THE TV – “…and further to the north, but not further to the east,” says the weatherperson. No, no, no. If you are going to make your living by talking to people, at least use the correct words. Further is a state of mind.
He went even further in stating, “I am not a crook.” “She looked further into the matter, and determined he was, indeed, a crook.” The TV guy was 20 percent right about a chance of rain, 10 percent chance of an earthquake and 100 percent wrong in further. He meant farther, which measures actual distance. “I am going further with this wordsmanship by taking this dictionary farther down the street.” The word penultimate is often misused. Some think penultimate is even more important than ultimate. Rather like the ultimate-ultimate. No, it doesn’t means first, but way down the line: next to last. Penultimate comes from Latin words meaning almost last. The penultimate syllable in California would be forn in cal-uh-FORN-ya. Of course, the state’s name should be pronounced Cal-uh-FORN-ee-ya, but few say it that way.
At this point, you are asking, “Who cares?” You should care because it’s a matter of the getting our thoughts across accurately. But as Strother Martin said in “Cool Hand Luke,” to Paul Neman, “What we’ve got here is a failure to communicate.” This failure causes airplanes to taxi on the wrong runway and campus sex crimes (No means no). So you and I try to clean up the American version of the English language, which is being misused, abused and becoming, well, sloppy. Take erstwhile. It sounds as though the word should be associated with earnest, earnest-while. Alas, (a word not often used) erstwhile means former. “Jimmy Joe was an erstwhile honest Boy Scout, but was elected to the Texas Legislature.” There is a difference is injured and wounded. You fall down the steps, you are injured. You get hit by a drone’s missile, you are wounded. If you fall down the steps after being hit by a drone’s missile, you are probably dead.
Robbery and burglary are not the same and, here again, our TV people often get it wrong. You stick a gun in my face and take away by watch, wallet and false teeth, you are a robber and I have been robbed, I am a robbery victim. You climb through a bathroom window at midnight and steal my watch, wallet and false teeth, you are a burglar and I have been burglarized. Or as I told the police, “I haf been buruled, burgled of my teef, burfured – robbed.” As mentioned, we find these regicides against the King’s English in the media, but so many critics make the mistake of what to call that profession. Media is plural. “The media are a bunch treasonous cowards who are set to destroy America.” Medium is, but media are. If you are going to insult my profession and call into question my honesty, patriotism and work ethic, at least do it grammatically correctly.
The hot topic around Washington is impeachment, as though it meant tossing the President out of office.
No. We’ve had a few Presidents impeached – Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton — but none thrown out of their job. (Nixon was not impeached, but left just in time.) The House of Representatives is like a grand jury.
It hears the charges and then may, or may not, bring an indictment. That’s an impeachment. The Senate then acts as a jury. The Constitution grants the House of Representatives “the sole power of impeachment,” and grants to the Senate “the sole Power to try all Impeachments.” So the next time you hear someone rattling on about “impeaching the President,” ask if she has a clue as to what she is talking about. Probably not.
Flammable and inflammable mean the same thing. When the communists took over Russia, they abolished some unneeded letters in the Russian or Cyrillic alphabet. We need to abolish the letter c. It can mean either c like an s or c like a k. Try the word circus. How about sirkus? Of course, that would spell problems for teachers. “Johnny, you made a D, which used to be a C, so don’t worry.” The word whom is so misused that it should be abolished. Does it make any difference if you say, “For Who the Bells Toll”?
Pay no attention to anyone who says, “To quote Winston Churchill, ‘Blood, sweat and tears.’” There was even a jazz-rock music group by that name. In a speech to the British House of Commons on May 13, 1940, Churchill said, “‘I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat.” What happened toil? And Humphrey Bogart never said, “Play it again, Sam.”
We now must straighten out some farewells. For years, as we departed the grocery store, sheep dip factory or tattoo parlor, the clerk would say, “Have a nice day.” It was even on bumper stickers. That is so 2010ish.
Now it’s, “Have a great one.” OK, it is better than, “We just over charged you.” or “Go, please just go.” But we must stop the runaway farewell of: “No problem” or “No problema.” “No problema” is simply not Spanish.
The word “no,” unlike in English, needs a verb, and “no problema” has no verb in it. Besides, it may not be appropriate. My computer crashed twice in three days. The second time I retrieved it from the store, possibly repaired, the clerk said, “No problem.” Huh? Maybe not for him but it sure was a problem for me. Correct anyone who says, “Saddam Hussein (or Bashar Hafez al-Assad) fired on his own people.” They were not “his own people.” They wanted to get away from being the despots’ people, and were fighting to do so. That’s like saying at Gettysburg or Shiloh, “President Lincoln fired on his own people.”
I hope this helps to tidy up our language even farther.
Ashby tidies up at firstname.lastname@example.org