Tag Archives: language

Grammar Grossiosities

These are a few handy reminders of how to avoid appearing as though you are from Loma Linda or spend all day watching re-runs of the Khardasians.  These are the words and phrases that should be shunned at all costs and is an easy way to elevate your communication skills and certainly make you seem more erudite.

Totally–What are you a Valley Girl?  Even if you are drop it, totally.  You can always try completely, entirely or how about dropping any adjective altogether.  Next thing you’ll be describing someone as totally dead.

Just–You are almost always better off not using that word.   Simply eliminate it.  It should   only be used when you definitely need to make a point of emphasis.

Really–Really, you are best advised to drop this one also under nearly ever circumstance.  Again, this should be used when making an exclamatory remark and that should be a relatively rare event.  I mean most events and circumstances don’t call for that  “shouting” type lingo.  You can always try truly or even verily if you are of the more formal bent.

So–So what?  Gee whiz where in the world did this usage spring from?  It is completely, totally unnecessary word.   Silence before you begin your sentence if so much more elegant.  So are we totally clear on that?

Hey–the TV reporters seem particularly determined to use this every time they are introduced but it has spread like an unwanted linguistic virus.  It you feel compelled to make a greeting how about hello, how are you or if you wish to raise you level you could even use ahoy.   After all that was the preferred greeting of Bell for the phone but surprise, surprise it never totally caught on with the public.  The best advice is to start speaking without any lead in.

Like–Like, totally this is so juvenile and a waste of verbiage.  Drop it.  It will raise your IQ in the opinion of your listener 10 points automatically.

Lean in–What the devil is this supposed to mean?   Try harder, fight harder?  Don’t give up.  Assert yourself?  Exactly what is it you are leaning over or into?  You can do better than that.

Good or Great question–I am worn out hearing that remark.  Go straight to the response.  If it is actually a great question if will be self-evident without note.  If the questioner is bright enough to ask a good question they will be bright enough to not need needless and pointless praise.  Hopefully they don’t need the “good job” all those helicopter moms give their 7 year olds for merely walking onto the soccer field.

Awesome–How many events or occurrences in life are awesome?   My wedding, my children’s births and a hand full of athletic or business accomplishments fill out the resume for me and probably you.  The word should only be used like a fine family heirloom and worn for special occasions only.   Today suggesting a Big Mac is met with the “awesome” response, how demeaning to fine old word.

Here’s the thing–Oh, is it right there beside you?  I was looking everywhere.  Don’t use this expression.  You’ll like totally appear smarter.  It has the same linguistic value as clearing one’s throat before speaking.

Now for a few goodies for the knuckle -draggers out there that equate the sports pages with Samuel Johnson’s essays.

Physicality–What?  Those sportscasters that use this are falling into the verbal pits.  Are they talking about agility? Speed, Stamina, strength, sense of balance.  We all know they sure are not referencing the IQ of those NFL players they are describing.  I never met a physicality I liked.  But I admire physical attributes.  Oh,,,,,maybe that is what they are talking about.

Mentality–Well, first I need to observe that it is reassuring to know that there is anything mental whatsoever about those defensive ends pounding bodies into dust and start and end every sentence with “you know”.  One can only assume, generously, that it is a reference to mental attitude, one’s mental mien or an attitude of determination and emotional resilience if face of some adversity.  Can we take as a given that they are not referring to those folks as mental cases?  Both of these last two are tragic examples of language being sucked into an abyss of the lowest common denominator of cultural linguistic abuse.

Body of work–How in the world did these sports guys every latch onto this tidbit.  It has historically been used to discuss the career and works of artists.  A cornerback for the Atlanta Falcons now has a body of work.  Really, like I totally thought he was a grown man playing a game that would have no lasting impact on mankind.  But I guess now I should think anew and realize that his play is the equivalent of da Vinci.

So, you can like close your books we have leaned in on proper grammar enough for now and I know, you know, that this was a totally awesome experience for you.

“Get your facts first, and then you can distort them as much as you please”  Mark Twain.  http://www.olcranky.wordpress.com





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Professionally Speaking….

It is hard to bear the degradation of our language and the use of certain words or phrases due to the intrusion of popular media or so-called pop culture. Soon those subtle changes become embedded and even make their way into the dictionary of the day. One striking example of this is the modern use and abuse of the word “profession” or “professional”.

Historically, there have been only four recognized professions. That agreed consensus goes back for centuries. They are: doctor, lawyer, teacher and preacher. Those are the professions. Those are the only true professionals. Today all manner of folks are called or self-described as professionals. We have professional athletes, professional plumbers and hair stylists. At least we do as they are depicted by the media. Merely appending that word as an adjective to their work or trade does not make them professionals.

The best definition of profession or professional was given by a law school professor some time ago. He stated it was a calling requiring specialized skill and academic training; it was a calling that benefitted society generally and not merely the practitioner; it was practiced because of a passion for the calling and the compensation was coincidental to the calling. Sure there are doctors, lawyers, teachers and preachers who don’t live up to that standard but that doesn’t diminish the standard. This definition does not demean the work or worth of other callings, trades or labor. When I have a leaky water line I sure want a really good plumber to come fix it for me. I want my car to have been assembled correctly and with competence by the people on the assembly line. I enjoy watching some athletes perform on the football field or the golf course but none of that enjoyment or appreciation makes what they do a profession and they are not professionals.

Sinclair Lewis made a pretty good career writing about several of the professions. He covered three of them with Arrowsmith (doctor), Gideon Planish (teacher) and Elmer Gantry (preacher). All those characters certainly had their flaws just as he did with his own life. It is sad to think that such a good mind and great talent was squandered by his alcoholism which eventually killed him. I suppose some of us are too idealistic for our own good. No doubt many see nothing wrong with using the phrase “professional” when describing their car mechanic. I hate to see the erosion in our language and the precision it offers but we often ignore.

For every miserable lawyer around we must also recall that our history is replete with ones who advanced civilization and human progress. Moses was the original lawyer. He in fact is referred to as the “Lawgiver”. Cicero was a lawyer. Charlemagne is remembered for his laws. John
Adams was lawyer. Thomas Jefferson was lawyer. Jonas Salk didn’t get rich off of his discovery of the polio vaccine. He gave it away. Aristotle, Plato and Socrates were all teachers. Billy Graham brought great good and solace to literally millions during his career. Remember him every time you see one of those PTL type money grabbing pulpit thumpers.

At one time or another you have probably used the phrase “False colors” or flying under false colors. It means of course a deception or a deceptive act. It comes from the nautical lexicon. For more centuries than we know, it was common for all navies to use flags to identify themselves and their foes, just as armies wore uniforms that could be recognized by their countrymen so they wouldn’t shoot each other. Sea captains would sometimes fly the flag of another nation as a ruse to get in close and launch a surprise broadside into their opponent. That has been done countless times over the last few centuries by navies of all stripes and the privateers hired by sovereign nations. It happened during the first and second world wars. It was always considered not gentlemanly and not cricket to do that. That is why captains would use their scopes to carefully view any ship approaching them to see if they could detect anything that didn’t match up with the flag (colors) being flown. Even the worse offenders would almost always lower the false flag and rise their true colors right before they opened fire. That way they could maintain that they didn’t take hostile action under “false colors”. http://www.olcranky.wordpress.com

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From the Memory Cupboard

The brain is an amazing organ.   It can do so much more than your computer and quicker too.   Just think of all those events big and little that it stores for later recall.  Don’t forget all the items that it decides shouldn’t be stored.  They are important too or else we would be bogged down in a matter of days with so much trivia we couldn’t call up the significant matters and those we use to help us sort out a new course of action based on prior experience.   You don’t need to remember each and every time you have stopped at a red light but you do need to remember that stopping for them is important to your health.   So, from many of those memories I offer some of the following thoughts about our world then and how they might be worth remembering and applying the lessons learned from them to today’s events.

Language matters a great deal.   There is a lot of discussion these days about whether English should be the official language in the US.  That conversation has been going on for at least a generation now.  Some seem to think it arose only in the last few years.  Remember the Senator who was the linguist back in the ’70’s and ’80’s who first proposed that the law should require it to be the official language?   He was not just a senator but an academic.  The proposal didn’t get too far then but it would be headlines today.  Throughtout history some very bitter conflicts have been execerbated by language disputes.  Just a couple that are of more recent vintage will make the point.   In Northern Ireland most folks are really not all that religious and certainly not the IRA.  It was much more about language and accent than religious beliefs.   It was pretty easy to tell an “Irishman” from the English gent just by listening.   That difference reinforced so many of their preconceived notions of each other.   It was only about 30 years ago that there was a serious push for Quebec to have its independence from Canada.   This was right across our border in a modern and civilized country.   There were bombings and other terror activities during this time and the focus of the dispute was language.  It was a violent movement.   The native Quebecois wanted French as their official language and other recognition of the French heirtage; other Canadians thought they were being too provincial and not joining the “melting pot” of modern Canada.   The push for independence did not succeed in spite of referendums on the issue but there were the changes that are so obvious today in Quebec with the double print of both languages in all public places and French is required in many public places and school.   Before it was voluntary.

Today we face the renewed threat of Russian aggression.  Just as they recently invaded Georgia, they are a threat to the independence and territorial integrity of Ukraine.   One of the principle flashpoints in the dispute is the Crimean Pennisula and the city of Sevastopol.   The pennisula is part of Ukraine and went with it when it gained its independence after the USSR collapse in ’89.  Sevastopol is the major Russian navy base in the Black Sea.  It was leased to Russian much like Gitmo was leased to the US from Cuba.  Haven’t you ever wondered how we had a base on the east coast of Cuba?   But just like Ossetia in Georgia there is a substantial Russian population there.   Language is one of the major bones of contention.   Only last week there was a report on NPR about the situation and a Russian who is a citizen of Ukraine living there spoke of the revolt that would be set off if Ukraine starts requiring Ukrainian to be taught in the public schools.  Of course it is Ukraine and it shouldn’t be much of a shock that they want their citizens (even if their ancestors came from Russia) to speak the native tongue.   One wonders if Russia one day soon might move into the Crimean to “protect” the Russians there just as they did last month into Georgia.   Read those little paragraphs in the back pages about international news and you can follow the events yourself.   Again language is seen as the flag or insignia of a particular culture.  Indeed language is that and people will fight very hard to protect their culture.   More than they will for money.

You have heard the phrase “tell it to the Marines”.  It is a derogatory passage and implies that the listener is dumb enough to believe almost anything.  It is not however a new one.  Some think it only goes back to WWII but you have to dig much deeper into American history than that.  Go all the way back to the Revolutionary War.  All navies at that time had marines.  They were on every ship and would keep order among the sailors and provide covering fire when ships of the line came into close quarter combat.  They also provided security for forays ashore when necessary.  Sailors were a rough bunch then as they pretty much have been throughout history.  The marines were considered even “slower” than the sailors though and were often recruited right off the streets of a port town and rarely had any education.   They were considered unsophisticated and gullible–thus the phrase.  You could tell them anything.  When you thought someone was blowing smoke your way you would tell them to tell it to the  Marines.   They were also known as leathernecks and still are.  That comes from the earliest uniforms that they wore.  They had a leather collar around the jacket they wore; thus the moniker.

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