Setting the Record Straight

January 14, 2009

What’s That, You Say?

Mean What You Say, Say What You Mean

     The beginning of a new Congress brings to mind the title of the set of parliamentary rules by which that body operates (that is, when it operates) and the importance of that poor, ignored, misused orphan, the apostrophe.
     The book is “Robert’s Rules of Order.” A person (a family, actually) named Robert wrote the compendium of rules for the conduct of assemblies, etc. Hence, “Robert’s Rules.” But people who write about the rules usually call them “Roberts Rules” or worse, “Roberts’ Rules.” This relates also to my friends the Richardses, erudite journalists who nonetheless refer to themselves as “the Richards.” Others are “the Roberts” and “the Cheevers.” Why? Mostly carelessness, I think; they know better. But then, a family named Morris never uses “the Morris” for the plural, or Joneses “the Jones.” Why would they get it right? Go figure.
     Does all this laziness do any harm? In some cases, yes. A recipient of an invitation to visit “the Cheevers” (instead of “the Cheeverses”) may forever have the impression their last name is Cheever, not Cheevers.
     This doesn’t even get into the maddening habit of many painters of house numbers and welcome mats of making it “The Smith’s” or “The Johnson’s.”
     What grammar sloppiness really hurts understanding? Well, for example: If someone promises to “ensure compliance” with a regulation, that has (or should have) a different meaning from “insure compliance.” The first means the person will make sure compliance happens, the second means the person will provide financial backup in the case of noncompliance.
     Harm is also done by misuse of words whose meanings are clear opposites, such as “average” and “median.” If you promise a worker the “average” wage for the region, that would be different from the “median” wage.
     A humorous sidelight to all this is the regional variation of the meaning of “next.” A southerner, speaking on a Wednesday, may say “next Saturday” meaning “a week from this coming Saturday.” In other regions, “next” means “the very, absolute, coming-up NEXT Saturday, three days from now,” etc.
     Aside from all this, it is sometimes difficult to discern a train of thought, a rational discourse, in some contemporary language. “Well, it’s like we were, like, there, and I, like, did not actually like the, like, mood, y’know. So, like, I freaked, know wha’m sayn?” WHAT?
     Many people, including many in the military or in communications businesses such as television, would be surprised to learn there is no country pronounced “Eye-rack.” Iraq is “Ih-rack” or “Ih-rock,” but not “Eye-rack.”
     With Iran, the long “i” sound is permitted only as a second or third pronunciation, with “Ih-rann” the preferred, or “Ih-ronn.”
     And then there is the world of overuse. Nowadays, everything seems to be “great.” “Great food at Great prices,” one restaurant trumpets in its advertisements. I have had many restaurant meals in my day, but only one or two I would call “great.” I have never encountered “great” prices and am unsure what that means. The Great Wall of China is truly great, but few other walls are. Only a handful of movies could be considered “great.” So, how about being precise? The food was delicious or remarkable or plentiful or tasty or scrumptious, but hardly great. The prices were reasonable or a bargain, but hardly great. A party could be festive or enjoyable or lively or even memorable, but how many are great?
    Why does something have to have “an adverse effect on” something else? Why not harm, hurt, diminish, injure, or any of several worthwhile words with more precise meaning?
    Why are we confusing “lie” and “lay.” (I know “lie” has been a prominent part of the political discourse these past several years, but here I am talking about “lie” as in “lie down.” A person “lies low,” not “lays low.”
    Why did we allow one popular movie to help make “I shrunk the kids” accepted? “Shrank” is still a perfectly accepted and correct use for the plural. Also, “sank” and “drank.” As yet, nobody is saying , “He drunk his fill.”

—Veritas  

(from www.straightrecord.com)

June 9, 2008

Random Musings

Some Random Musings from Veritas
        Some news report mentioned recently that we have 150,000 troops in Iraq. Think of that for a moment. The only things we see on television are small patrols kicking down doors and such. What are 150,000 troops doing? Think of the cities in your state of that size, just to get an idea of the immensity of our military presence in devastated Iraq.
        -0-
        Every drummer in America seems to have a job. I am talking about the fact nearly every television advertisement, and some of the shows, feature insistent drumming. Consider the “theme” music for CNN’s newscasts: a rhytmic drumbeat with orchestral background in an increasingly frantic theme. Some rock bands may be missing their drummers.
        -0-
        The Democratic Party is sure to have a debate over its proportional granting of delegates from primaries. Hillary Clinton said that if there were not the proportion system, she would have won the nomination long ago. Winner-takes-all seems a good idea for some things, like tennis matches, but across the nation for choosing pledged delegates to a convention, the proportional system seems fair. Or does it?
        -0-
        Speaking of tennis, what about the shriek? Some of the best players in modern tennis–Maria Sharapova and the Williams sisters come immediately to mind–have adopted a shriek. For a while, opponents objected, but to no avail. The shrieks are of a wondrous variety: Sharapova’s a high-pitched scream of seeming agony; the Williamses’ full-throated roars punctuating every shot; the yell of Dementieva coming close to “Yuh-HOO.” This all started, I theorize, with the little squeak of Chrissie Evert. It grew from there. But Bill Tilden did not need to shriek; Althea Gibson never roared; Ken Rosewall and Rod Laver played without yelling. What changed?
        -0-
        Some cliches we can do without: Somebody said that at one point in the campaign, Clinton led “in all the important metrics.” “Metrics”? My dictionary does not list “metric” as a noun. But it is a usage popular on Capitol Hill with speakers who forget there is “measure” or “measurement” or “criterion” or “element” or any number of correct words in place of “metric.”
        -0-
        And while we are being once again a schoolmarm, why does everything have to be “great”? A restaurant tells us on television that it has “great food at great prices.” That may mean just affordable hamburgers. The amusement park promises “a great time with great bargains,” which may mean just affordable fun. By me, “great” should be reserved for really historic items or events. Otherwise we have to look for the next superlative.

—Veritas
(from www.straightrecord.com)

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