Lately I’ve found myself snarling when I see language usages that are blatantly incorrect. And I see them everywhere, every day. As a responsible writer, I feel it’s my duty to call attention to these mistakes.
I most often explode when reading one of my local newspapers, The Rapid City Journal, for which I was once an intern as well as a regular staffer. I worked and learned during the reign of the late Jim Kuehn, who would never have put up with any of these insults to the language we were taught to revere.
And when I worked for the Sioux City Journal in college, Harvey, the gravel-voiced local editor, would have bellowed the name of the offending writer across the newsroom and explained the error at the top of his lungs so that no writer in the place missed the message. He referred to this method as “educating journalists.” I wish more journalists had studied in those tough schools.
Here are some usages I’ve read lately which are incorrect or just plain annoying.
We’ve been experiencing some issues that have interrupted service.
No, your organization has had problems, it has had outages, or it has had interruptions, but it has not had “issues.” My favorite dictionary, The American Heritage, lists 8 definitions with some sub-definitions for the word “issue” and none of them makes “experiencing some issues” correct.
She shared with me that you would like a ride to the auditorium.
People seem to share all kinds of things these days– diseases, meals, spouses– but what “she” did was tell you that I wanted a ride to the auditorium.
The registration lives in a folder in the glove box.
Yes, the registration is in the glove box, eating, defecating, taking showers and calling its friends at 3 a.m. Get a pet. This is paper; it is not alive. You risk dismemberment if you tell me your bicycle lives in the garage.
No you’re not. You’re adulterating a perfectly respectable noun with a confusing addition. Adult is a noun. Adding “ing” does not make it a verb, and might lead to similar attempts to turn perfectly good words into some cutesy cliché. We already have “I’m penciling you in,” which is more than enough. Stop it right now! From now on, I’m going to assume everyone who uses the term ADULTING is ADULTERATING the language by committing ADULTERY.
To my horror, I see that the Rapid City Journal of March 28 printed an advertisement from Black Hills State University offering an “Adulting Seminar.” Worse yet, it’s the second such day-long event, in which students are taught “life skills necessary for success after college.” The program’s host says, “Many students enter the workforce without knowing the basics of buying a home, purchasing insurance or borrowing money.” Apparently those who will be teaching those very necessary skills have entered the workforce without having any respect for correct grammar. And in two years of advertising this program, no one has corrected the advertisement.
What you mean to say is “Hear! Hear!” The phrase “hear him, hear him!” was used in Parliament from late in the 17th century, and was reduced to “hear!” or “hear, hear!” by the late 18th century. The verb hear had earlier been used in the King James Bible as a command for others to listen.
“for all intensive purposes”
You mean “for all intents and purposes,”
The phrase “to all intents, constructions, and purposes” dates from sixteenth-century English law. Later, the shortened “for (or to) all intents and purposes” became more popular than the original phrase. It means “in every practical sense” or “virtually.”
“Intensive” means “characterized by intensity.”
these impulses need to be reigned in
It is highly unlikely that a ruling monarch will be restraining your impulses; instead, like an unruly horse, they will be “reined in,” or controlled, possibly with a couple of leather straps.
The older children reigned in the toddlers
I threw the mystery in which this phrase appeared across the room for several reasons but this was the proverbial last straw. In this instance, apparently the older children brought the toddlers under control by “exercise of sovereign power,” rather than by “reining” them in, or restraining, checking or guiding them.
My head hurts as if it were in a vice
The word needed here is vise, which refers to a metal tool with movable jaws that are used to hold an object firmly in place while work is done in it. This clamping device is typically attached to a workbench.
“Vice” on the other hand is “immoral or wicked behavior.” And certainly the vice of drinking might cause your head to hurt, but that’s no excuse for this mistake.
A crashed drone attached with bags of marijuana and tobacco was found. . . .
No, the drone had bags of marijuana and tobacco attached to it.
All this will help to grow the economy
No: all this will help to improve the economy, or make it better, or increase its profit margin. The economy is not alive; it cannot grow.
campaign to grow their space
This one gets another usage note in my American Heritage, which says this transitive use “applied to business and nonliving things is quite new. It came into full bloom during the 1992 presidential election, when nearly all the candidates were concerned with ‘growing the economy.’ The Usage Panel is decidedly less fond of this development than business leaders and politicians are. Eighty percent of the panel rejects the phrase grow our business.” Again, I am delighted to be in the majority.
The note continues that “The Panel has no affection for the odd but occasionally heard phrase grow down: 98 percent reject ‘If elected, I shall do my utmost to grow down the deficit.’” Shudder. I will never vote for a politician who uses these phrasings.
The boy dreams of being an iconic figure in baseball. Lady Gaga is known for her iconic outfits.
The first definition of “icon” is simply “an image,” but the second is “a representation or picture of a sacred or sanctified Christian personage.” So the reader of this overused word might surmise that the boy would like to become a Christian figure in baseball, and Lady Gaga is known for dressing like a Christian
A State Department spokesperson walked back his comments about the crisis in Korea
He didn’t walk anywhere, though assigning a good long walk might give him time to reconsider his hasty comments and his grammar. The man changed his mind, or misspoke, or lied, or maybe really wished he hadn’t said that, or was ordered to retract the statement, but he didn’t walk anywhere. He wants us to forget what he said the first time.
He was pouring over the document
If he was “pouring” something over the document, we need to know what liquid he was using. If he was “poring” over it, he was studying it closely
People tell me that they reached out to me when I’ve never met them.
They did not stretch out a body part to touch me, and they did not touch me– the top two dictionary definitions of “reach.” If they want to talk with me, they could email, or telephone (if they can find my unlisted number), or use Facebook. But if they tell me they are “reaching out” to me, I probably won’t answer.
was found inside the burnt home
No, it was found in the burned home, the past tense of burn. Burnt sugar and burnt toast are both more common in published text than burned sugar or burned toast, but both are incorrect. Burnt is also used in color names like burnt umber and burnt sienna, so this common mistake is easier to understand. I, however, do not forgive it.
This term might be appropriate if a monk or a nun who had taken vows not to speak and hadn’t uttered a sound for 65 years decided to address the nation, but for some rock star to use the term to explain the lyrics of his latest song, or a spurned lover to call a news conference to talk about the unreasonable demands made by the ex– no.
I wanted to connect with you
If “connection” is what you have in mind, I consider your suggestion obscene and insulting, though all you really have done so far is to write me a letter. I do not “connect” with folks to whom I do not have a close romantic relationship.
a haunting first novel
When “haunting” is used to describe a first novel, the reviewer is using the dictionary definition of “unforgettable,” but I’ve seen few first novels that weren’t easy to forget. Rather, the overuse of this word suggests to me that the book being reviewed was a ghost of what a novel should be: a pale shadow of good writing, as if the writer had heard of the rules of good English but like some government officials, doesn’t believe in them.
Or perhaps the novel most resembled someone dressed in a sheet and waving their arms, a ghost of a novel composed of poor spelling, terrible grammar, flimsy plots and unbelievable characters who never come to life.
My vacay this year
If you’re too exhausted to say the entire word– “vacation”– you’d better stay home or get to a doctor.
she will graduate high school
I was fascinated to discover an extensive note in The American Heritage Dictionary about this usage. The preferred definition is this: “Graduate: to be granted an academic degree or diploma.”
At the bottom of the page appears the following: “Usage note: The verb graduate has denoted the action of conferring an academic degree or diploma since at least 1421. Accordingly, the action of receiving a degree should be expressed in the passive, as in She was graduated from Yale in 1998. . . . In general usage, however, it has largely yielded to the much more recent active pattern (first attested in 1807): She graduated from Yale in 1998. Eighty-nine percent of the panel accepts this use. . .The Usage Panel feels quite differently about the use of graduate to mean ‘to receive a degree from,’ as in ‘She graduated Yale in 1998.’ Seventy-seven percent object to this usage.”
You may count me among those conscientious objectors– a clear majority!
An historian from this region wrote that the locals in one of South Dakota’s wilder regions “distain the sight of a tire track.”
What he meant to indicate was that these ranchers viewed a tire track with “disdain: To regard or treat with haughty contempt; despise.” I had picked up this book at my local library; I quickly put it down again and advised the librarian of its error.
I’ve even seen ads for “anti-cellulite body wash;” does anyone really believe that taking a bath will remove cellulite? Here’s an ad for “foamous” body wash– what in the world does that do? How about “energizing” or “calming” cleanser? “Age defying renewing” body wash? “Nourishing” herbal body wash?
“Virgin coconut oil”: well, we wouldn’t want coconut oil that had been around the block a time or two, now would we? “Shower gel” promises to keep your skin “fresh,” but I suspect that if you sweat when you work out, it won’t be “fresh” long.
When I want to get clean, I’ll still reach for soap. I just wish there was a “mouth wash” to clean these words and phrases off the tongues of the speakers who use them.
Linda M. Hasselstrom
Windbreak House Writing Retreats
Hermosa, South Dakota
© 2019, Linda M. Hasselstrom
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Neither the snarling Westie who hates misused phrases, at the beginning of this blog, nor these two Westies who are pleased with well-written prose, are my dogs. These photos were borrowed from the internet with my thanks.