A reply to The Amused Curmudgeon about arrant language errors

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.

Filed under: Expressions, Writing


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  • I caught you. "--ly" is an adverb. I determined that your criticism was based on an inference from his writing only by doing a search for "ly" in the browser. Getting back to the prior discussion of organizing by sorting, I was taught that transition words were necessary. My objection to adverb abuse is to such phrases as "wipe down" the fitness equipment, as it doesn't make any difference if you wipe the equipment up or sideways, and it seems akin to ending a sentence with a preposition.
    I also caught you using "diction" in the manner I said was proper.
    There were two Jeopardy categories yesterday responsive to his post: one was singular, of such things as "errata" and the other was homophones. Maybe my "Region" diction (in the other sense) got me in trouble yesterday in a conversation when I said "I need an endorphin boost," and someone asked "can I help," to which I said "I don't know," but they took it as "hell no."
    I also thought that people who talked to themselves were psychotic, but they must be on cell phones.
    Finally, how you treat French tourists is not how the French and Quebecois treat Americans.

  • In reply to jack:

    Thank you, Jack. I'm glad to show you that you're a good influence. Meanwhile, how I treat French-speaking tourists is a way to improve their experience in Chicago, along with a way for me to keep my French in shape.

  • "Midwestern accents are not the easiest to understand, even for natives."
    Midwesterners were (are?) preferred for military announcers due to the midwestern accent being the easiest to comprehend of all American accents. Being from New England, I am a "pahk the cah by the hahbah in Cuber" guy. I still vividly recall the drill instructor's reaction when he called out my name, and I, hearing an "r" and not an "ah" sound in the middle of it, did not respond.

    God help us all if a Glaswegian enters the room.

  • In reply to Grundoon:

    Thanks, Grundoon-with-an-R. The Midwestern accents are fine for clear consonants; it's the vowels that give us trouble. Try giving a Midwesterner the ash container he has worked for -- the urn he earned -- and you'll hear my point. My dad once wanted a committee secretary to repeat part of calling the roll because she pronounced a Mr. Lang differently than Dad's name. I was raised to hear the difference between "Lang" and "Laing" long before I heard that story. (Clue: The former is a short A, closer to "long" than my own name, which has a long A.)

  • In reply to Grundoon:

    P.S.. The Amused Curmudgeon has another great example in his headline about airing arrant errors -- three different vowel sounds, but most Midwesterners have a rough time even hearing them, let along pronouncing them.

  • In reply to Grundoon:

    There are two ways to look at a Midwestern accent.The first was that it was standard television English, especially when most network TV originated in Chicago. I was taken somewhat aback when I first watched CNN and the anchors spoke "Southern," but apparently CNN is no longer from Atlanta.

    The other way is to look at Chicago metropolitan area speech, most typified by the two Mayors Daley, who slaughtered the language. My reference to Region diction goes back to one time when I was in southern Indiana and I didn't understand people who asked if I was from "duh Region." It was later explained to me that because of the Polish and German influence, people from the Calumet Region couldn't pronounce "th--" and had lazy articulation. Maybe not surprisingly, people from Buffalo NY have a similar accent.

  • In reply to jack:

    Thank you. The Mayors Daley (thank you for that correct usage) are a big reason I refer to Midwestern accents and not only Chicago ones. As for Southern accents, they can start the southern parts of the Midwest. I know of Hoosiers (in Indiana) who not only "warsh" things, but "wrench" them when they're done -- that's what "rinse" becomes.

  • In reply to Margaret H. Laing:

    There were some in NW Indiana, attracted by jobs in the steel mills. However, there are also regional Southern pronunciations near Indiana. Louisville is pronounced Lahvuhl.

  • Kudos, Margaret. And thank you for the corrections. Though you were lucky enough to learn about language from your parents, I was even luckier. I was raised by my single-parent deaf-mute mother. Hence, I was able to sidestep aping bad grammar and horrible diction.

  • In reply to badjack:

    You're most welcome, badjack. Thank you for being a stickler with me -- it can feel lonely, can't it? Congratulations on your own language-conscious upbringing.

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