May I have a word with you?
today at 10:05 am
The nation’s word-slayer-in-chief misspoke last week, as he does most days. Reuters reported than when Trump was asked about Giuliani’s hospitalization with Covid-19, Trump replied: “Rudy’s doing well. No temperature.”
Wrong. Rudy did have a temperature, as everything, living or dead, does. What Rudy did not have, apparently, was an elevated temperature — a fever. It’s not as if a lower body temperature is always better either. If Rudy had cooled to, say, room temperature, he would not have been “doing well.”
Yes, I’m being a language curmudgeon. I realize that the majority of English speakers use temperature and fever interchangeably. But that doesn’t make it right.
In the years I taught writing, my goal was to help students communicate clearly, in their distinct voices. But when I spotted mistakes in grammar, I felt duty-bound to point out those errors to my students: lie vs. lay; they’re vs. their vs. there; it’s vs. its. That last one is easy to nail: if you can substitute the words it is for it’s, help yourself to that apostrophe. Those transgressions, however small, detract from the message.
I yell at the TV when a speaker says something like “The marriage counselor overcharged my husband and I.” Me is a good word — and here I’ve even made it the subject of my sentence! — so don’t be afraid to use it when you need an objective pronoun.
It’s hard to pick the most egregious language offense, but here’s my pet peeve: perfect. It’s not that I’m against perfection, but the bar for perfection has dipped so low that I can’t shimmy under it. Everything is perfect. Consider the medical assistant who interviews me over the phone before an appointment. Name? I spell it out. “Perfect!” Wow, I got it right. I ace my birth date too, to say nothing of my address.
Hmm. Who else uses perfect indiscriminately? Trump faced impeachment over what he characterized as a “perfect phone call” with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. This from the man who proclaimed, “I have the best words.”
Of all of Trump’s wrongs, slaughtering the English language belongs at the bottom of the list. Some of the damage done by his administration may take years to correct. But at least we won’t have to listen to his constant blather. And that, in my estimation, will be perfect.