Language Lessons: In This Day-in-Age, Sort of Speak

Typebars in a 1920s typewriter

Language Lessons. … (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Communication in our society is littered with mangled phrases, as though most of the country learned colloquialisms via the telephone game. You know, like how “The eagle has landed” ends up as “The eager Icelandic.”

I used to work as a copy editor on the sports desk of an L.A.-area daily newspaper. We had one reporter who was notorious for hacking up the English language, and one night at work I’m reading one of his stories, and he actually wrote the phrase “Sort of speak.”

Sort of speak? I thought. What could he mea—




You know what he meant to say? “So to speak”!!!

I came across another good one today. This also was from a sports reporter (in this case ESPN)—I don’t know if just sports reporters that are horrible at this stuff, but anyway, this is how one sentence started:

In today’s day-in-age …

Seriously?!? If you really think that’s the proper term, Mr. Reporter, then please tell me: what exactly is a “day-in-age”? Because I have no idea what in the H-E-double-hockey-sticks that is. And why is it hyphenated? It looks like something the British like to do with river names: Stratford-upon-Avon.

Are you, perhaps, going for “day and age”? As in, “in the time in which we currently live”?

I thought so.

And P.S.: Where in the world are the editors on these articles? Really. Come on.

People, know what you’re saying before you say it.

Class dismissed. =)


Checking on the Whether

Typebars in a 1920s typewriter

Language Lessons. … (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Today’s Language Lesson concerns one of my biggest linguistic pet peeves: following “whether” with “or not.”

By definition, the word whether implies dual possibilities, one of them positive (I will) and one of them negative (I won’t). For example:

Whether I go to the concert depends on how I’m feeling.

In other words, if I’m feeling better, I’ll go to the concert, but if I’m still not feeling well, I won’t—and the use of whether implies both possibilities. Thus, there is no need to add “or not.”

A few more examples:

My decision depends on whether we get the grant. (We might get the grant, we might not; either way, whether covers it.)

“I don’t care whether you like peas, you’re going to eat them!” said Mom. (You might like peas, you might not; whether includes both possibilities.)

The issue boils down to whether the company can produce enough whizz-bangs. (The company might be able to produce enough whizz-bangs, it might not be able to; whether covers both potential outcomes.)

Class dismissed … whether you like it (or not)! =)

You May Be Wrong, You May Be Right

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Language Lessons. … (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I apologize for my prolonged neglect of Language Lessons—I’ve been focusing my time and attention on things such as Mormonism, creation vs. evolution, the fight over same-sex marriage, and the end of my first serialized novel, but class is now back in session.

What I’m going to teach you today maybe the most important Language Lesson yet.

Wait. That’s not true. Let me try again.

What I’m going to teach you today may be the most important Language Lesson yet.

Okay, so I’m sliiiiiightly exaggerating the impact and importance of this little column, but at least my second stab at that sentence was more accurate than the first. May be and maybe, with the exception of a slight pause in the former, sound identical, and have the same meaning, but they are not interchangeable.

Whenever you’re talking about whether you or someone else will be doing such-and-such, the correct form is may be:

Thomas may be going to the movies Friday night.

We may be out of town next weekend.

I may be going back to school next fall.

Maybe, on the other hand, is used mostly as an answer to a question … :

Sam: Do you want to go out for ice cream later?

Jerry: Maybe.

… and occasionally in awkward constructions (these are usually spoken, not written):

I’m thinking I’ll maybe go to the fair next weekend.

And that’s the story of maybe vs. may be. Class dismissed. =)

One and the Same

Typebars in a 1920s typewriter

Language Lessons. ... (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Clark Kent. Superman. Two identities, same guy—they are one and the same.

Not one in the same.

I can see how people would get this mixed up: Oftentimes the and gets phonetically shorthanded, sounding like (think rock ‘n’ roll), which sounds like in—ergo, we often end up with one in the same.

But now you have no excuse, so go out there and get it right!

Class dismissed. =)

The Truth About ‘Tolerance’ and ‘Judgmental Homophobes’

Typebars in a 1920s typewriter

Language Lessons. ... (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In my latest post addressing Mormonism, I touched on another topic that’s particularly relevant in this day and age: misusing and redefining certain words for the purpose of painting Christians and other conservatives in a negative light.

In that post I addressed the use of judgmental; in case you missed it, here it is again:

To be judgmental, particularly in a Biblical sense, is to make a premature, uninformed decision about something or someone—basically, to declare them guilty without reviewing all the evidence. My critique of Mormonism, however, wasn’t judgmental; it was discerning. Some people like to toss around Christ’s words on judging (in inappropriate fashion, of course), but they seem to never remember what the Bible says about discernment: namely, that we are to be “wise as serpents” (Matthew 10:16). If I’m faced with an issue, or a question, it’s my responsibility—as a Christian but also as a person—to educate myself on all relevant points. I’ve done (and continue to do) just that with Mormonism, studying its history, doctrines and practices (not to mention knowing a few Mormons), so I consider myself qualified to answer questions about Mormonism, particularly regarding how it relates to Christianity. This is using my God-given intellectual faculties to evaluate a situation; there is nothing judgmental about it. You may disagree with me—you may even dislike me—but that’s no excuse for being lazy, cowardly, or grammatically sloppy.

Perhaps king in the category of misused/redefined words is tolerance. I hear this word a LOT nowadays—and it’s almost universally misused, usually by liberals. Essentially, tolerate means to allow, so to not tolerate would be to not allow; for example:

“I will not tolerate that type of behavior,” said the parent to her rebellious child.

What liberals have done, however, is redefine tolerate to mean agree with, so if you simply disagree with them, you’re intolerant. Makes me look pretty bad, huh? Like I’m an ogre. This is especially true among those in the pro-homosexual lobby, but is this tactic accurate? No. I disagree with the homosexual lifestyle and same-sex “marriage,” but I don’t want to see homosexuals banned from the country or wiped off the face of the earth. Therefore, I really am tolerant, but liberals claim otherwise in an attempt to make those who think as I do look bad.

Another good example of this problem is homophobic. There’s such a stigma now attached to this word, but what does it really mean? It means fear of homosexuals/homosexuality. Am I, as a Christian, afraid of homosexuals? No. I simply disagree with that lifestyle and with same-sex “marriage.” By equating mere disagreement with fear, however, opponents of the homosexual agenda are made to look hateful and mean, not to mention intolerant.

It pays to educate yourself, especially when it comes to underhanded tactics and word games such as these. And the next time you fall victim to something like this, don’t be a victim; set the record straight.

Loose the Bad Grammar!

Typebars in a 1920s typewriter

Language Lessons. ... (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Alright, folks, I’m going to go easy on you today with a Language Lesson that’s short and sweet, nice and easy: loose vs. lose.

It may surprise you, but quite a few people get these two mixed up—more so now, it seems, because the Internet and texting encourage sloppiness. Here’s a common mistake:

I hope the Lakers loose tomorrow night.

Loose what? Loosen their muscles? Sure, that would be fine, but as much as I hate the Lakers (being a Celtics fan), I don’t want to see the Lakers loose, I want to see them lose.

Lose is the opposite of win.

Loose is the opposite of tight (example: make sure your seat belt isn’t too loose).

There you have it. Class dismissed. =)

Say ‘Good Night’ to ‘Goodnight’

Typebars in a 1920s typewriter

Language Lessons. … (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Editor’s Note: The following post can also be viewed at Jason Drexler’s new blog, Elements of English, which is dedicated to dissecting various features and idiosyncrasies of the English language.

The English language has many instances of two words getting pushed together into one, sometimes for better and sometimes for worse. One of the most confusing instances for people is that of good night vs. goodnight. Which one is correct? Or are both correct?

The short answer: Good night is correct and goodnight is wrong.

The explanation: Try thinking of it this way: Would you ever use goodmorning, goodafternoon, goodday, or goodevening? No, of course you wouldn’t (and if you are, you should stop!). Those things just look silly.

Some people have correctly pointed out that Oxford gives its stamp of approval to goodnight, but in this instance I believe Oxford has erred, and here’s why: I believe that consistency is crucial in any system (of language or otherwise)—otherwise, we’re making things more difficult for people—and in this case the easiest way to achieve consistency is to leave good night as two words (besides, all those other terms above look ridiculous as one word!).

Now you might be thinking, “But what about goodbye? Why is that one word? Shouldn’t it be two?” Those are goodquestions good questions.

The short answer: Goodbye is the correct form.

The explanation: Bye is not an element, such as day or afternoon, that would normally stand on its own; bye is, in fact, merely a shortened form of goodbye. When you say, for example, good evening, you’re literally wishing someone a good evening, so there’s a standalone element (evening) and a desire relating to that element (good); whereas with goodbye, you’re not literally wishing someone a good bye, because there’s no such standalone thing as a bye (unless, of course, you’re talking about a free pass through a particular round of a sports tournament). Thus, bye cannot grammatically stand on its own—unless used in the aforementioned manner of a shortened form of goodbye.


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