Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Language Change Starts with Irritated English Teachers

I used to hate the drive to Grants Pass because I had to pass by the sign just north of Cave Junction advertising fresh "CRON" (corn). It was similarly misspelled on both sides of the road; going north or south, it was impossible to avoid being offended by this misspelling. These signs remained in place for two years.

As an English scholar, I am often irritated by misspelled signs, of course. It bugs me because sign-making is publishing, making public, writing for mass consumption. Presumably writing for mass consumption should be subject to some review.

The book I'm teaching, Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler is on its fifth printing, complete with revamped cover art. Yet it is riddled with absurd misspellings, things the spellchecker should have caught on the first printing. Couldn't they revamp the spelling in one of the reprintings?

Some mistakes are so common, so ubiquitous that they will only perpetuate more of the same. Lead when the writer means led, for example. It's for its.

In ordinary written communiques (emails, for example), I am not nearly so picky. And with the spoken word, even less so. If people spoke in perfect grammar we'd all sound like robots. Besides, I'm a Southern woman and I have an ear for the softer enunciations and such. But there are a few common mistakes in speech that particularly irritate me. Here are the top two:

Flustrated- This is not a word!! It is the illegitimate child of frustrated and flustered. Yet, the state of being the speaker is describing is indeed often a combination of these two states. So will this eventually become a word in its own right?

Another one is "All the sudden." As far as I know, it's supposed to be "all of a sudden." But really, do either of them make sense literally?

The language is changing, that's for sure, and that is what I dearly love about language. As a matter of fact, the things that bug us now may become commonplace in the future.

Update: I found this huge list of common errors that really puts me in my place, since I'm sure I make or have made a great many of them myself. A good reminder that nobody's perfect.


Kym said...

"All the sudden" is how us here in the hills say it but, I love the correct version "all of a sudden"-- not a part of a sudden, not a bunch of a sudden but all of it sprang out at once.

Now THAT captures the surprising nature intended to be conveyed by the sentiment.

I wonder what a sudden looks like?

Indie said...

Those pesky little idioms just can't stand up to the light of day!