Friday, February 16, 2007

Word Annoyances

It warms my heart when I find that others get annoyed with abuses of language. Take a look at the short list of Pet Peeves by Chris Heard, longer list of Pet Peeves by Kevin Wilson, and additional Pet Peeves by Mark Goodacre.

Below, I add some of my own, but in the form of prose. I posted the following on November 23, 2005, on another blog.

There are numerous annoyances in the way people so readily adopt grammatical misspeaking. One very annoying and ubiquitous misuse of an expression is to hear people say, "I could care less" instead of "I couldn't care less." Abuse of the expression reached a very low point for my ears a few years ago when an English professor used the incorrect version and did not realize the error even when I gently offered a corrective.

Another annoying error that one hears and reads with increasing frequency is brought to mind by the seasonal song with the incorrectly represented first line as shown on one web page: You Better Watch Out. What happened to the auxiliary verb? You ask, "What is an auxiliary verb?" It's the verb that is needed to make any sense out of saying, "You better watch out." "Better," as a transitive verb means to "make better" or to "improve," as in, "Try to better your situation in life." However, when "better" is used as an exhortation, such as in warning children that Santa Claus is coming, one had better use the expression correctly. In such a case, "better" needs some help. In such a use, "better" needs a helping verb, an auxiliary verb. So, if you plan to sing the song, "Santa Claus is Coming to Town," please be grammatically correct and use the auxiliary verb. "You'd better watch out!" It is actually quite rare that I hear anyone use an auxiliary verb with "better" when using the word in an exhortation these days. This includes preachers, teachers, news writers and correspondents, politicians, and a whole lot of people. Preachers and teachers are the greater source of annoyance for me, since they ought to know better. (What you just read was a correct use of better.) You teachers and preachers had better watch out because your students may read this blog entry and embarrass you by correcting your bad grammar.

Here is a double whammy of errors. "You better of done your homework!" Imagine such a statement! Yet I read statements like this regularly in college papers. Worse than failing to use an auxiliary verb (you had better . . .) is the use of the preposition of as though it were the auxiliary verb have. I don't remember exactly when people starting using of for have, but I seem to remember my first written example of it around sixteen or seventeen years ago in a song. Such an error emerges among people who do not read. The error arises among people who are almost exclusively dependent upon hearing. So, contractions using the auxiliary verb have, get mistakenly heard as of. Among non-readers, then, "You'd better've done your homework" becomes "You better of done your homework."

Oh! Here is one more grammatical annoyance. If you use the past tense of "go," namely "went," please do not insert an auxiliary verb as I frequently hear these days, as in an interview on the news yesterday. A woman said, "I had went. . . ." The auxiliary verb belongs with the past participle of "go," namely "gone." The expressions are "I went" and "I had gone."

Oh the pain to one's ears caused by grammatical annoyances! You had better speak correctly, or else. . . .


David McKay said...

G'day Ardel.
How's the grandchild?

I see that none of you geezers are bothered by the wrong use of "you and I".

I think the word "me" may have been banned.

Some say it is because teachers used to tell us that we should be using "I" instead of "me," but I'm not sure this adequately accounts for the change.

abcaneday said...


G'day, mate! It's good to hear from you.

Our granddaughter is a great joy. We love her dearly. We are expecting another grandchild in early April. We're absolutely loving being grandparents.

I'm writing this from the lounge at Tyndale House in Cambridge at the close of an enjoyable Sunday.