Monday, September 20, 2010

R.I.P. English

Although I am a daily reader of the Washington Post, I've never been a huge fan of Gene Weingarten's Sunday column. Too often, his columns focus on the exaggerated differences between the sexes and, for whatever reason, they're just too over-the-top for my taste.

But this week's column was a masterpiece in my eyes because he was writing about the demise of the English language ("English. It's dead to me."), a subject near and dear to my heart.

He dubbed the official moment that English died of shame to be when the Post itself published a letter from a reader about their error in calling Sasha the President's youngest daughter, rather than the younger one. Good point, but the letter also referred to the first couple as the Obama's. Ouch.

Gene called this "an illiterate proofreading of an illiterate criticism of an illiteracy." I call it commonplace these days. Substituting a possessive for a plural is as frequently-occurring as misuse of there, they're and their (or its and it's). Or the non-existent "alot." A lot of people don't realize that alot is not a word. Never was.

His column also blasted the use of "reach out to" as a verb, citing it as the domain of 12-step programs and sensitivity training workshops. I once had an editor/writer boyfriend who had the same horror of using impact as a verb, refusing to acknowledge its right to be anything other than a noun.

But what endeared Gene to me most was the last line of his piece: "I could care less." If any misused phrase has the ability to set my teeth on edge every time I hear it, it's that one. If you could care less, you're saying something completely different than if you couldn't care less. And if you don't understand that distinction, clearly English died for you a long time ago.

And, yes, I acknowledge that language must remain malleable to thrive. I accept (and grimace) every year when buzz words like bromance and exit strategy are added to the venerable Oxford English Dictionary.

It's like my editor/writer friend once told me about a mutual friend, "I can't take her seriously. She doesn't know the difference between than and then."

To this language lover, he couldn't have explained her fatal flaw any more succinctly.


  1. loved this!!

    sent it on to bunches of folks.

  2. It just proves what a nerd I am, but okay.

  3. When I read a comment thread and the writer uses your for you're they've lost me as a reader and as someone who might agree or disagree with their position. What ever it was they were saying, "I couldn't care less".


  4. And I thought I was the only one who stopped reading when I found glaring errors like that!

    The blogosphere really demonstrates what a shaky command of the English language many people possess.

  5. maybe we just need to declare defeat and go back to those heathen post-elizabethan centuries when capitalization was the salt of spices, when spelling was liberalized, and when one suffered doubt, it was best just to toss in some greek dipthongs.

    what i love the very most is the uproar caused by the suggestion that the next edition of the OED might be electronic-only...ten years from now (which, in OED-time = 80 years?)--when 99% of people wouldn't recognize the OED if it landed on them. okay, i don't love it the very most--that's sarcasm.

  6. Gee whiz, I hadn't noticed your sarcasm before now.

  7. well, it IS humor at its lowest form.

  8. Well, it IS the humor imbedded in my DNA.

  9. and you do it so well so dont stop!

  10. Couldn't if I tried.Thanks for noticing...and stopping by again.