Tuesday, October 23, 2007

You say potato, I say linguistic train wreck

While checking out the new search queries data in Google Webmaster Tools this week, I noticed that I rank #2 for [separate wheat from chafe] (thanks to my last grammar rant). I was all ready to draft a follow-up post in the hopes of reaching a few more unenlightened searchers:

  • e + s is not pronounced [ex].
    So stop saying 'excape' instead of 'escape', and please stop saying 'expresso' instead of 'espresso'. Look it up. Really. It's espresso.
  • fiancé != fiancée
    If you choose to use the French word for "person to whom I am engaged", please be aware that (although they sound the same when spoken) there are two versions of the written word: fiancé is masculine, fiancée is feminine. A pre-husband is not a fiancée, nor is a pre-wife a fiancé, unless there's something they haven't been telling you.
  • nuclear
    I might be able to forgive him for stealing the election... twice... invading Iraq, ruining our international reputation, destroying the environment, attempting to constitutionally ban gay marriage, running our debt sky-high, and spending most of his time on vacation, if only Bush would stop saying 'nucular'. There's no vowel between the 'c' and the 'l', buddy. It's 'new' + 'clear'.
    ...Though on second thought, I probably wouldn't forgive him even then.

Yup, I was ready. But then I saw this article on YOUmoz. It argues that one man's grammar tragedy is another man's wordplay (using the examples of mondegreens, snowclones, and eggcorns):

You'll find these linguistic occurrences are popular on satirical websites like Fark and SomethingAwful, in cartoons and TV comedies, on the radio and in movies. Custodians of grammar may frown at the decay of 'proper English' but the laziness of online writers is a boon for observing the hyper-evolution of our language.

I shelved my draft and lamented having become a codger at 25.

But I think this commenter summed it up well for me: it's not that I don't like change in language. I love linguistic puns, code-switching, and other creative forms of breaking the "rules". I love hearing language twisted for clever or comedic effect; I just don't like hearing it twisted out of ignorance.

My phonetics professor in college used to dream of the day when everyone would learn the IPA (International Phonetic Alphabet) in school and mispronunciation would become a thing of the past. News anchors would no longer hesitate over the pronunciation of foreign names. You would no longer be asked to phonetically transcribe your name using English characters (most frustrating exercise ever!) so that the principal can read it out correctly at graduation. And Wait Wait... Don't Tell Me! wouldn't get to make fun of Bush for needing a phonetic cheat-sheet in his speeches.

While we're on the subject of language, I found this article on the language of the Berkshire Hathaway annual report both insightful and reassuring. At least I'm not the only neurotic out there.


Anonymous said...

Susan--I should let you grade some of my papers. I think no student knows the difference between affect and effect, since they ALWAYS use the wrong one. Frequently students don't mean what they say! Jenny

Anonymous said...

An American word (or should I say, a word used by Americans) baffled me for some time. "Carmel"?

I thought this was a place name - i.e. Mount Carmel etc. However, it appears to refer to the sweet "caramel".

Americans please note, there is no such word as "carmel" meaning "toffee". It is "caramel" and you really should pronounce the "a" in the middle. Look it up!