Monday, September 14, 2009

Language That Bugs Me



Although I am not a member of the "speech police," I am annoyed that the media has recently adopted usages that I find irritating. I know that the English language changes over time, but I believe that changes should make sense.
For example, Webster's Encyclopedic Unabridged Dictionary defines the word "troop" as: 1.) an assemblage of persons or things; company; band. 2.) a great number or multitude.
I usually think of a troop as a group of boy scouts, state troopers or military personnel. As a result, when I hear the talking head say that more than 100 troops arrived home today, I imagine that the docks were inundated with thousands of soldiers, sailors or marines pouring out of a long line of ships. But this is media newspeak meaning that 100 service members, possibly a troop, arrived home today.
Another example from Webster's: unique; 1.) existing as the only one or as the sole example; solitary in type or character. 2.) having no like or equal; unparalleled; incomparable.
Recently I read an article in the New York Times, describing the Boston Red Sox pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka as being, among other things, so unique that blah, blah, blah. I presume that the writer feels that since Matsuzaka is “uniquer” than anyone else, he is the “uniquest” of all. I have also heard a TV host talking about one of the “most unique” things she ever saw.
Now I realize that Matsuzaka is unique, and the host may have been describing a unique object, but neither one is more or less unique than any other unique object. One would think newspaper editors and TV writers would know better. If your object is the only one of its kind in the whole world, it's unique. Otherwise it's not.
Many people complain that they have a disorder that prevents them from enjoying the sensation of touch. At least that's what they are really saying when they use the phrase "I feel badly. . . " to indicate they have a sympathetic reaction to some bad news. In this case, “badly” refers to the sensation of feeling, and might be correct if, say, ones fingertips were sanded off so that no sensation of touching passed to the brain. The word "bad" in "I feel bad . . " refers to the speaker, not to his or her nervous system; it indicates the emotional attachment one means to express. The same is true of all other linking verbs such as taste, smell, etc.
Although often heard, remarks such as "A-Rod is better than any player in all of baseball," and "Sir Clyde of Lemon is better than any dog in the show," don't even make sense. To be true, both A-Rod and Sir Clyde would have to be better than themselves. Give me a break!
A southern drawl or a Midwestern accent is one thing, but mispronunciation is something else entirely. TV reporters take great pains to avoid an accent, so when I hear one say that one event “ummediately” followed another, I assume that the speaker has some kind of speech impediment. To pronounce the word as if the first letter were "u" instead of "i" leaves a bad “umpression.”
Apparently some people who should know better have a problem differentiating "pre" and “pro” from "per." I often hear statements such as, "The accident could have been pervented." Please folks, when you talk like that it “persents” all your old English “perfessors” in a bad light.
From time to time new figures of speech appear in ordinary conversation, but lately one has appeared that is completely useless: "I want to say: yada, yada, yada." If you want to say something, just say it. I will jump to the wild and crazy assumption you wanted to say it, and if you didn't really want to, I will allow you to go back and make a correction. Life is short, save your breath.
Lastly, I will very briefly mention the language of athletes: sentences such as "It's like . . . you know …. whatever."
Enough said.

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