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In to the Wind

December 20, 2011
By Mike Gilchrist , Toledo Chronicle, Tama News-Herald

I started to call this column verbal abuse, but it actually goes much deeper than that. The types of abuse of which I speak are those abuses of the English language which gnaw at me. They can be either verbal, or written.

I am mindful there is a distinction between the spoken and written word. The message contained in the written word detracts and distracts when imprecise grammar is used. However, a deliberate choice of words to connote dialect or evoke a specific feeling is not the same as an apparently careless error. Those careless errors are what drive me up the wall.

I have noticed one thing Iowans are prone to do is end sentences with unnecessary prepositions. "Where's the dog at?" or "When you go to the store, I wanna go with."

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A particular pet peeve of mine, and one heard regularly is the improper use of the past tense of "I see." "I saw" is the correct form, but often people say "I seen" instead. "I seen you in town" or "I seen a deer in the road this morning" are two examples I've heard recently. Maybe this is just a natural linguistic change, but to me it's like someone scraping their fingernails on a chalkboard.

We have become so cautious to be politically correct, that often certain words that are not gender specific are substituted for words which should be gender specific. For instance, the words "spokesperson" and "chairperson" are generic, for use when the gender is unknown. To say "Patrick is the chairperson" is wrong. He is the chairman. To say "The council will elect a new spokesperson" is correct, only if the council has both male and female council members.

Another odd linguistic habit I often notice is the tacking of an extra S onto the end of words. "That's besides the point."

Did you know that "champing at the bit" is the proper use of the term instead of "chomping at the bit?" The term means to show impatience at being held back or delayed. Many people get it wrong.

Why do people say "real good," or "real pretty" instead of using the ly adverb? "That cornbread is real good" or "You sure look real pretty in that new dress."

Language can be created. Idioms change and certain phrases become common through usage. Mark Twain, while exploring the mysteries of the Midwest in his fine novels, first wrote certain phrases which today might be considered to be in common usage. The phrases were "slang phrases" of the day. "Dead broke," "take it easy," to get even," gilt-edged" and "a close call" were all introduced into our vernacular by Mark Twain.

To those who are prone to those eureka moments, it is "flesh out an idea," not "flush out an idea," unless of course you do your best thinking on the toilet.

Why do so many people mangle the use of ensure and insure? Ensure is a transitive verb meaning to make sure, or certain. Insure is a verb meaning to acquire or provide insurance for something. Because I am on the board of directors, I felt it necessary to ensure the board was insured against liability claims.

How about those who use the word "literally" with a metaphor? This makes me crazy.

Why say, "They are literally at the end of their rope," when they are merely at the end of their rope, unless you intend to leave them dangling there indefinitely, literally.

"I literally couldn't stop laughing." Oh really? That sort of reminds me of that pope who had hiccoughs for umpteen years. Can you imagine eternal laughing? It would get very old after a few minutes I think.

"I got so mad I literally exploded!" I can see it now; blood and guts all over the walls.

I saw this as a Facebook post: "She literally stabbed me in the back!" As far as I know, murder is illegal in every state, as is attempted murder. Literally stabbed you? Gross!

For the information of those abusers who don't seem to know the difference, that strip of grass separating east bound from west bound on the Interstate is the median, NOT the medium.

Why is it so hard to use the right form "they're," a contraction for "they are," instead of "their," which is possessive, or "there" which usually denotes a place or point? How about the improper use of "your," instead of the contraction "you're?"

This sentence should alleviate any confusion: "They're going to use their vehicle to get there so you're going to need your car."

"On accident" drives me nuts. It's "by accident," and "on purpose."

"Same difference." While this probably evolved as a paradoxical statement humorously revealing a choice is not a choice at all, it loses something without the context: "Coke or Pepsi? Same difference."

One disturbing trend I see is the verbification of nouns. Google is a search engine, but in contemporary parlance, "to Google," a verb, means to look something up on the Internet. I guess it's akin to "Xerox" something" instead of "to copy" something.

I have learned that like way too many people like abuse the English language and like insert a discourse particle like way too often. Whatever!

"It's a mute point." Really? The point is silent? The word is moot!

It is a web site, night sight, and to cite an ordinance; get it?

Maybe I just need to get used to it. Our language is in a state of flux, and evolving. Perhaps one's insistence (mine) to hanging on to language patterns of the past is indeed a measure of ones (mine) age. I fear that one day soon the language of Mark Twain will sound as alien to a native speaker as the language of Chaucer does to me now. Evolution is a good thing. Maybe I need to evolve. Of course, that won't prevent me from whining when I hear people speak in ways I was raised to believe are wrong, but in all honesty, that's my problem.

For fear you are going to think I am a self appointed linguistic cop, I am going to bid you farewell and good day. May your morning coffee be strong, and your pillow soft and fluffy.

Until next time--

You can read past columns by visiting and clicking on "view all" next to "Local Columns."

In to the Wind and this column are copyright 2011 Mike Gilchrist. Readers, feel free to contact me at via email, or write to me at P.O. Box 255, Toledo, IA 52342.



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