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.”




August 29, 2008

Two Blows to U.S. Sports

Filed under: life,news — straightrecord @ 9:41 am
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Bye, Bye Baseball,

Annyong-Hi Kashipshio Ladies Golf

         In the same recent week, two major U.S. sports took a pair of shameful PR steps, shameful even for an American industry that already should be embarrassed by highly paid “super- stars” and bottom-line team owners more interested in the name on the stadium or tournament than the players who work in them.
          Major League Baseball–don’t say it without adding “Inc.”–has decided to denigrate one of the most valuable aspects of major sports, the referee.
     The league already had brought shame on itself by tolerating steroid usage in the league and tearing down multi-million dollar stadiums and blackmailing municipalities to help replace them with multi-billion dollar venues for some of the world’s highest-paid athletes.
     Because some of those Hollywood-style incomes depend on endorsements, which in turn are based on sports-page statistics, baseball umpires have come under increasing attack when they make the wrong calls; wrong, that is, based on television replays.
     Anyone who has ever played baseball, along with other sports that require umpires or referees, knows they are keys to the games, even when they occasionally make a bad call. As an athlete, you complain, but learn to suck it up and go with the fact the umpire is just as human as you are.
     Well, major league baseball has decided to sell out to the television empire by allowing TV replays to decide if an umpire is right or wrong.
     Next in the same week came the Ladies Professional Golf Association, which ruled that all participants in its tournament must be able to speak English. That apparently is a response to the dominance in the distaff side of the sport by Korean women.
     What does speaking English, indeed, speaking at all, have to do with playing professional golf, either as a woman or a man? We live in a global society; let the international players in our sports speak their own language. Unless their lack of English is preventing them from being articulate spokeswomen or repre- sentatives the LPGA prefers to present to the world, we have to ask, other than being able to translate meters in to yards and centimeters to inches, what the deuce does speaking English have anything to do with playing golf?


June 16, 2008

StraightRecord Schoolmarm Lessons: Part III

More Things Grammar Shoulda Told Ya

     Assure, ensure and insure are not interchangeable. Each has a specific meaning that is not anything like the meaning of either of the other two.
Assure means a promise or an oath, a commitment to the statement that follows it. “I assure you we are doing everything we can.”
Ensure is like a guarantee, as making sure something occurs as intended. “You must ensure that this comes off as planned.”
Insure is a commitment your behind will be covered if either of those quotes is a lie. “I’ll insure you against libel, but get it right next time.”

Mind Before Mouth  
     Many of the grammar errors Americans stumble through stem from a failure to speak in complete sentences.
     Now, nobody would want to listen to someone who actually speaks in complete sentences. It would be tedious and nettling, particularly in today’s hurry-up society.
     For instance, would you want to listen to this?
     “I just saw Roger, and he looks younger than I am young.” Hearing “I just saw Roger, and he looks younger than I,” sounds less pedantic, but more often you will hear, “I just saw Roger, and he looks younger than me.”–Incorrect
     Or this: “I can do it better than he can do it,” rather than “I can do it better than he.” More often, you will hear, “I can do better than him.”–Incorrect
     None of us wants to sound pedantic (this current lapse of ours notwithstanding), but what if we thought pedantic and spoke normal? Who but the most illerate among us would say, “me looks young” or “him can do it.” But if we thought in complete sentences and then spoke normally, we wouldn’t make those grammatical mistakes. Try it.


Grammar Key To Communicating

     And here’s an example of why good grammar is important–communicating.
     Take this phrase from a newspaper: “to promote more affordable housing.” As written, the sentence suggests there is not enough affordable housing.
     But if it a hyphen is included  (more-affordable housing) the phrase would mean there is not enough housing that is more affordable than whatever we are comparing it with.
     Two totally different meanings, all because of whether a hyphen is included.
     Yet, because of the decline of the language, we cannot be sure what the author intended even if she or he has used perfect grammar.



     Saying “hopefully” when you mean, “I hope.” If you cannot substitute “I hope” for “hopefully,” you don’t make any sense and are hopelessly lost.

What’s with?

     Saying “That person over there that” as if a person is a thing and not actually a person. The correct way is “That person over there who.”

     Alright? It’s not all right to say alright. Alright isn’t a word.

     It’s for its and vice versa. The former is a contraction for “it is,” the latter a possessive pronoun.



June 13, 2008

StraightRecord Schoolmarm Lessons: Part II

Mythical Iraq

   Many people appear to have settled on “eye-rack” as the pronunciation of Iraq. The dictionary allows only “ih-rack” or “ih-raq.” Nearly all the military folks quoted on the boob tube call it “eye-rack.”
   And an analyst from a well-respected think tank was quoted on television recently, 50 times or so, referring to the mythical place called “Eye-rack.”


TV Talk

   A Schoolmarm for television would require that:
   * The word “well” (as in “Well, Wolf…”) would not be the first word in every standup reporter’s report;
   * The word “incredible” would be banned (as in “That was an incredible story, Skippy”);
   * The word “that” would never be used to refer to a previous event being updated (as in “The suspect in that double murder in upstate New York.…”);
   * The word “target” as a verb would be thrown out and more accurate substitutes such as “designate,” “select,” “aim at,” “benefit,” “pick,” etc., would be used;
   * Television reporters would never be allowed to say “I can tell you” or “I should tell you,” because all the salient facts in a news event are things the reporters can or should tell their audience;
   * And now for the silliest little tic in speech: the double “is–” Nobody on television would be allowed to use the double “is.” You know it, don’t you? “The point is, is that…,” or, “The problem is, is that…,” or “The question is, is, does he really mean….”


Permit Us To
Convince You

     What happened to the word “persuade?”
     All one seems to hear these days is something such as, “He convinced him to do such-and-such.”
     Persuade means to cause someone to act in a certain manner. Notice the word “to” In this sentence construction; it designates an infinitive.
     Persuade is part of an infinitive, convince is not. One would persuade someone to believe the previous statement is true and that person would thus become convinced it is so.


Slam Dunk!!!!
As in WMDs?

     One danger of slurry thought and even slurry pronunciation is the loss of meaning. Jargon has its dangers.
     Consider, “It’s a slam dunk, Mr. President” and all that phrase helped get us into.


Why, Oh Why?

     Why do people have such trouble with common plurals?
     “Media” is the plural of “medium.” So, it’s “The media are struggling…”
     “Criteria” is the plural of “criterion.” So, it’s “My criteria for success are these…”
     “Data” is the plural of “datum.” So, it’s “The data are conclusive.”
     “Bacteria” is the plural of “bacterium.” So, it’s “The deadly bacteria were detected in food.”


And Learn This,

Por Favor

     People have such trouble with the hard and soft “h.”
     Words with the hard “h” take “a,” as in, “It is a historic occasion,” “He was a Hispanic scholar.” You wouldn’t say, “He gave AN hard time when we took AN history test,” would you?
     Words with the soft “h” take “an,” as in, “It is an honor.”
     “Herb” is a fuzzy example. Usually, the American usage is “an herb.” But “a herb” is being accepted as an alternative, with the dictionary notation, “Especially British.”



June 12, 2008

Lessons from the StraightRecord Schoolmarm

Things Your Grammar Shoulda Told Ya, Part I

     Turn off your TV the next time you hear “near miss” or “midair.” These speakers don’t really mean a “near miss.” The anchors breathed in too much hairspray. What they really mean is “near collision.”
     This one we know we will never win: “midair collision,” explosion or whatever. Have you ever heard anyone say sideair or top air or bottom air? A simple “collision in the air” would suffice, thank you.
     Stop the speaker when you hear “a lion’s share,” and find out what he or she really means. The phrase actually means only “all of it,” not “most of it.” Unless you’re another lion, you’re not going to get a share.
     And when you hear “each and every one.” What’s the difference? How about just “each” or “every one,” or better yet, “all.”
     Some things are accepted today when they would not have been accepted in the past. For clarity, please mind the difference.
     For example, a newspaper recently advertised for “an aggressive police reporter.” Poor thing that got the job probably got beat up by the cops the first day on the job. Let us hope the newspaper got the assertive reporter it was seeking. Aggressive carries with it an intent to do harm. Assertive is just putting one’s self forward.
     Why say “period of time.” What else would a period signify, but time or the end of a sentence or a menstrual cycle?
     And we love this from those TV anchor types: “If you are  seeing this….” Well, duh, you ain’t on radio.


Some Age-Old Questions Answered

Chicken or Egg

     It’s supposedly an age-old question: which came first, the chicken or the egg.
     Organic evolution says the egg came first.
     This is an over-simplification, but every living thing procreates by forming some sort of seed that grows into similar living thing. Eventually, the seed became an egg in some species and then somewhere along the evolutionary path, a chicken emerged from an egg.

Tree falling in the woods

     Another supposedly age-old question: if a tree falls in the woods and no one hears it, does it make a sound?
     No, it does not.
     The crash of the falling tree emits wavelengths that are interpreted by some living things, such as humans, to be sound. If no species capable of hearing is around to interpret the wavelengths as sound, then there is no sound.


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