Thursday, February 17, 2011

Whatever Happened to "the Bottom Line"? Now it's "the End of the Day"

A few years back, everyone was abuzz about the bottom line. We'd hear the pundits on talk radio and TV news programs talking like this:

"Well, Charlie, the bottom line is this: we're in deep trouble."


"There's more to argue over, but the bottom line is that we can't keep spending so much."


"Let's get right to the bottom line and cut the xxxxx (you can fill this one in).

When was the last time you heard one of these pundit-types say this much overused phrase?

I'll bet it's been quite a while because now all the pundit-types are switching to a new favorite and hideously overused phrase. Now, it's "at the end of the day." I would bet money that political commentators and politicians (they can be some of the worst abusers of the English language) use "at the end of the day" at least twice every two minutes they speak.

Let's all resolve to be aware of and ferret from our vocabulary such bloviated, unnecessary, ridiculous cliches. Please.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

"There's things going on"

At the Grammy Awards the other night, the surprise winner for best new artist, Esperanza Spalding, was interviewed. Excitedly she told an NPR correspondent, "there's things going on in jazz right now that..."

So what is it with the (relatively recent) move toward people using a singular verb followed by a plural noun? We hear this all the time, don't we? Hasn't it become so common that we don't even notice it anymore--more importantly, we don't notice it as wrong?

How grammatically wrong can it be to say "there's things"? If you think about it, you quickly realize that you wouldn't dream of saying "there is things..." and yet most people will say, as Ms. Spalding did, "there's things..." Or "there's lots of reasons for..." or "there's times when I really want..." Really, I could go on and on with the examples, but I'm sure you get my drift by now.

If you wouldn't write "there is things going on" why would you say "there's things"? We all need to realize that something like this really does degrade our language. I'm all for the evolution and the improvement of language. Something like using the plural pronoun "they" after a singular subject, as in:

Each citizen needs to voice their concerns

is wrong. It needs to be

Each citizen needs to voice his or her concerns

Or, better yet:

All citizens should voice their concerns. 

BUT, this modification to spoken English serves a purpose: we feel that we're being sexist when we say "Each citizen needs to voice his concerns" (which was, by the way, the only correct way to say/write this until the 1960s or so when people became concerned about gendered language and the preference for the masculine). So, in spoken English, while the grammarian in me still winces each time I hear it, I can accept

Every citizen needs to voice their concerns 

in spoken English.  (Sorry, but I couldn't resist that repetition there.) Written English needs to remain his/her.

As you can see, then, I'm not a total purist about spoken English. But, I do recoil every time I hear a singular verb with a plural noun. That's just plain wrong and we all need to pay attention to it and correct it in our own voice.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

"being that" you're writing a paper....

You can thank my daughter for this blog post. She is a truly good writer, but she has one really bad habit in her grammar: she uses the phrase "being that." Now, what's wrong with that, you might ask? After all, we often hear people saying something like this:

Being that it's Saturday, I really want to go out for breakfast. 

Great idea, but wrong grammatically. In fact, you should strike the phrase "being that" from your vocabulary.

So, what should you write (and say) instead? Very simple,

Since it's Saturday, I really want to go out for breakfast.


Because it's Saturday, I really want to go out for breakfast. 

Being that Since I just took the time to write out this post, please don't use the awful phrase "being that."

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Newspaper research now much easier!

In the spirit, I suppose, of all things becoming digital, I have news about digitized newspapers, fully searchable, from 1860-1922. The Library of Congress (LOC) has recently announced the addition of even more pages to its database of 414 newspapers from 22 states  and DC during the Reconstruction, Gilded Age, and Progressive Eras. So, if you're doing any research in this timeframe, please bookmark this page:
Happy researching!

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

The simple beauty of not finding something

This may sound like an odd posting, but sometimes in the world of research it's good to know that something is not going to lead anywhere.

I have been researching several people for a book on ideologically motivated deportations during the early years of the Cold War (I know that some style books don't actually capitalize the term Cold War anymore, but continuing to do so is my little act of stylistic disobedience. It just doesn't make sense not to capitalize Cold War!) Anyway, in doing this research, I went hunting for an archival collection of papers for a certain person.

Whenever I locate an archival source, I get excited--travel, new places, new documents to peruse. But I also get worried--travel and its expense and the time of learning a new archive's systems. So, I send off an email to the archivists half hoping the answer will be "yes--we have tons of material on that topic" and half hoping the answer will be "no--there's nothing here."

Today, I must admit to being relieved when I learned that an archive in Miami does not have anything related, despite the collection's description that sounded promising. First, travel money for research is drying up faster than airline perks. Second, I detest hot weather and that archive would have meant Miami in the summer. And third, sometimes it's just good to check something off the list as a dead end. Now I can go looking for a more productive tree to bark up.