When my still unscheduled late-midlife therapy begins, there is little doubt an entire session should be devoted to my mild obsession with words and language.
I am certain sensible, well-adjusted folks don’t clip stories from print newspapers, correct the grammar and/or punctuation and send them to the editor.
Or use a permanent marker to strike through a misplaced apostrophe on public signage.
There must be some malfunction deep in a man’s psyche that would cause him to become so distracted he would spend valuable time doing such things. I look forward to learning what it might be.
In the meantime, however, the anxiety continues over the committing of grammatical crimes once strictly prohibited.
For the most part, even though I once conducted a one-parent crusade against it, I am over becoming apoplectic when a news broadcaster, or anyone else for that matter, ends a sentence or question with the word “at.”
You should know, when instructing my young children, I was kind about it. If one of them asked where something or someone was “at,” I took the time to explain how that sentence-ender is simply unnecessary. I did not tell them any of the tasteless jokes that sprang from the use of this preposition after the word “is” or “are.”
Today, even if I wanted to share one of those jokes with anyone, it would likely be met with blank stares, because saying “Where are you at?” has become so commonplace as to be (almost) acceptable. I dare say I hear it every day (although not, I am proud to say, from any of my adult children, who learned their lessons well).
I have also become more patient with the misuse of an apostrophe with plurals than I once was, although it still makes my skin crawl. When I receive a Christmas card signed by “The Smith’s,” I don’t cross through the apostrophe with a red marker and return it to them, or stick the corrected document on the refrigerator as a reminder to anyone who sees it. That is progress on my part.
Lest anyone think I am above making language errors, I am pleased to share that readers of this column have corrected me over the years. I am appreciative of their mild rejoinders.
A reader once criticized my use of the term “raising children” and said children are reared, not raised. I did a little research and learned while “reared” was once probably considered the better of the two words, over time “raised” had become acceptable.
This came from a respected college language professor with an online presence who explained how language evolves. Still, I thanked the person who took time to chastise me and promised to be more thoughtful with my use of words.
My favorite comment about language came a few years ago from a sharp-eyed reader who took issue with my use of the word “unique.” I had referred to a certain item as “more unique” than another.
“Unique indicates something has a quality unlike any other,” he kindly explained to me. “Unique thus cannot take a qualifier (more, most, less, least).”
I consulted a Brentwood High School English teacher about this one. Not surprisingly, he concurred with the reader, although he conceded seasoned writers may sometimes take license, which their editors will allow at their discretion. I decided I am not seasoned enough to do that and accepted his decision.
With lesson learned, I thanked the reader for wanting to help sharpen my skills. I am fully aware how in my enthusiasm, I get a bit wordy, even to the point of misusing words, a tendency more than one editor has called to my attention. I hope I have made improvement in that area.
Although I have, as stated, become somewhat less annoyed with sloppy word usage, I simply will not tolerate a disturbing trend I am seeing. It is in the area of first-person pronouns, such as, “Me and John are coming to see you.”
I have noticed this one creeping in for a couple of years, used by people who should know better. I am concerned it is becoming as common as “Where at?” and I would ask fellow language purists to help prevent this from happening.
I would guess this is covered around fourth grade or so. If any elementary school teachers are reading, please confirm or correct as needed. Also, please let me know if the old rules are being ignored, or even worse, omitted.
If so, I can only hope it is a most unique situation.
Bob McKinney is a longtime Brentwood resident, happy husband and proud father, father-in-law and grandfather. Email him at [email protected].