Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Grammarian or linguist: my internal struggle

Now, right off the bat I know will probably make some people mad, and some of you will even try to find spelling errors and grammar mistakes in this and previous posts; but I'm going to do this anyway. Here is my obligatory post about the improper use of the English language, seeing as I am an English major/degree holder.

First, let me talk about pronunciation and correct word usage. There are some things that really drive me crazy when they are pronounced incorrectly. a few key examples include the following:ex-pecially, Feb-you-ary, ec cetera, supos-eb-ly, and many more. (The correct pronunciation, by the way, is es-pecially, Feb-ru-ary, et cetera, and supos-ed-ly.) I don't usually say anything, but I do cringe a little inside when I hear those words pronounced so heinously. But then, as you may well know, I am imperfect and flawed... I'll get to that a little later...

Next is the improper use of words, or making words up for your own use when you can't think of the right word. Some of these I will point out to people when they say them; others aren't worth the fight. First, irregardless is NOT a word. This one, I'm willing to fight. Sure, your spell check may be ok with it, and it can be found in dictionaries these days, but it is NOT a word. Most of the time, you just mean regardless. If you actually know how to use the prefix "ir", then you probably mean irrespective. That's right. Moving on.

Next, lets talk about "random." Those of you that knew me at Utah State will know about this one, and I'm sorry you have to hear about it again. Random does not mean what people who use it more than twice a day think it means. My favorite example (that actually happened) was spoken by a woman on her wedding day. She said to my roommate, "Isn't it so random that I got married today?!!?" (And yes, she said it with a question mark, two exclamation points, and another question mark.) Nothing could be LESS random. She was asked by her boyfriend for her hand in marriage, they talked about it, planned the whole day, and when it came, they got married on that exact day. Things you plan 4 months in advance that happen exactly as scheduled are NOT random. Example two: "It's so random that I saw you today!" No, it isn't. It may be unexpected, but you traveling to your destination, and me traveling to mine, and then our paths happen to cross. This is not a random event. Example three: "I say random stuff all the time!" No, you don't. You say stupid stuff all the time and in the wrong context, but it isn't random. You've thought about it before you say it (or at least your brain has had the necessary chemical reactions to select words from your lexicon, blending them into dialog, and forcing your mouth, tongue, vocal chords, etc. to produce speech), and the words have come out. You may think it's random, but it's actually pretty calculated.

There are a few instances that may seem like "random" works just fine, but it usually doesn't. My good friend Haley came up with the cure to these situations: seemingly random. Take this example: "This random guy just walked into the room, took a book, then left." He really isn't some random guy. The book probably belongs to him and he came back to the room for it when he realized he left it there. But he is unknown to you and you are not familiar with him. He wasn't selected from the sum total of all males by a process which gives him an equal probability of showing up in the room as any other male, but it seems that way to you. His arrival is, therefore, seemingly random. And there you have it. The cure to the misuse of "random" by most of the general public. Bless you, Haley. In spite of how much I have to say about the misuse of the word, I'm usually pretty willing to just let it go. As you can see, it takes a while to explain it's proper use...

I think I've made my general point, but I'd like to point out a few other misuses of the English language. I have a friend (sorry Katey, I have to do it... but I didn't want to use your name, so I've kept it in parentheses so you can keep some degree of anonymity) who says, "It's so nervousing when that happens!" I have another friend who uses "and such" constantly and incorrectly. I ask, "How are you?" He responds, "I'm good and such." He says it just to sound cool intelligent. Can you say, "backfire"?

But I cannot be the judge and jury, or even the grammar police. There are words I say incorrectly and some of them by choice! I will say buh-tato instead of potato, or sa-winch, instead of sand-wich. I'm sure I have others. There are even words I try not to pronounce incorrectly, but often do anyway. Like mou-en instead of mountain. But I do my best to say mountain. And I'm notorious for excessive use of ellipses (the three dots after a sentence... like that). Additionally, I often end phrases with a dangling participle. For shame!

And here is my inner conflict: linguistics says this is all ok. Language evolves like any species, and the strongest (or most used) survive. Even incorrect pronunciations and invented words are ok. According to the linguist, if I say that squidlefin means a goldfish with one black spot on his pectoral fin, and someone else understands me when I say that, it is now a word. Only two people need to understand a word for it to enter the lexicon. It may leave the lexicon in a day or two, but such is the evolution of language.

If you've made it this far, thanks for sticking it out... So which is right? Are there rules we should follow, or does language get to do what it wants, willy nilly? Do you have any pet peeves as far as words, pronunciation, or grammar go? And if you see me in real life, ask me if I got that squiddlfin for a pet, and I'll give you five bucks for reading to the end this excessively long post about words.

18 comments:

Robin said...

Thank you, thank you, for writing about the word "random." It's been bothering me for years. As a fellow English major, I feel your pain. I took a class (Classics 1110 - the best class EVER) where we learned about linguistic adaptation and word origins, etc. I learned a ton, and while it made me more aware of the errors that are out there in speech and how they came about, it also made me think a little more flexibly.

I say wrong things sometimes too, because I think they sound better and I don't like sounding stuffy.

One thing that totally bugs me is when you ask how someone is and they say "I'm well." They just want to sound smart, and people don't realize that "good" is just as correct - you can use an adjective in this case, but you can't say "I'm doing good." There you would have to use an adverb, "well."

Ha ha, thanks for bringing this up. We all like a good rant about things that bother us.

Bonny said...

I read it all and I have pretty much zero chance of seeing you in real life. Can I have 5 bucks?

Robin - I have the same exact feelings about the phrase "I'm well" it's sort of their way of rubbing it in your face that they are being proper. HATE IT!

You both would have a hay day here in the South. The language is out of control! Perhaps I should blog it someday. I think I will start keeping track of things and let you all see it sometime.

For example: the word fixin'

seriously! its hilarious!

caron said...

I also was pontificating (you use it, don't knock it) writing a pet peeve post, so thanks for beating me to it.
(please note that I am not an english major nor am I the grammar police. And my post is probably also riddled with mistakes)
My thing is Anyways. It bugs me. And Irregardless. And when people give a talk or bear their testimony at church and close " in the name of Thy Son". Who are you talking to again? Ahhh, the congregation.
Amen.

garrett said...

Why would I ever knock the word pontificate?? I can't wait to read your post, Caron!

Robin, thanks for the clarification on "I'm good."

Another one I thought of is when people omit "to be" from certain phrases, like "The kitchen needs cleaned." My sister-in-law says that one all the time. I just kind of smile when she does.

Haley Greer said...

Garrett, once again I'm honored that I've made such an influence on you as to be mentioned in your blog. And I tell you, I never use the word "random" anymore without preceding it with "seemingly," which usually warrants a funny look from whomever I'm with unless it's you or Jason or McWayne. But it's worth it, because I know you'd be smiling down upon me *she says as if you were dead.*

I apologize for any errors made in this paragraph. I'm sure there's at least one that involves punctuation if not spelling.

Oh, I have a question. Is it pronounced "pay-tronize" or "pah-tronize"? Because I usually use the first one and sometimes get a funny look. And do you know that it wasn't until maybe 5 years ago that I realized "strategery" wasn't actually a word? Heehee...

Bonny said...

I can't help but make a second comment in response to Caron. I AGREE with the "Thy Son" thing. that one just kills me and I have to chime in about it because sometimes I think I'm the only one that ever notices it.

ps when i am using the computer i like to NOT capitalize my "i"s and use run on sentances. SORRY!

garrett said...

Haley - Patronize can go either way. I say "pay-tronize" myself, but both work. If yo don't beleive me, ask Merriam-Webster. They've got pronunciation guides with their word definitions. And it will give you the chance to sign up to receive the word of the day by email! On a similar note, you can say Halloween like the name "Hal"(oween) or like something that is empty inside "Hollow"(een).

Bon - Don't worry about the capitalizing. It's generally accepted to not capitalize in personal emails, etc. I miss the capital "I" often. Mostly because MS Word will fix it for me, so I don't go back and fix it myself.

princesaplumeria said...

I actually find it kind of endearing when people use signature words and phrases even if they are grammatically incorrect.

I certainly do that--on purpose. Just because I like the way it sounds better than the actual correct usage.

And I am also a fan of making up words. That is one thing I really liked about "Wicked".

Emily said...

Is this post really "obligatory"? *wink*

MaryKate said...

I like making up words as well. It makes life “funner”, sorry...more fun, who (or whom...jk) wants to worry about rules when they are talking. Good thing there are no rules with abbreviations!

I actually like when people say "irregardless" , especially in a Boston accent.

Katey said...

Love this blog dude!!!!

Let's first talk about my grammar issues...
I, Katey, have little concern for correct grammar, punctuation and word use. I proofread most things I write for basic errors but I don't care all that much. I am the queen of run on sentences and I feel good about it. I use exclamation points too often. I use the word random incorrectly all the time (I had no idea I was using it incorrectly until this blog taught me but I’ll probably still use it anyway. Maybe I will consider adding seemingly prior to it.) I am horrible with its and it’s, I always seem to forget the apostrophe when it is needed. I also, like Garrett, use ellipses WAY too much but I like them...and I will continue to overuse them. The biggest issue I’m actually trying to work on is my overuse of superlatives. I’m famous for adding them to my thoughts...the word really is my favorite one. I also add little words like just, that and also to sentences for added emphasis. One thing I have noticed a lot lately, is that I don’t use contractions often on I am, I have, I had, that is and it is. I usually go back through emails texts and blog posts to fix them.

Now let’s now talk about what I hate...
I cringe when people use anyways, irregardless and my biggest hate...the word pamphlet...It’s not a pamp-lit, it’s a pam-flit. Since when did ph all the sudden not make the f sound? I used to correct people on that one but then I realized it’s best to just keep it to myself.

Incorrect things I love to do…
I make up words…Nervousing being my most commonly used and favorite “made up” word. Sorry that you hate it Garrett...that’s one you’re gonna have to live with. I also like to say might could and usta could. I add "ish" to almost any word. One of my favorites that I actually learned from Bonny (and Garrett also uses) is prolly instead of probably.

That’s all I can think of for now! I hope there aren't too many mistakes in this blog post! :)

Anonymous said...

Hay Gairrit! It's Bpretty from DWS~
I think your sew write about grammer things and stuff. Their isn't enuf to say about it.
--I akschly say "sam-wich" and not "sa-wich." Anyhoo, 'nuther thing I hate is when people use anyway/anyways or use semi-colons or quotations when their not spose to!!! Egads!
You made me thing of this web sight--Check it out!
http://quotation-marks.blogspot.com/
Piece out!

Bonny said...

YES! I love the work prolly! I'm glad rubbed off on both of you!

My husband and I love to say "samich" as opposed to "samwich" or "sandwich"

I have clearly commented too many times on this post.

garrett said...

There's no such thing as commenting too much! I think it's fun to see what everyone thinks!

Emily - I feel obliged to make this post because of my choice of major, therefore, this post is obligatory. :)

Kate and Bon - I have a love/hate relationship with "prolly." It's great for texts because it doesn't use as many characters as "probably." I also am not sure if I like to pronounce it that way, even though I do often. The jury is still out, but it looks like "prolly" will be sticking around.

BPretty - You're poast was awsome and such! And donchoo worry, I know about the quotation marks blog. Its an good won!

And as a note of clarification, I say "sa-winch" with an "N" before the "CH". Sa-wich is fine, too, but I thought I'd better make the clarification. :)

anne said...

I only comment when I have have a stronge opinion on the subject, so here goes. I am a strong believer that there is not one "correct" way to pronounce a word. Regional dialects and accents make it interesting and fun to listen to other people. Just because they pronounce it differently doesn't make them wrong or right, it is just different. Therefore I say embrace your dialectal variations instead of trying to change them or correct them. Case in point, here in the west it is common to omit the "t" when pronouncing the word mountain. If you are from this area and pronounce it with the "t" you are not being true to your regional dialect, and nobody likes a poser. So embrace your regional dialect and stop trying to be something you are not.

anne said...

garrett, my comments aren't directed at you, but rather at society as a whole. with that said I am now going to do my phonectics homework

garrett said...

Thanks for your comments, Anne! Here's what I think about pronunciation. I'm totally for embracing your regional dialect. There's nothing greater than hearing someone from the mid-west pronounce "park the car" as "pahk the cah." But they aren't really omitting letters so much as modifying them. In the case of mountain, the "T" isn't omitted, it's replaced with a glottal stop. I'm (mostly) totally fine with these regional modifications. But I don't like when people actually omit letters and sounds, or add new ones. Like "suposebly" or "Febyouary." The exception to the rule like Christy said earlier, when a signature word or phrase is used, like my buhtato and sawinch.

It's all very inconsistent, I know, but it is who I am, and if I were to arbitrarily accept mispronunciations, then I would be trying to be something I'm not. Not everyone can be grouped into the general population so easily, and I don't think anyone is denying themselves if they have a different way of speaking than their regional dialect. I'd also like to point out again, that while some of the things I've written about bother me, I don't usually say anything because who am I to tell people how to speak? I only told Katey once that nervousing wasn't a word; she continues to use it and we are still friends.

So in conclusion, I think that because everyone is different, we'll all have different ways of speaking. There are general rules that should be adhered to when speaking, but you aren't facing certain condemnation if you don't use them.

What a fun discussion, huh?!

Wendy said...

Wow! Very popular blog! All of this reminds me of how I probably am not that qualified to be teaching English to international students like I am...Oh well!