Bad Words

Grammar-PoliceIn my almost forty-seven years I’ve matured in the ways of language. Somewhat. To hear me speak, maybe your thoughts would differ. Let’s agree I’ve tried to think about language and the words, or rather, their correct usage, before I speak. Do I still say ‘gonna’ and ‘sorta’? Sure, and I also tend to speak faster than some people, namely my students, can comprehend. But I’m working on it and I think that shows the maturity I mentioned earlier.

This week, I would like to discuss some usages of language that irritate me because the people who commit these errors know better, or should know better. With these violations, I think the individual is trying to stress the importance or either himself (or herself) or his job. Not saying what these people do is unimportant, but to misuse language cheapens the quality of the speaker.

One of the biggest irritants is radio and television weather forecasters’ use of the word ‘activity’. As in, “We had significant thunderstorm activity today.” This error is committed by every single forecaster I’ve heard. “Tuesday, expect some shower activity.”

What sort of activity are they meaning? Is the rain going to do something fantastic other than fall to the ground? You don’t hear them forecasting sun activity. “Tomorrow, lots of sun activity over the state.” That’s sounds stupid. But so does ‘shower activity’. This is goes back to the ‘trying to sound more important than is necessary.’ And it’s always associated with rain. No ‘blizzard activity’ or tornado activity. Always shower and thunderstorm activity.

The late great Ed Mcbain brought this next point up in on of his novels. How often have you heard television newscasters say something like, “You can only see this story on tonight’s broadcast at ten.”

McBain mentioned the error of this statement. “You can only see this story…” Really? So you won’t be able to hear anything about it, just see it.

This error is common and I try to catch it in my writing. Many authors commit it. “He only walked four miles.” Okay. But did you really want to write, “He walked only four miles.” The other way might imply that he crawled the other six. This is a tricky one and you have to be extra watchful when writing.

The third one I’ve heard less often and usually by one or two language culprits. I won’t mention a particular name because I don’t want to get into a discussion about this individual, mainly because I think he’s a kook. Intelligent, but a kook. I’ve heard him on a radio program that deals with topics such as ghosts, UFO’s, some science, a bit of politics, reincarnation, ESP, etc. This one man usually discusses space exploration, expeditions to the moon and Mars, and the fact he believes aliens built monuments and structures on both. His ideas aren’t the problem. His misuse of the word ‘literally’ is. “They literally went around the moon.” Well, yes, they did. They went around the moon. That’s not the correct usage of the word literally. “They literally breathed oxygen.” As opposed to…?

When using the word literally, you are implying that the phrase used after ‘literally’ is what is actually taking place. For instance, “The room was so quiet, you could literally hear a pin drop.” ‘So quiet you can hear a pin drop’ is a cliché and a common one. But the phrase is trying to show the absolute silence in the room. If the silence is such you can ‘literally’ hear a pin drop, this means that if someone dropped a pin onto the floor, the contact with the floor would be audible. If a basketball team ‘kicked butt’ in last night’s game, and you put the word literally in front of ‘kicked butt’, I regret missing the game. Literally putting one foot to another’s backside, and having a team do this to the other team is something I’d like to witness.

Again, the reason this person uses literally incorrectly, is to drive home the notion that he and what he is saying is really important, which is not the case.

The fourth error is so common I think it’s become acceptable. “This product will help you live a healthy lifestyle.” Wrong. Lifestyles and food aren’t ‘healthy’. YOU are healthy in that you aren’t sick. A product or food is ‘healthful’ to your well being. A product can’t be ‘healthy’ because it can’t be ill. It isn’t alive to be able to move from sickness to health. The problem with the misuse of this word is, like so many others, laziness. People don’t want to take the time to move their mouths into the correct formation to pronounce the second syllable of ‘healthful’. It’s much easier to say ‘healthy’ because the lips and the mouth don’t have to move. So, ‘healthy’ has become the norm, even though it’s not correct.

So, four examples of language misuse that bother me.

Any examples you can think of that are irritating and should be corrected?

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Categories: Uncategorized | 4 Comments

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4 thoughts on “Bad Words

  1. Good post, Stephen.
    I think each of us has our pet peeves when it comes to the use and misuse of language. As writers, we’re probably more aware of some of those mistakes than others are. (If I’ve made any in the last two sentences, please disregard them.) 🙂

  2. My critique group is quick to let me know when I write something like you’ve pointed out. However, if you were writing about a character who spoke like this, you’d want the mistakes left in. My biggest pet peeve is when someone uses I when it should be me and the other way around.

  3. Since becoming a writer and having to think more about the misuse of words, it’s taken the fun out of reading — to an extent. When reading a book, if I discover mistakes like these it throws me out of the story for a moment. I’ve become too picky. Great post, Stephen!

  4. Thanks for commenting. Usually, if a character speaks like this, I make note of it so the reader knows I’m funning.

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