Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Usage and Abusage

So, since I first proposed making a name for myself in the grammar world, some research has revealed that, as far as catchy pen names go, "Language Lady" is just as already-taken as "Grammar Girl," but "Li'l Language Lady" isn't! So guess how I hereby christen myself!

The beautiful irony of this moniker is that li'l is probably one of the world's best examples of the worst grammar one could possibly use, and – here's the beautiful irony part – I am using it as a key element of my identity as a grammarian! Ha ha ha!

Today, Li'l Language Lady's lesson is not directly related to grammar, but instead to other ways that people can use the English language to torture poor souls such as me.

1. A diamond in the rough is not a good thing!

Certainly, it is better than, say, a lump of coal, or a maggot in a rotting banana, but it has a long way to go before it can be considered to outshine its competition. Sadly, most people use "a diamond in the rough" to refer to something marvelous in a sea of things not so marvelous. This is not the proper usage of the phrase! We are not talking about a gemstone that ended up in the un-manicured part of a golf course—we are talking about a gemstone that has just been blasted out of a mine and is all lumpy and covered with dirt. "In the rough" is used in much the same way as "in the nude," and, in fact, if you replace the one phrase with the other, you will come approximately close to the exact meaning. Or, if you need further help remembering the proper usage of the phrase, you may use this handy rhyme:
A diamond that is in the rough
Is a diamond that's not up to snuff!

2. Look it up!

If you did not know how to fly a plane, would you still attempt to take one for a spin? That would only be slightly more stupid than this practice that I am now going to call "speeing," because it sounds ridiculous and that's exactly what it is! Speeing is the act, while writing something for public consumption, of attempting to write a word that you don't know how to spell, and marking it with an "(sp?)" rather than checking how to spell it. Everyone knows that the mutilation of the English tongue is rampant on the Internet and subject to great scorn by those who love their language. You might think that by acknowledging your ignorance, you are thereby shielding yourself from the disdain of linguists, but really, you're just making yourself a bigger target. This is what linguists think when they see a spee: "So, now you're not only admitting you're stupid, but you're lazy too?" If you have access to the Internet to post whatever horrible, misspelled drivel you're posting, then you have access to a dictionary. Use it. It's a heck of a lot easier than earning a pilot's license.

3. Go ahead, make a grammarian laugh

We language purists are an uptight group, liable to boil over with rage at the slightest misplaced adverb (have you seen the controversy over "only"?). When you forget your adverb (or noun, verb, etc.) entirely, though, and completely change the meaning of your sentence, it fills us with an effervescent mirth that is entirely unlike boiling. As a quick example, see how news headline writing (which values succinctness and deadlines to an incomplete, poorly edited fault) resulted in the loss of an important section of these sentence.
"Republic Invests $20 to Modernize Country's Largest Recycling Facility" (Well, that budget explains a lot about why our recycling rates are so abysmal)
I had two examples, but the second example lost all its humor once I reconsidered its morbid subject matter, so you'll have to content yourself with just one. Never fear—I'm sure there will be many more where this came from!


Anonymous said...

Only Republik(SP) would only invest $20 only to find out that it was only $20.

That is the only thing I have to say about that.