having remembered that current English is the fruit of many hundreds of years of happy borrowings from different languages, and somehow relating this in my mind to our late immigration policies, I conclude that so long as we do not hold English captive the way the French do with their (our...) Académie Française we can rightly be hung up about grammar, and even be territorial about spelling, but not vocabulary, and definitely not pronunciation. Voilà!

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  15. I love that you find English, "the crucible of identity and culture". I'm not even sure what that means, but I'm impressed. Well done.

    I quite like having a borrowed language - the first bit of our nation that is naturally multi-cultural!

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    1. =) Yeah exactly!

      I've been thinking in spaghetti loops for some while now about written language and form in relation to visual language and Art - probably because I work with both. Have you read John Berger's 'Ways of Seeing'? I have read some other of his writing. His premise, from what I understand, is that we 'read' the world foremost through our eyes, we see before we speak... Which makes the spoken language so much more interesting, because if it comes later, maybe after some reflection, it's all codes and definitions and drawing relations between experiences, a bit like Art is the fruit of observation... Basically, I need to come down to visit you so I can benefit from your writer's wisdom and I can draw ink stick men in response!

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    2. Well I'm writing a novel you may be interested in! The main character is an artist so I use the history of abstract art as a metaphor (or analogy? not sure) for his state of mind throughout. Sounds poncy right? Hopefully it's not!

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  16. No, not poncy, very interesting, I'll read it! I just read something by Gauguin: "... for art is limitless and rich in techniques of all kinds, fit to translate all the emotions of nature and man, from any individual and from any period, in joy and in sorrow."

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