On Facebook recently, a posting drew thousands of comments when it asked readers to “Kill me with one bad English.”
This tortured request came – likely by coincidence – in April, which happens to be National English Language Month, an observance geared toward celebrating our Mother Tongue.
One responder pretty much-summed things up by advising the posting party, “You already achieved grammatical suicide.”
Traffic generated by the post was encouraging because it showed that despite Facebook’s often-convoluted writings, people can be passionate about using proper English.
But it’s also true that our language is a living entity that’s always changing.
Used to be that splitting an infinitive was enough to put a writer in the stocks, but many grammarians agree today that it’s okay to at certain times do it.
Likewise, ending a sentence with a preposition was a transgression not even to be thought of. The rule so annoyed oratorical master Winston Churchill that in speaking about it he reportedly exclaimed, “This is the sort of bloody nonsense up with which I will not put.”
The correct use of “who” and “whom” is a mystery to many who we consider intelligent. And starting a sentence with a conjunction is still questioned by some. But both of these last examples are likely to become accepted through common usage.
I have no quarrel with such evolution, but do harbor some favorite annoyances including the current media darling, “safe haven.” Show me an unsafe haven and I might change my mind.
Television, especially, is enamored in fire stories of a flaming redundancy, “fully engulfed.”
Thumbing through my grammar book, hanging participles are also cause for correction.
The ardent Facebook exchanges unleashed grammatical nightmares to the point where one responder exclaimed, “I cannot read one more of these. My skin is seriously crawling…”
You couldn’t blame her for cringing when confronted with examples like people saying, “I should of known.”
One response cited “these ones” as a killer, and another reported a grocery store sign offering specials on potato’s and carrot’s.
Other usages that drive people crazy are “orientated,” “It was so fun,” “Give that to Jim and myself,” and “sangwich.”
A person obviously unfamiliar with Rhode Island cited an aversion not to the dropping of “r’s,” but of “t’s,” as in, “I’m missing a bu’on off my shirt.”
Another contributor was figuratively hot under the collar over, “I literally died laughing.”
Other offenders: Using “kiddos” for kids, “Where’s it at?” “My bad,” saying “He goes” instead of “He said,” “A whole nother thing,” “nuclear,” and “irregardless.”
During this month of appreciating English it’s appropriate to champion proper use of it, but let’s also appreciate the Facebook sentiments of one Myra Wallace, just to keep ourselves grounded:
“I grew up around uneducated country people who were hard workers and many had to quit school to work on the farm, my mama and daddy included. My sister and I have college degrees and would never correct someone using a double negative, the wrong tense, or the pronunciation of a word.
”Stick that in your hanging ‘particle.’”
Gerry Goldstein (email@example.com), a frequent contributor, is a retired Providence Journal editor and columnist.