ON THE SOAPBOX:
Let Me Apprise You About...
Since World War II, however, English has slowly replaced French in the international arena. American English, in particular, now holds the status once held by French.
Yet even as the world embraces American English, we, the initiators of the language, are losing our ability to speak it correctly.
Some errors are, in part, I believe, a direct result of the 1980s "politically correct" movement that preferred euphemism to specificity, and sought to show no gender bias. This brought us cumbersome words like "postperson" instead of mailman and "flight attendant" to replace steward and stewardess.
No one wanted to use "he" as the standard 3rd-person pronoun anymore, either; so now we hear phrases such as, "A person needs to know their own mind" instead of "...his own mind."
The most common errors, however, include those questions that should have been answered by the end of 6th grade. "Like" or "as"? "Good" or "well"?
"I" or "me"? "Less" or "fewer"? "Pretty" or "prettily"?
I'm beginning to think that no one is even asking such questions anymore, yet, alone, considering the answers.
In an ad for T.J. Maxx, a wife says of her husband and his new shirt, "It goes good with his eyes." Indeed? Well... Well.
"Glad Wrap unrolls smooth and easy." Does it, indeed? I'd like to see that.
A character in "Stargate SG-1" felt that he "...failed both he and his mother." He failed "he"? Amazing.
On a promo for "Smart Guy," the character said, "I'll try to be more sensitive about the fact that you're dumber than me." Could anyone be?
On "Crossing Jordan", a publicist for a political candidate asked Jordan to keep him "appraised of the situation." I believe the word the script writer was hunting for was "apprised". The character wanted to be apprised after Jordan appraised. Didn't he?
The cover headline on People Magazine reads, "Who's sneaking out with who?" What would it have cost them to put the "m" on? Surely, not a fortune.
Every day, I see and hear these kinds of mistakes. They would be almost funny, if most the general population understood they were in error.
In the late 1950's, when cigarettes were still considered less than criminal, one of their ads wasn't so lucky. Anyone over the age of 50 remembers the national brouhaha about the slogan "Winston tastes good like a cigarette should." English teachers and parents across the nation shook their heads and their fingers at Winston. Correct syntax would have required the ad to read "Winston tastes good as a cigarette should."
Now, no one would know the difference.
When script writers, ad and news agencies, parents, and even the President of the United States butcher the syntax, English and Speech teachers (of which I am one) have a hard time convincing students of what is correct, and that speaking correctly has value.
"Yes, Johnny, I know your Mom says 'Him done went...', but she's wrong."
The American English language is malleable. I understand that. Being a multi-cultural language, it has to be flexible to include new words and new ways of saying things.
We cannot, however, lose the basic grammar, syntax and word structure of our language. If we do that, then the language will fall apart like a doll without strings. If that happens, then it will fail in its role as our national language, as the language of international trade and negotiation; and our country will fail with it.
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This story was published on September 4, 2002.