Hi there! Welcome to my very miscellaneous blog. Here, I write about everything from mis-used words to gardening, to bad habits in society to going places and seeing things! Enjoy my ramblings.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Words and More, "Lesson" 2

Among the hundreds of thousands words in this crazy language we call “English,” there are hundreds ready and willing to trip us up at every turn. In this edition of the exploration of rascally words, I’ll expose more of the tricksters.

Some of the problems lie with an accumulated laziness of speech patterns, which seem to get worse with every passing generation. Others, as was pointed out before, are just snares in their own right, waiting to trip the unwary or careless.

To start with, lets examine a word having to do with facts: data. Notice I said ‘facts,’ in the plural That is ‘data.’ However, its singular form seems to be falling into disuse. A single fact is datum. “This datum.” “These data.” Awkward though it may sound, those are the correct forms. Thank our Latin section of language roots for that.

Let me digress for a moment. The problems people have with English are in large part due to it’s being a “bastard language.” English is descended mostly from Germanic roots, if we go back far enough in the etymology, but it has also borrowed heavily from French, Spanish, Italian, and Latin. The French, Spanish and Italian are all of Latin descent themselves. As a group, these are the ones often referred to as the “romance languages.” Coming down from their origins, then, modern day Italian remains nearest to its Latin roots, Spanish is next in line, and French has strayed the furthest away. With all this mix-up, and the Germanic roots, there is the compounding problem of attempting to apply Latin grammatical rules. No wonder people get aggravated trying to learn our spellings and usage!

The Germanic languages are themselves a far-reaching variety, including: Norwegian, Swedish, Faroese, (of the Faroe islands) Danish, Yiddish, Dutch, Afrikaans, Flemish, Frisian, and of course, modern English and German. Of these languages, many have themselves borrowed from others, complicating things even worse.

With that out of the way, let’s move on with the discussion of just-plain-wrong usage. Blame it on today’s public school system. There are plenty of errors made even in print media, and people in those professions should certainly know better. I think proofreading has gone by the wayside.

A prime example often seen is this: “Advanced tickets now on sale for xyz event.” Wrong! Advanced means at an accelerated or higher level, as in “Sally was in the advanced placement English class,” or, “John has taken his guitar playing skill to an advanced level.” To obtain ahead of time, however, is to do so in advance. No ending “d.” So, the advertisement should read, “Advance ticket sales for xyz event available through such and such a date,” or, “I learned in advance about the test questions.”

“Of” is a frequently over-used and mis-used word. Consider this example: “Harry is a friend of Emily’s.” Incorrect, because the “of” is simply not needed. Instead, the correct form would be one of the following two choices: “Harry is Emily’s friend,” or “Harry is a friend of Emily.” The first example is wrong because it uses a double-possessive. By using the apostrophe and ‘s’ with Emily, it’s already been established that the friendship “belongs” to Emily…the “of” duplicates this indication.

Next up is the shade of difference between responsible and reliable. These words do have similar meanings, but not the same meaning. It is this subtle difference that can cause a world of separation in the final meaning of the statement.

For example, a person I knew years ago constantly used this pair incorrectly. If something went wrong at work, but was not within her job description, she would say, “I’m not reliable for that.” Wrong, because ‘reliable’ means trustworthy, able to be relied upon to carry out one’s duties or follow through on a promise. Responsible, on the other hand, is the word she should have used. Responsible means able to stand on ones’ own and do what is expected without supervision. In your job description, there are certain duties which you are expected to carry out. you are responsible doing your job properly. You are not responsible for a task which falls under someone else’s job description.

A responsible adult is a reliable person. This is not a redundancy; the words are so similar in meaning, that ‘reliable’ even appears far down the list of definitions of ‘responsible’ in the dictionary. That said, there are real distinctions in how they are used, and for most purposes, it is best not to consider them as synonymous or interchangeable.

Now, some further irritating plural forms. Just how maddening is a language which assigns the plural of mouse as mice, and yet the plural of moose is still moose, and not ‘meese’? As most children learn from Dr. Seuss, “one fish, two fish…” ..fish and fish are both plural and singular. Once the Dr. Seuss story moves on to “…red fish, blue fish…” we are now dealing with fishes. The plural remaining the same as the singular applies only to fish of all the same type. As soon as there are different kinds of fish involved, it becomes ‘fishes.’ If you have 10 goldfish in your aquarium, you have 10 fish. If you have 5 goldfish and 5 betas, you now have 10 fishes. With a fair amount of regularity, we hear the phrase, “all the fish in the sea.” To be absolutely correct, however, it should be, “all the fishes in the sea.”

The next item on today’s list falls strictly under lazy or careless pronunciation. I doubt that there are very many people who actually do not know the correct word. I refer to folks saying, “supposably” (no such word), when they mean, “supposedly.” There are not too many problems with understanding the definition:

most of us understand that ‘supposedly’ means “expected,” “in the ideal sense,” and “if things work as they should.” “The bus supposedly arrives at 10:00 a.m.” “He supposedly cleaned his room.” Maybe so, and maybe not. There is an “iffy-ness” to this word. In point of fact, it would be better to say, in the first example, “the bus is scheduled to arrive at 10:00 a.m.,” and in the second, “he was supposed to have cleaned his room.” Tricky, subtle shades of meaning.

Finally, I will move into the restaurants. What will you have to drink? Cold tea with ice cubes added? How often do you hear an order for “ice tea,” (which usually comes out sounding like “eyestee”) .. instead of the correct, “iced tea.” Granted, this one takes conscious thought to say correctly as it involves a “hard stop” to make the break between the words so they do not run together as one. Not impossible, however.

Be careful with the language! The more difficult the language, the more care must be taken, and the more diligent its speakers must be. Subtle variations and mispronunciations do matter. Fistfights and worse have been started over something said the wrong way; and on a global level, so have wars!

There’s the bell. Class dismissed!

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The Death of Manners

The first hint that any society is in decay is a decline in manners and courtesy. Witness the upsurge of the "me generation" of the 1990's (and to some extent the 1980's), which shows no signs of abating, and is, in fact, increasing at an exponential rate. The folks who back then were so into "looking out for number one" are now raising (or have raised) children, and passing on those same selfish attitudes.

Folks do not seem to realize that selfishness and greed are connected to more than just their own private lives. Oh, but I forgot...they don't care about anyone else or the connections...and that is the whole problem.

It begins with small slips of decorum, such as neglecting to thank someone for holding a door open, or not writing a thank-you note to someone for a gift. Over time, these small lapses grow into larger and more glaring errors of etiquette, such as a younger person refusing to give their bus seat to an elderly person, or deliberately allowing a door to swing shut in someone's face.

An invitation to an event, any event, normally has the letters "RSVP" at the bottom. Everyone knows what this means. It means the courtesy of a reply is requested, and polite persons will reply. All it takes is a short phone call, or even an e-mail, "I'm sorry, I have a prior appointment, and won't be able to attend." Or, "Thank you very much for inviting me. I'd be delighted to come and share your celebration."

It's very simple, very quick, to do, and it is very rude to ignore an RSVP. It is even more rude to reply that you will come, and then not show up, and with no notification or apology. It is the rudest behavior of all to offer a "maybe, if no better offers come up in the meantime," reply, or to call at the last minute and tell the host that you will not come after all because so-and-so invited you to something else more recently.

This behavior is insulting to the hosts, and is like a slap in the face. Everyone today is so focused on "me first and foremost" that they have completely forgotten how to imagine themselves in the other person's place, and how that behavior would make them feel. (Remember the old Golden Rule? "Treat others as you would like to be treated"? It is as valid today as it ever was.)

After all, the host/hostess has a lot of planning to do--they need to know how many people to plan for. What if they bought all the food for the party, and no one bothered to show up, and no one had replied to the invitation? The hosts have spent all that money for nothing, because they did not know that their party was perhaps at a bad time, so they could cancel the event instead. Now they are stuck with food "for an army," and much in the way of party fare does not keep well. What a waste!

Next it is the selfish person who zips around the corner and into that parking space that they perfectly well have seen you sitting and waiting for, with your turn signal on. Or the road hog: we've all seen the type--thinks it is perfectly acceptable to block traffic while he lets off a passenger or carries on a conversation with the guy in the car going the other way. Then there's the guy in a hurry weaving in and out of traffic, driving using his horn to yell, "get out of my way! I'm more important than you are!" Very rude behaviors all.

Manners are the very glue that holds society together, as well as the lubricant that keeps it running smoothly. When manners go into decline, all sorts of bad things happen. It follows that not caring about those in one's immediate circle leads to devaluing everyone else as well. This is the origin of greed.

Me first, me in the middle, and me last, and me for me and to blazes with everyone else. It is from this mindset that jobs are lost to offshore "outsourcing," because the CEO of the corporation is greedy, cares only for his own bottom line and his own wealth, and gives not a hoot for the well being of either his workers or that of his community. It is all about short-term gain, and has no long range benefit. This is the mindset that has put the country into its current economic state.

On the other side of the same coin are the folks with the same mindset as the CEO, but who are in a much different place economically speaking. They do not have either the education or the drive to make something of themselves, so they waste their lives away pimping, dealing drugs, shooting each other in gang wars, and committing crimes against law-abiding citizens.

The only difference between these two groups lies in technicalities of the law. The CEO is technically within legal rights (even though his actions are unethical in the extreme) to destroy someone's livelihood and ability to earn a living. The gang member is breaking laws concerning assorted drugs and how he obtains and distributes them, and is also flouting laws about use of guns. As he shoots his victim to gain a few bucks from that person's wallet, he has also destroyed someone's ability to earn a living. If that person is killed in the process, the gang member has destroyed more than just a livelihood for the survivors--he has destroyed a family, destroyed their ability to trust, and fostered a good reason for predjudice.

These differences are only about which side of the law a person decides to follow: the end result of both courses of action is the same. The community is destroyed, blighted, becomes run down, and illegal activity blossoms because of loss of hope. Even those who were once law-abiding citizens may turn to stealing in an effort to keep their family fed and clothed.

It is sad that we have come to this place. Why not be the one to put a stop to this downhill slide? One person can make a difference--lead by example--and teach children that it is not 'ok' to bully, lie, cheat, steal or be rude.

Get a grip on yourself, America! Wake up from this selfish trap...for a trap it surely is, and as we are seeing daily in the news, those who pursue these ways of living eventually end up getting caught, paying dearly, and loosing everything they had. Ah, but the damage they have done is not so easily put to rights. The damage caused by the selfish generation will be with us for a long time to come. It did not happen overnight, and it will not be cured overnight. But cure it we must, and the time to start the process of change is right this very instant!