Other Matters: Cloudy Days On The English Usage Front

This is an actual Craigslist item:


Apr 3 – Need a paper typed? Need a editor? –
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  1. Muddy says

    Great! I needed a good laugh. I wonder how many takers the typist/editor gets?

  2. Goodhope Patrick says

    I work in the Quality Control department of a major US company. I choose to keep its name anonymous to slightly hide my embarrassment. Apart from my normal internal oversight responsibilities ensuring that our financial practices meet with SEC guidelines, I randomly review outgoing company correspondence and assess errors to the individuals who make writing mistakes.
    Repeatedly, I find misuse of simple language, poor sentence structure, etc., and assign the specific error type and require that the individual make the correction and resend the letter. The most recent mistake I found involved the misuse of ‘was’ instead of ‘were’ in a sentence, and I immediately pointed out the ‘grammatical horror’ (a phrase I love that Gene Lees once wrote).
    The offended party immediately challenged that there was nothing wrong with the sentence. My boss reversed my decision.
    Her explanation was that I continue to expect a standard of professionalism that is unrealistic, that I cannot expect people who write business letters to be able to use standard English properly. It is too much for them.
    Needless to say, it gave me a headache as I silently absorbed being put in my place. Another day in corporate America.
    I’ll bet Gene Lees would have loved that.

  3. Mel Narunsky says

    As Oscar Hammerstein II said (in Oklahoma!):
    “It’s a scandal! It’s a outrage!”
    P.S. all the exclamation points are his, not mine.

  4. says

    In his piece ‘PianoMorphosis – Money changes everything’ Bruce Brubaker uses this word: ‘surprized.’ I am sure he does not mean ‘over-awarded.’ It is not the correct spelling, which is with an ‘s.’ I note that there is the American ‘practice’ (in English a noun AND verb except in 16th Century usage; in the US, ‘practise’ which, correctly, was a 15th C. verb form ending in the sound of ‘..eyes,’ serves as both noun and verb). ‘Practise’ is not used in modern English. Other anomalies are, for example, ‘advice’ (noun in English, and not used in US, and ‘advise’ (verb in English used as both noun and verb in US). There are many other examples, some stemming from 15th and 16th century usage, but which can be confusing in modern parlance.
    (To challenge old friend Tim, with Merriam-Webster’s backing: “practise” is not used as either noun or verb in the US, but is defined by M-W as “British for ‘practice.'” In common US usage, “advice” is the noun, “advise” the verb. We could get into the question of the collective noun in British English, as in “The Count Basie Band are coming to town,” versus the American English, “The Count Basie Band is coming to town.” Or, take past participles…please: “got” versus “gotten.” But, then, life is short. Let’s just listen to Count Basie. –DR)

  5. says

    Dear Doug, Yes I thought you or someone would challenge! It seems most of these examples are used, but I do note that sometimes ‘advise’ is used as a noun. Natch – back to Basie; I’ll put on my old vynil of ‘The Atomic Mr. Basie’ to clear my mind – and of course ‘it’ (correctly) ‘is’ the greatest. ‘Gotten’ is old West Country English; I have heard it in Dorset and Devon, when I was a kid. I am now listening to Hank Mobley with Wynton Kelly, a favourite. All the best.