Thursday, June 30, 2016

Crimes against language—what you can do to help

We live in a violent society—people are murdering the English language on a daily basis. Sometimes the pressure of witnessing it all gets too much to bear. But there are things you can do to help. Things that you can do to turn this trend around. Even one person can make a difference, and today, I'm going to show you three little ways you can try!

Use some discretion

This is mostly a spelling issue, but an issue in which a different spelling denotes an entirely different meaning! If you do not know the difference between discreet and discrete, I urge you to just use the words "subtle" and "separate" instead.

Don't use the third wheel

"Third wheel," is one of those phrases that gets thrown around a lot without anyone considering what it really means. I myself am guilty of using this phrase, to refer to the odd one out in a group of three people. From the way the term is used colloquially, one would assume a third wheel on any sort of vehicle is not only unnecessary but downright detrimental—which is, of course, a fallacious assumption! A bicycle, the quintessential two-wheeled vehicle, certainly functions quite adequately on two wheels, but the addition of a third wheel would certainly add stability. And a car with only two wheels would be in sorry shape indeed, but with three wheels it might even be able to get around. So why is a third wheel approached so negatively?

Misplaced decimal points

This problematic usage of syntax transcends languages and sticks its dirty toes into the pool of mathematics. 

I have lately been overwhelmed by the number of shopping stories I read on the Internet describing prices as something like ".50 cents." While there is a chance that someone purchased a dress for 50/100ths of a cent, it seems a lot more likely that the price was actually "50 cents" or ".50$" (Lest you wonder why I have committed a syntactical sin in this very rant, please see more on my unconventional placement of the dollar sign). Let's make it perfectly clear. A decimal point indicates a fraction and should be pronounced if it is written. So unless you actually bought something for "point fifty cents" you should leave the dot out of the equation. 

By the way, one of the most useful tricks I ever learned in writing was the Windows shortcut for the cent character: Hold down ALT while typing the numbers 0162 on your numeric keypad. Tada! Magic cent! I also use these shortcuts for the em dash (— ALT+0151) and en dash (– ALT+0150) – which litter my writing – on the regular.