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08 April 2011 @ 11:23 pm
On Language and Word Usage  
So I'm rolling down to the end of my semester; I'm done in a week and a half. And I'm not required to take my Greek literature final, because I have an A in it. I decided that it would just be masochism to show up and take in anyway. The only dilemna this gives is that I have an exam on Wednesday, and my final two on the following Tuesday. I don't care enough to spend five days studying.

In Latin, I've been learning more about English than I did in grammar school. I've been thinking a lot about language lately because of it.

First of all, there are idioms that every language has, which probably don't make sense to people learning the language. Like Latin's "I am looking a long time." I can't think of a ton of English ones off the top of my head, but one I do know is "Know when to say when." These things interest me a lot, along with untranslatables. I don't know whether English really has any of its own, but I know that we adopted some, such as the word "angst."

American has morphed as a dialect, too. I didn't know that "shall" is supposed to be used in the first person, and "will" in the second and third; if you mix it another way, it puts emphasis on the action. At least in America, though, the word "shall" is disappearing altogether, along with "whom". (The latter is something that I refuse to give up, though. Putting "who" after a preposition just sounds ugly.)  "I will have..." is also disappearing, however we do use "I'll've". What a contaction! There is one absolutely hideous word, which I believe spawned in New York, "youse," which is a strange attempt to pluralize "you." That's not a common term, though.

I wonder how many of American's 'incorrect' grammar tendencies come from the fact that people came from all over the world, and just had to figure out how to speak English, as opposed to actually being taught.

Then there is the abandonment of proper grammar for political correctness. Namely "they" being used as a singular. It's really only ever used in casual speech; you'd get marked down on any formal paper if you used it in singular. I've had professors who want us to be politically correct, and therefore either use "he or she" or to switch the gender of our examples regularly. The first sounds clumsy, and the second is just plain confusing. Personally, I'd prefer to be non-pc if I can avoid either of those two options, and therefore I use 'him' regularly in papers if I an get away with it. (On the other hand, I've used to term "one", as in "one would think...")

Anyway, just some thoughts to mull over.


Yes, I am making it clear that I'm editing this, because I have had something that's been bugging me for a while, and it does pertain to the topic at hand, and I want to emphasize the annoyance I'm really feeling.

People need to start learning to open dictionaries. I do. Instead of going with what you hear a word being used as all the time, if you aren't 100% sure of the meaning, look it up. There are words that are commonly used incorrectly, and therefore the meaning has been overly-broadened in common speech, or people think that it means something that it isn't at all. The Roman poet Horace said that writing is like making a statue; you have to sculpt and mold until it is just right. Hence how phrases of his, like "Carpe Diem," became so perfect that we still use them. And really, you aren't going to get any better if you only go by what your peers say.

So yes, I'm getting more and more annoyed at the incorrect usage of words. Even more so at being corrected about words that I was right in using in the first place, but by incorrect popular opinion, are apparently wrong. (Until the OED tells me differently, I will not be swayed.)

aaa_mazing: worked outaaa_mazing on April 9th, 2011 05:31 am (UTC)
I was taught to use 'shall' with I and We. Some textbooks here in Russia still have this rule, and some of my elderly colleagues still teach students to use 'shall' in the mentioned cases.
MissTeacakesmissteacakes on April 9th, 2011 05:38 am (UTC)
See, Americans aren't formally taught these things in grammar school. I don't know how things are with the British, but it seems to be my experience that non-native speakers, once qualifying as "advanced," tend to have better grammar than those who grew up with the language.
aaa_mazing: worked outaaa_mazing on April 9th, 2011 08:43 am (UTC)
I see. People with 'pure' British English often turn out to be non-native speakers.
See you later, instigator: Adam Rippon - gestureoudeteron on April 9th, 2011 04:32 pm (UTC)
The singular "they" actually isn't incorrect or inherently casual (it worked for Shakespeare just fine, and has been appearing in literature for quite some time). In my experience, I've never been marked down in papers for it either, because the professors grading them seem to have grasped the necessity of a gender-neutral pronoun ("he or she" actually isn't inclusive) - and if they did try to bill it as "incorrect", I'd argue. Really, this idea of using "they" to denote a single person as being somehow substandard is a misconception.