January 31, 2006

Watch your language

I understand that natural languages are evolving constantly and that new words, new expressions and new spellings trickling into our everyday speak is what makes the language alive.  It also explains why artificial languages such as Esperanto have utterly failed to gain momentum.

I am ready to endure a certain amount of abuse when I listen to the TV or to people.  Fair enough.

But something that really irritates is me when these blatant misuses of English creep into written text.

Here is a short list of that improprieties I have noticed these past years:

  • Don't start an article or a blog post with "so".  Ever.
  • "Anyways" is barely a word and  it's dubbed archaic. But can I interest you in "anyway", "either way" or "at any rate"?
  • As for "irregardless", even the dictionary says "don't use it".  So don't.
  • "Criteria" is plural.  The word you are looking for is "criterion".
  • When something doesn't matter to you, you "couldn't care less".  Note the negation.  Just think about it for a minute and it will make sense.
  • In "weird" and "receive", the e comes first.  I know, it's weird.  Just learn it by heart and don't think twice.
  • If you're not sure if you should use "its" or "it's", replace it with "it is".  If the sentence still makes sense, then "it's" is correct.  Otherwise, use "its".
  • In "gauge", the 'a' comes first.
  • A pandemic is global, by definition.  If you really want, you can say "global epidemic" but "pandemic" by itself is enough.
  • "Déjà vu all over again" is a cliché.  Find a different phrasing.  And use the correct accents for extra karma points.

... and finally, the most rampant misuse that certainly deserves the award "Best impropriety of 2005":

  • Don't say "people that drive", say "people who drive".  User that choose.  Users who choose.  Those that say.  Those who say.

Did I forget anything?

Posted by cedric at January 31, 2006 11:29 PM
Comments

So anyways, its wierd, but I couldn't care less
;)

Posted by: John at February 1, 2006 12:02 AM

And best of all, Cedric is French ;-) I can't really help you here but I could post a lengthy text about misuses of French.

Posted by: Romain Guy at February 1, 2006 12:28 AM

Don't say alternately when you mean alternatively.
Alternately means 'first one, then the other, then the other, and so on'; alternatively means 'another possibility is that...'.

Posted by: at February 1, 2006 12:44 AM

Donneur de leçons, va !
But finally, who cares misspelled words and incorrectly constructed sentences, as long as sense is kept correct.

Posted by: Nicolas Delsaux at February 1, 2006 01:47 AM

Follow the rules! You have nothing to loose!

Posted by: F.Baube at February 1, 2006 03:18 AM

The European Union at its best: a frenchman behaving like a german ;-)

Posted by: F. Degenaar at February 1, 2006 03:45 AM

Actually, the french are much (and by "much" I mean orders of magnitude) more strict about language than the german – who after all came up with the pseudo-english term "Handy" for mobile phone (but that is a totally different topic :).

Apropos "than" – can we please add to the list that one should know about the proper use of "than" (for comparisons) and "then" (for time)?

Posted by: Christian at February 1, 2006 04:02 AM

One of my favourites: penultimate means "second last".

Posted by: Charles Miller at February 1, 2006 04:03 AM

"Users that choose" - what a perfect way to turn your customers into objects. :)

Posted by: Robert at February 1, 2006 04:22 AM

There's also the bastardised "could of" which is transliterated from spoken text, when it should be "could've" as an abbreviation for "could have".

And of course, rampant misspellings with phrases like "Their books? They're over there."

Posted by: Alex Blewitt at February 1, 2006 04:26 AM

Apropos "than" – can we please add to the list that one should know about the proper use of "than" (for comparisons) and "then" (for time)?

+1(enthusiastically)

Posted by: cooper at February 1, 2006 04:28 AM

Apropos "than" – can we please add to the list that one should know about the proper use of "than" (for comparisons) and "then" (for time)?

+1(enthusiastically)

Posted by: cooper at February 1, 2006 04:28 AM

If you want more, you could do worse than look here:
http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0312186010/

Posted by: RichB at February 1, 2006 05:15 AM

"trickling into our everyday speak"

Surely "speak" is a verb. I take it you wanted to use the noun "speech"?

Posted by: garethw at February 1, 2006 05:26 AM

"needless to say" when "it suffices to say" would be more appropriate

Posted by: at February 1, 2006 05:55 AM

A very common mistake I see from tech savvy bloggers and commenters alike is replacing "their" with "they're".

I could provide lots of examples in Slashdot, but I forgot *they're* threads. :-)

Posted by: Tiago Silveira at February 1, 2006 05:57 AM

http://m-w.com/dictionary/criteria

The plural criteria has been used as a singular for nearly half a century. Many of our examples, like the two foregoing, are taken from speech. But singular criteria is not uncommon in edited prose, and its use both in speech and writing seems to be increasing. Only time will tell whether it will reach the unquestioned acceptability of agenda.

Posted by: Daniel at February 1, 2006 06:02 AM

Hmm, I'm surprised nobody mentioned the overused and gramatically incorrect "leverage", which is a noun and never a verb. As one of my coworkers said the other day: "this is internet english and it's here to stay."

Posted by: at February 1, 2006 06:28 AM

I learned this as a child: "'i' before 'e' except after 'c' and in long words like 'neighbor' and 'weigh'." Later I added, "and in weird words like 'weird'".

Posted by: Chris at February 1, 2006 06:39 AM

I'll stand up for "could care less". It's sarcastic. Not exactly formal but, you know, whatever.

Posted by: Christian Murphy at February 1, 2006 07:24 AM

The one I can't stand is the use "exponential" to mean "explosive". It makes me think of the boy who cried "wolf":

Bob: "Oh my goodess, the number of tribbles are just growing and growing!"
Jane: "Yeah, the growth is exponential!"
Bob: "No, it's not exponential, it's ... *beyond* exponential! It's growing and growing and will never stop!"
Jane: "Er.."

As for 'so', do you think that it's inappropriate in a spoken conversation? I hear it every day at work, and there's only one other place where I've heard such a large percentage of people start conversational responses with the word 'so'. This one mostly confuses me, nothing more.

Posted by: Robert Konigsberg at February 1, 2006 08:29 AM

How about considerable misuse of affect vs effect?

Posted by: Elliot at February 1, 2006 09:13 AM

Elliot: That drives me nuts, especially when I see otherwise thoughtful and intelligent writers make the mistake.

Re leverage as a verb instead of a noun: I think we have CorporateSpeak to thank for that, although according to M-W.com it is also considered to be a transitive verb - however much we might collectively loathe hearing how Company X is leveraging Y, it is correct usage.

Posted by: BD at February 1, 2006 09:38 AM

The French are anal about their language. Don't they have divisions of government to make sure that you are shot if you don't use what is written in the books? ;)

A language changes, and is more of a "de facto" standard than anything else.

I have to keep telling myself this as it often drives me nuts, being a brit in the US. There are differences, and I need to get over it.

Dion

Posted by: Dion Almaer at February 1, 2006 10:16 AM

Buy you see, I could care less, but that would take effort. I've always thought of it as "I care about this very little, but not the least amount of care, so I could care less." I couldn't care less is the same as I don't care. I mean I do care, but I could care less.

Posted by: at February 1, 2006 10:44 AM

I've trying to popularize the phrase - Don't yank my Shank.

Posted by: Sony at February 1, 2006 11:03 AM

Quelle mouche le pique de se mêler ainsi de langue anglaise? :-)

Posted by: Erik at February 1, 2006 11:38 AM

"couldn't care less"? maybe YOU should think about it for a minute!

Posted by: Uri at February 1, 2006 02:00 PM

Inappropriate use of the "pre" prefix. Such as "We are preplanning for that contingency". (Planning happens before anyway, otherwise it's called "making excuses".) For an extreme example I have heard and seen this monster a few times: "This meal can be preprepared a day early" (I kid you not).

Posted by: at February 1, 2006 04:29 PM

I'm so annoyed by people that get annoyed by smaller grammar/spelling misstakes. ;-)

Posted by: Jon Tirsen at February 1, 2006 08:34 PM

* Follow the rules! You have nothing to loose! *

Doesn't anyone know the difference between "lose" and "loose"?

Posted by: at February 1, 2006 09:16 PM

"could care less" is incorrect while "couldn't care less" is correct. It's like "I care so little, that I couldn't care less"

Posted by: n at February 2, 2006 07:39 AM

:)

I am a native french speaker too, and one thing that makes me laugh endlessly is when someone tries to use a french expression in an english text in an inappropriate manner. Of course when it's used right and, as you note, when they use the appropriate accentuated characters (if needed) I kind of like it ;)

Cedric, as you've also been playing online games, what about an article on misuse of english in instant (game) chat? For what it's worth, misuse of french in instant (french) chat is impressive too!

Posted by: Anonymous Coward at February 2, 2006 09:39 AM

Even though the English has always been a simplistic language( compared with other languages such as Spanish, French or German ) the wide use of it in the business world and of course in the technology world in the last century, has made it still simpler, since both the native and not native speakers have kept the words set at the minimum for keep making business.

Furthermore, English has permeated those other languages contaminating them with those simplistic terms ( I remember dozens of examples specially in the Spanish speak in America that are not used in the European Spanish ). This is the natural way of the languages to evolve, the same had already happened back in the roman empire with the use of Latin.

The abuses reported by Cedric will continue and will get worse with the time. Just think about this, we are communicating in English and not in Esperanto or Interlingua and we wanted or not, part of our original way of thinking will always get reflected on our translation.

I wonder how our languages will evolve in a thousand years from now.
....pardon my English

Posted by: Oscar at February 2, 2006 11:08 AM

"Déjà vu all over again" was first said by Yogi Berra, and he was being intentionally ironic.

Unfortunately, these days nobody understands what irony really means.

Posted by: Neil Bartlett at February 3, 2006 01:49 AM

"English has always been a simplistic language( compared with other languages such as Spanish, French or German )"

You're joking right? English is a hybrid of French, Latin, Spanish, Germanic Anglo-saxon, and numerous other lanugages. Among other things, this means there is little consistency in how words are pronounced or on which syllable to stress. Contrast that with Spanish where all the vowels always have the same sound, and the stress rules are very clear.
In English, there are multiple ways of pronouncing words that are spelt exactly the same. For example, compare the verb 'contrast' (stress on second syllable) with the noun 'contrast' (stress on first syllable).
When you also consider the huge English vocabulary your post is ridiculous.

Posted by: at February 3, 2006 02:10 AM

Deer Sir,

I waunt to apply for the secritary job what I saw in the paper. I can Type real quik wit one finggar and do sum a counting.

I think I am good on the phone and no I am a pepole person, Pepole really seam to respond to me well.

I´m lookin for a Jobb as a secritary but it musent be to complicaited.

I no my spelling is not to good but find that I Offen can get a job thru my persinalety. My salerery is open so we can discus wat you want to pay me and wat you think that I am werth,

I can start imeditely. Thank you in advanse fore yore anser. .

hopifuly Yore best aplicant so farr.


Sinseerly,

Peggy May Starlings
http://www.garysdetecting.co.uk/fun_stuff.htm#Job+Application

Posted by: Peggy May Starlings at February 3, 2006 01:45 PM

Deer Sir,

I waunt to apply for the secritary job what I saw in the paper. I can Type real quik wit one finggar and do sum a counting.

I think I am good on the phone and no I am a pepole person, Pepole really seam to respond to me well.

I´m lookin for a Jobb as a secritary but it musent be to complicaited.

I no my spelling is not to good but find that I Offen can get a job thru my persinalety. My salerery is open so we can discus wat you want to pay me and wat you think that I am werth,

I can start imeditely. Thank you in advanse fore yore anser. .

hopifuly Yore best aplicant so farr.


Sinseerly,

Peggy May Starlings
http://www.garysdetecting.co.uk/fun_stuff.htm#Job+Application

Posted by: Peggy May Starlings at February 3, 2006 01:46 PM

Deer Sir,

I waunt to apply for the secritary job what I saw in the paper. I can Type real quik wit one finggar and do sum a counting.

I think I am good on the phone and no I am a pepole person, Pepole really seam to respond to me well.

I´m lookin for a Jobb as a secritary but it musent be to complicaited.

I no my spelling is not to good but find that I Offen can get a job thru my persinalety. My salerery is open so we can discus wat you want to pay me and wat you think that I am werth,

I can start imeditely. Thank you in advanse fore yore anser. .

hopifuly Yore best aplicant so farr.


Sinseerly,

Peggy May Starlings

Posted by: Peggy May Starlings at February 3, 2006 01:46 PM

I really don't know why, but in chats it really bothers me when people use OK or k instead of okay all the time.

Also, even in chats, use correct punctuation and capitalize. Unless you are typing on a phone keypad, there is no reason to be that lazy, just learn to type!

It doesn't actually hurt me to see it--really it makes me feel that the person I'm chatting with is not terribly bright.

Posted by: Bill Kress at February 3, 2006 02:17 PM

"Now that your here" - I see it on signs outside businesses now. It drives me crazy. (But it wouldn't be a drive, it'd be a putt.) Why is it hard to tell that "you're" should be used? But its the same problem as its--it's and their--they're.

When I was young I found the rule was -- 'i' before 'e' except after 'c' and all the interesting words are exceptions. So I developed a mental block against all such words that only got worse when I studied German.

Note that "So" is reasonable on the front of a sentence if there is something preceeding it. I think the use in blogs and chats comes from an assumed precedent.

Why let anyone get away with using "leverage" as a verb when English has a perfectly wonderful word "use" that means the same thing. It just seems pompous.

Another irritating thing I hear now and then is the phrase "more and more" to mean "a lot" or "way too much". The example is a statement like "Politicians nefarious goings on are being found out more and more." (Another putt.)

Posted by: Lee Meador at February 3, 2006 03:25 PM

Those are all good points. Personally, I believe language has changed with the advent of new communications technology. Written communication used to be much more formal and correct. I suppose that when one took the time to write a letter, there was more time to think while one wrote. Talking in person or on the phone has always been more casual. With the advent of e-mail and instant messaging, the nature of communications has changed. E-mail is equally used for both semi-formal communication and informal careless communication. Instant messaging is even more informal. There used to be a clear distinction here: chatting with friends was one thing, saying something quick to a colleague was another thing, and a formal written message was something else. Now they've all meshed together. We use the same technology for totally different messages and styles of communication. We're not seeing a change so much in how well language is used, but a change in the nature of communication. I strive to write clearly, even in messages like this. These days, I find it a bit harder to shift between extremely casual messages and extremely formal messages.

Posted by: Francois at February 7, 2006 12:05 PM

Spatula! I just needed to say that. What a great word.

Posted by: F.Baube at March 14, 2006 11:47 PM

It's "different from" rather than "different than".

BTW: I think irregardless even made into the language Dylan on the Apple Newton. It's bad enough when people mis-spell variables names, etc, but when
keywords are as poor as that, you can't even re-factor.

Access is a noun, and you could go on, but English is a living language, which started life as a synthesis of other languages, and its success is down to its flexibility and expressiveness.

Posted by: M.Harrison at March 15, 2006 09:08 AM

Performant is not a word in English, Queen's or otherwise.

Posted by: at March 15, 2006 02:38 PM

"Si j'aurais su, j'aurais pas venu!"

(La Guerre Des Boutons, 1962)

Posted by: Harry at June 3, 2008 09:04 AM
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