Saturday, January 31, 2015

What Not to Say, #2

There's lots of reasons to worry about what we say today. 

What's wrong with that sentence?

Written out like this, it's not hard to figure out what is wrong with that sentence. Basic grammar: the word reasons above is a plural noun. So, it needs a plural verb. There's is not plural, but singular.

We have, then, a plural noun with a singular verb. Problem.

We would know when writing that sentence above to type out There are lots of reasons to worry about what we say today. 

But most of us don't say it that way. We say "There's lots of reasons." Listen to people speak and you'll hear this all the time--even on such supposedly erudite places as NPR or CNN. I wish I knew why. Twenty years ago this would have been considered uneducated by the kindest people and downright dumb by most others.

You might be thinking right now that this is just another way that the English language is evolving, so what's the big deal. Here's what I think: when the language evolves to make an improvement, I'm all for it. When it just changes without any benefit at all, I protest. I don't see any benefit to saying "there's diaries and letters" to my class when I could just as easily say "there are diaries and letters."

And if you say "there are diaries and letters," I doubt anyone would consider you a dork.

So, today's advice: just pluralize your verbs with plural nouns. It's not hard. And it will make your speech stand out in today's trendy-speak crowd.On a job interview or internship, it might make a difference.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

What Not to Say (or Write)...a new series

Some of my students already know (and the rest of you will come to know) that I worry over some of the ways that American English is changing. Some changes are obviously for the better. I'm not one of those people who says that the language should remain unchanged. But, there are lots of ways now that spoken and written English are changing that are not good--they serve no useful purpose and actually only reflect popular trends. Some of them are downright inane.

So, today I begin a list of things currently in vogue in spoken English that you should strive NOT to say (or write). The list will continue.

Today's new, trendy word that is totally unnecessary--the very old fashioned "oftentimes." Why in heaven's name would anyone use a word that has three syllables when the two syllable version--"often"--means exactly the same thing? Where did this frequent use of "oftentimes" come from? I have no idea. But it needs to go away.

And one more thing: don't pronounce the "t" in "often." That's also trendy and also totally unnecessary (and, I think, annoyingly pretentious). For decades now, Americans have pronounced the word without the "t." 

Just say no to "oftentimes." It's ridiculous.