When I Am Linguistic Queen
I will be a benevolent dictator. Unless you do any of the following things, in which case I will turn up at your door with a copy of Strunk & White and the collected works of Ernest Hemingway. And I will hover over you, menacingly while you read and absorb each spare sentence of both.
Yes, language evolves. Yes, we need new words. Yes, we are free to invent cute, clarity-enhancing new terms for things.
But let us not simply replace existing, perfectly-good words simply because we are too lazy to find out that they exist.
And before you go correcting my grammar, I’m perfectly aware that I started these sentences with prepositions and you know what? It’s fine. It’s a conscious stylistic choice. It does not obscure meaning. It reflects modern structures and modes of communications. It does not, to the vast majority of the population make me sound like an unlettered oik. It’s fine. Get over it. (This is my fantasy and I am Linguistic Queen, remember?)
Making up words that obscure meaning is not OK
Language is about communication. Communication requires that we all share a pool of commonly-used words, the meanings of which we all understand. It is also about throwing in the occasional unusual word because it makes things more clear, or illustrates a concept perfect, even if someone has to go to the dictionary to check the meaning. Dictionaries are easy to get nowadays. My Kindle has one built in so I don’t even have to page away from the book I’m reading if I need clarification (not “clearness“).
Words And Phrases You May No Longer Use In My Absolute Kingdom
Instead of using conversate why not try converse? Better yet talked to. I’ll even give you speak to as long as you do not use it in the following ways:
1. “Can you speak to the problem of binge drinking?”
No, Mr. Interviewer. I cannot speak to the problem of binge drinking. Binge drinking is a concept. It is a problem. It is not a person. It has no ears. I can, however, speak about it.
2. “The decline in piracy speaks to the rise of global warming.”
No it doesn’t. Global warming, likewise, has no ears. The decline in piracy may indicate a subsequent rise in global warming (except it doesn’t. That’s a logical fallacy: a subject for a different rant.).
Note: A word that sounds a bit like conversate that you may still use with impunity is conversant. If someone is conversant with a topic, it does not mean they are talking with it or about it, it means they are familiar with the details. Use at will.
Seriously. Why? Just say use.
This is not a word. This was a punch-line in Friends. The word you want is supposedly. My eight year old may stumble over this. If you are older than him, you may not.
Drugs are not addicting. Neither is Game of Thrones. They are not going out and hunting you down and addicting you to them. What ever it is you are addicted to, the thing itself is more passive than that. It is addictive. You are addicted. It is addictive. Addicting? Not a word.
There, They’re, Their
I know. They sound the same. You only need to know the difference when you’re writing. But we’re all writing and reading much more than we used to (thank you, Internet). If you want me to know what you mean, and not have to stop and wonder why it looks wrong, thereby losing all sense of what you are trying to communicate to me, use the correct form.
There is related to place. I don’t have a trick to help you remember that. Sorry, but it’s just one word. Commit it to memory. There=place.
They’re is a related to them (they are. It’s right there, in how you spell it. They, them, they’re, they are).
Their is the weird-looking cousin of the there/they’re family. No other word really looks like it. It can only be used when talking about people and the things that belong to them, for example, their weird-looking cousins.
Note: Likewise, if you’re not sure which homophone of a word to use, look it up. It’s easy to make a mistake. I’m not judging you on that. I’m judging you if you don’t care that you’re making the other person work too hard to understand you. Don’t be inconsiderate.
Examples: I don’t want to sore (ouch), I want to soar. I don’t want a peak (mountain top) at your work. I want a peek. I don’t want a roll (fall down and writhe) in your movie, I want a role.
The Problem Is, Is
The problem is you’re repeating yourself unnecessarily. The problem is. Not the problem is, is.
People say, “The problem is, is I’m going to be out that night.”
You wouldn’t say, “Is I’m going out that night.” so why say, “The problem is, is I’m going out”?
It’s a stylistic tic that I hear all the time and I’m alerting you to it now, so you can cut it out.
“The problem is [state the problem]“. Done.
It’s French. It’s literally “see there” (voire: to see, là: there). It’s spelled “voilà” and pronounced “Vwah-LA”. It’s a real word used to express satisfaction, approval or sudden appearance. Use it with joy, but use it with a v.
Things I Have No Problem With
It’s not all judgment and dictatorship, as Linguistic Queen. I’m really quiet laid back. There are many non-traditional words, phrases and language evolutions I’m totally cool with. So really, am I asking too much?
Dialect and Accent
If, in your local dialect people reliably say “aks” instead of “ask” or “li–berry” instead of “library“, that’s just an accent thing. If everyone around you says it the same way, you might have some trouble spelling it properly, but you’re not obscuring meaning. Carry on, as you were.
If you come from an area with distinct dialect patterns that don’t follow standard English, feel free to use them. They’re part of your heritage. Don’t let anyone tell you you’re wrong. Even me (OK, maybe me).
However, you will probably also benefit from knowing how to use standard English for those occasions that call for interaction with people from other places, or a more formal setting. (In fact, in my experience, people who have a genuine dialect pattern, tend to be able to drop into standard English with more precision than people who just don’t use Standard English because they just don’t care.)
Yeah, the word is nuclear (new-clee-ar), but if you say noo-cular, everyone knows what you mean. Don’t sweat it. (But do spell it properly.)
As an informal group-collective that has, arguably, become non-gender-specific, I call this one of the ways language has evolved. Sure, you could use people or everybody, or all. None of these are particularly grammatically sound and not everyone can get away with shouting “Ladies and Gentlemen” before beginning a sentence. I vote we move over to “guys”. Except this is not a constitutional monarchy. I’m Linguistic Queen and therefore “Guys” is now decreed an acceptable gender-neutral collective noun. Deal with it.
And that’s it for today. I’m all out of outrage.
What words get you riled up? Share the horror in the comments section.