Mar 13, 2013

When Language Evolves Wrong

Language evolves. Pedants, get over it! I smirk or eye-roll at those who get uppity over things like these:

  • Slang / teenagers speaking like US movies
  • Foreign-born shopkeepers or business owners with more pressing concerns than written grammar, putting apostrophes in the wrong place on window signs  
  • 'Over' used with a number instead of 'greater than'.
  • Adjectives used as adverbs - "when language evolves wrong" [ironic use, see], "when things go bad" ["badly" is fastly disappearing]
  • "their" used as a gender-neutral possessive pronoun instead of the cumbersome "his or her"
  • Split infinitives - surely no-one cares about this anymore
  • Fragmentary sentences and sentences that start with And. Move on. Literature did, some time ago.

But we all have our language pet hates. And though I thought I was pretty cool over this stuff, once I started listing them I found I had quite a lot.

So here are mine:

  • "less" used with plurals, instead of "fewer". I know - this battle's long lost, I need to GET OVER IT
  • the incorrect form of a word (noun/adverb/verb) used where there are two forms - e.g. "the account has been setup" [set up]; "please login" [log in]; "Big savings everyday" [it should be "every day" - or else make it an adjective, as in "everyday savings"]
  • "factoid" used for "fact". A "factoid" is not an interesting tidbit of information, but a supposed-fact or a folk-belief presented as fact, such as "Eskimos have 200 words for snow"
  • incorrect word formations caused by people forgetting there is an actual other word for what they're trying to say - business English is a big offender here. My biggest problem at the moment is "in agreeance" instead of "in agreement"
  • malapropisms that become widely used (hello again, business English): "Let me take a new tact" (tack); "this is a one-of situation" [one-off]; "they are one in the same" [one and the same]
  • parentheses, m-dashes or semi-colons used incorrectly - such as when each part of a sentence divided by a semi-colon isn't related or doesn't form a grammatical sentence, or, as is becoming VERY common now (tsk tsk), when the bit in parentheses can't be taken away without destroying the grammar of the sentence around it (in which case it shouldn't be in parentheses)
  • lists where one of the items doesn't match the verb in the list header. You know the sort of thing: "All reports must be: (1) typed, (2) not have errors."  Or where there are not enough "and"s in the sentence because the list ends with a pair that needs its own "and" - e.g.: "ribbons, buttons, needles, odds and ends" 
  • too many commas, or commas in the wrong place (Though I am all for the Oxford comma, and other commas before "and" where they increase readability)

Then there are the classics: 
  • "infer" used for "imply"; "disinterested" used for "uninterested"  - though I am starting to care less about those (there's that evolution happening)
  • your/you're; there/their/they're
  • its/it's (I can see this one evolving into a single all-purpose "its" right before my eyes)
  • me/I, me/myself (business English, I'm looking at you again, with your attempt-at-formal "please contact myself at...")
And the ugly portmanteaus - 
  • the ones that are too cute, like "staycation" 
  • the ones that try too hard or don't rhyme with the original word, like "mansplain" (I HATE that one). 
But unlike the anti-portmanteau commentators I've read, I quite like "chillax" and "recessionista". They are inventive and fun and they work. (Says me anyway).

There are also a few phrases I hate - just HATE. These are:
  • "It was on for young and old." I've always hated it - so weird and old-fashioned and strange. 
  • "Flat chat" for "busy". "Flat tack" is OK.
  • "First in best dressed." This one has come about within my lifetime and I'm not happy with it. When I was a kid, only the root phrase was in use, which was "first come, first served" or "first in first served". I may be wrong but I have a dim memory that "first in best dressed" came about through application to wardrobe-related-only situations as a play on "first in first served". So that was cool and all, but then the specific phrase supplanted the general phrase*, and now the new phrase makes no sense.
(*Let it be known I have no issue with this phenomenon in itself. I am quite happy with "walk the talk" which has evolved from "He can talk the talk, but can he walk the walk?" - though thinking about it, it's a shame to have lost that phrase. It was too long to survive I guess.)

But I am utterly relaxed on these:
  • incorrect usages of over/more than/greater than [because I personally get this wrong a lot - therefore, not important]
  • use/usage [meh - both can be correct, 'usage' is not always wrong]
  • the American expression "I could care less" for "I couldn't care less" [I could care less about it]
  • replying "I'm good" to "How are you?", instead of "I'm well" [I use both]
  • "is" or "are" for implied-plural nouns - e.g., "my bank is profitable" or "my bank are not passing on the Reserve Bank interest rate cut". Either is correct (the grammar, not the situation, boom-tish).

On the other hand, I find really odd and jarring that American grammar of using "would" instead of "had" for the past or conditional perfect: as in, "I wish you would have told me" instead of "I wish you had told me", or "if I would've known" instead of "if I had known".  That's annoying.

Oh, but have I mentioned that I also hate it when people correct other people's grammar, especially on social media?  It's snobbish, cheap, and rude. (Grit your teeth and write a blog post instead).

Finally, if I have made grammatical mistakes in this post: this means that you are a pedant and language evolves and GET OVER IT.   :-)

What do you hate?
What could[n't] you care less about?


  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. Hi Jackie,

    I sometimes struggle to get over grammatical errors and especially hate new "yoofspeak".

    I NEVER make errors in grandma myself.




  3. Let me think. Ah, yes: 'Should of' instead of 'should have'

    losing 'ly' at the end of many words thanks to the Yanks: "It tasted real good," instead of "It tasted really good."

    HATE 'chillax' as it sounds like a cheap herpes ointment instead of the intended meaning!

    1. Oh GOD yes, 'should of'!
      Huh - you're right about chillax, that's all I'll hear now.



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