A reply to The Amused Curmudgeon about arrant language errors
If you heard some unexplained cheering on the evening of May 10, that was my voice. I was reading the post by my fellow ChicagoNow blogger, The Amused Curmudgeon, headlined ‘Airing My Gripes About Arrantly-Erring On-Air Language.”
I was delighted to see “overturned meanings,” “the unlikeable like” and other pet peeves among my fellow writer’s catches. Since I could not manage to comment directly on the post — a problem worth its own post someday — a reply here seems to be in order.
Do people not realize that learning the language isn’t just for passing tests? It’s for communicating. Once I’ve learned something, I enjoy talking to someone else who has learned it. I’m confident that The Amused Curmudgeon and I would have a lovely conversation and enjoy one another’s vocabulary.
But with some words, I find myself thinking of the French tourists I used to meet when I worked at museums — the ones who would be so relieved to hear a sentence they could understand.
One of my favorite furies, to use William Safire’s variation on “pet peeve,” is hearing sloppy pronunciation in a radio chat, then having the sloppy person say “Oh, you know!” No, I don’t. Being specific, in this case, is being pacific — using exact diction pacifies (calms) your audience.
Midwestern accents are not the easiest to understand, even for natives. Another word that leaves me peeved is what you might call the U.S. word for a looking-glass, a mirror. An insignificant one, a mere mirror, would be hard for many Illinoisans to talk about — most of us do not take care to put the correct two syllables into “mirror.”
Being careful with your speech can have the sense of taking care of the language. Like the Curmudgeon himself, I enjoy thinking of my teachers — and two of my stronger ones were my parents. My father, who taught physics, would still be amazed over our family’s dinners by students who asked “Does spelling count on the test (or in the lab notebook, as the day went)?”
“It will count if you want me to understand what you’re writing!” Dad would say — in class, and again at the dinner table.
Meanwhile, my mother taught home economics when I was younger, changing to child development when I was in high school. Her influence on my speech was more in the “Be ladylike” vein — speak clearly, explain things well, be kind.
When it comes to the latter two items, I must gently disagree with The Amused Curmudgeon’s use of adjectives at the beginning of sentences. His “sadly” and “mournfully” look to me more like stage directions — he’s setting the tone for the next comment. But usage has evolved (no, devolved) to the point that “I sadly observe” or “I mournfully report” does not fit the voice of many writers.
I am glad, for his sake, that the curmudgeon was not riding on the bus I rode last week, on which a fellow rider used “the unlikeable like” every three or four words: “She was, like, saying what she thought was, like, important or something.” Since I didn’t hear a reply, I take it she was on a phone. My own voice stayed silent, but I was very tempted to tell her that I did not like hers one bit. Luckily for us both, my mother’s training held.
So The Amused Curmudgeon’s writing voice is a clear one, and I commend it to your attention if you’re looking to expand your reading on ChicagoNow.
To the curmudgeon himself, I can only add my thanks.
Meet The Blogger
Margaret H. Laing
I moved to Chicago from the south suburbs in 1986. I have diverse interests, but I love writing about what I’m interested in. Whether it’s a personal interest or part of my career, the correct words to get the idea across are important to me. I love words and languages — French and Scottish words enrich my American English. My career has included years as a journalist and years working in museums, and the two phases were united by telling stories. I’m serious about words and stories. So here I am, ready to tell stories about words and their languages.
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