Another of my ten favorites among the 50 chapters of “Championship Writing” by writing coach Paula LaRocque is Chapter 16, “Pet peeves: Go ahead, ax me about irregardless.”
(Whew. Typing that subtitle hurt!)
In “Pet peeves,” LaRocque writes, “Most people are passionate about what they consider misuse of the language.”
(That “what they consider” gets my radar going … who’s considering it incorrectly?)
She adds that “our language and its proper use are dear to us.” In other words, especially here, we’re Serious about them.
“Some countries,” LaRocque writes, “even have ministries of language charged with preserving the purity of the mother tongue.”
That once sounded like a glorious idea to me. But since I read George Orwell’s “1984,” I haven’t been as sure of the idea. At this point, we non-governmental language mavens and aces need to be mindful of our responsibility.
What LaRocque calls “sensitivity” is why she says “we feel bound to correct others’ grammar or usage although we know it might embarrass them.”
Most of us, she points out, have what she calls “well-defined linguistic pet peeves.” The trouble is that sometimes, the pet peeve is a mistake. Examples she gives include “using couple or none as plural nouns, or beginning sentences with and or but.”
Even when people know their pet peeve is a mistake, LaRocque says, they still don’t like it.
One of the better descriptions in this chapter for me, a good mnemonic for the words, is about a colleague of LaRocque’s. She reports that when he hears literally and figuratively misused or confused, he “stops in his figurative tracks and grits his literal teeth.”
Finding similar ways to remember good usage is a great way to improve your own writing and speaking. Being sensitive to finding others’ memorable use of words can make your reading more fun, too.
For the first writing tip of the new year, “Spell-checkers,” come on back next Monday — or subscribe using the button above. Happy holidays!