Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Conan the Grammarian

Here are a few mistakes in English usage I often see. Setting myself up as the grammar police is dangerous, because I make mistakes all the time. When you bang out a blog post, it’s easy to mangle syntax or let a solecism slip by. Now that I’ve covered my ass, let me get to the point.

1. Alright is not a word. It should be all right. People get confused by already, which is a word.
2. Most should not be used for almost, as in “Most everyone knows.” They are two different words. Using most for almost sounds too colloquial, like the writer is affecting a country hick persona.
3. Hopefully should not be used to mean I hope. The sentence “Hopefully, we will go” means “We will go full of hope.” At least, that’s what it should mean. In contemporary usage it means “I hope we will go.” This one is probably a lost cause.
4. Which or that? My sense is that the evolution on using these words has actually improved in the last half century. Old writers often use which when I would use that. I try to use that unless there is a comma, which prompts me to use which.
5. Disinterested does not mean lacking interest, it means not standing to profit.
6. Enormity does not mean big size. An enormity is an evil act of great size. Most people mean something like magnitude when they use this word -- and almost no one uses it right nowadays. The dictionaries have accepted the contemporary usage of enormity as big size, but I hate to see the original meaning lost.
7. “I feel badly about that” is accepted today, but I still use “I feel bad about that.” “I feel badly” makes me think “I don’t touch things well,” but that’s probably wrong too. Another lost cause.
8. Lite beer does not have less carbs, it has fewer carbs. It does, however, have less taste.
9. In “Touch Me” by the Doors, Jim Morrison sings,
“I’m gonna love you
Till the stars fall from the sky for you and I”.

In “When Doves Cry,” Prince sings,
“Dig if u will the picture
Of u and I engaged in a kiss”.

In both cases they should have written me instead of I. Writing u instead you, however, is perfectly fine. If u r a moron.


Jennifer Snow said...

You forgot "irregardless" and "preventative".

JohnJEnright said...

I see "alright" a lot in the subtitles for foreign films.

David, The Machine said...

What is this with people still insisting that 'alright' is not a word? A language's vocabulary changes over time, often towards simplicity. English is no exception to this. A quick check at shows that 'alright' appeared about 75 years ago, and is "remains in common use in journalistic and business publications".

Why is English then treated as a frozen absolute? There are plenty of recent common words that weren't even around 30 years ago, such as 'email', which have entered into the common English vocabulary with hardly a peep from the grammar police, but the continued use of 'alright' still triggers alarms?

Jennifer Snow said...

"email" is a word for a new phenomenon that needed to be conceptualized. "alright" is laziness and typographic sloppiness.

Correct spelling and grammar came into existence with the first dictionaries and style guides; the purpose of it is to communicate your ideas with the greatest possible clarity and precision.

If you say "alright", what you are communicating is "I am a dingbat who has not kept a firm grip on his education". Feel free to do so if you like.