Language Peeves

Maverick Philosopher has many language peeves, as do I. Our peeves overlap considerably. Here are some of mine:

Anniversary

Today is the ten-year tenth anniversary of our wedding.

Anniversary means the annually recurring date of a past event. To write or say “x-year anniversary” is redundant as well as graceless. A person who says or writes “x-month” anniversary is probably a person whose every sentence includes “like.”

Data

The data is are conclusive.

“Data” is a plural noun. A person who writes or says “data is” is at best an ignoramus and at worst a Philistine.

Guy/guys

Would you guys you like to order now?

Regarding this egregious usage, I admit to occasionally slipping from my high horse — an event that is followed immediately by self-censure. (Bonus observation: “Now” is often superfluous, as in the present example.)

Hopefully

Hopefully, I expect the shipment will to arrive today.

Hopefully, I hope that the shipment will arrive today.

I say a lot about “hopefully” and other floating modifiers (e.g., sadly, regrettably, thanfkfully) under the heading “Hopefully and Its Brethren” at “On Writing.”

Literally

My head literally figuratively exploded when I read Pope Francis’s recent statement about economic policy.

See “Literally” at “On Writing.”

No problem

Me: Thank you.

Waiter: No problem. You’re welcome.

“No problem” suggests that the person saying it might have been inconvenienced by doing what was expected of him, such as placing a diner’s food on the table.

Reach out/reached out

We reached out to him for comment asked him to comment/called him and asked him to comment/sent him a message asking for a comment.

“Reach out” sometimes properly refers to the act of reaching for a physical object, though “out” is usually redundant.

Share/shared

I shared a story told with her a story.

To share is to allow someone to partake of or temporarily use something of one’s own, not to impart information to someone.

That (for who)

Josh Hamilton was the last player that who hit four home runs in a game.

Better: Josh Hamilton was the last player to hit four home runs in a game.

Their (for “his” or “hers”), etc.

An employee forfeits their his/her accrued vacation time if they are he is/she is fired for cause.

Better: An employee who is fired for cause forfeits accrued vacation time.

Where the context calls for a singular pronoun, “he” and its variants are time-honored, gender-neutral choices. There is no need to add “or her” (or a variant), unless the context demands it. “Her” (or a variant) will be the obvious and correct choice in some cases.

Malapropisms and solecisms peeve me as well. Here are some corrected examples:

I will try and to find it.

He took it for granite granted.

She comes here once and in a while.

At “On Writing” you will also find my reasoned commentary about filler words (e.g., like), punctuation, the corruptions wrought by political correctness and the euphemisms which serve it, and the splitting of infinitives.

Lexicon

Activist. A person who

  • puts one desideratum above all others;
  • cares not how much it costs to achieve the desideratum;
  • cares not about the costs imposed on others;
  • or believes that government spending is “free.”

Anniversary.Anniversary” means “the annually recurring date of a past event.” To write or say “x-year anniversary” is redundant as well as graceless. To write or say “x-month anniversary” is nonsensical; what is meant is that such-and-such happened “x” months ago.

Compassion. A trait that an activistliberal (progressive) claims to possess, which is measured by the cost (to others) of achieving their desiderata.

Data. The most offensive of the many abhorrent usages now current is the treatment of “data” as a singular noun. A person who says “data is” is at best an ignoramus and at worst a Philistine.

Language, above all else, should be used to make one’s thoughts clear to others. The pairing of a plural noun and a singular verb form is distracting, if not confusing. Even though datum is seldom used by Americans, it remains the singular foundation of data, which is the plural form. Data, therefore, never “is”; they always “are.

Fowler says:

Latin plurals sometimes become singular English words (e.g., agenda, stamina) and data is often so treated in U.S.; in Britain this is still considered a solecism…. (H.W. Fowler, A Dictionary of Modern English Usage, second edition, p.119)

But Follett is better on the subject:

Those who treat data as a singular doubtless think of it as a generic noun, comparable to knowledge or information…. [A generous interpretation: ED.] The rationale of agenda as a singular is its use to mean a collective program of action, rather than separate items to be acted on. But there is as yet no obligation to change the number of data under the influence of error mixed with innovation. (Wilson Follett, Modern American Usage, pp. 130-1)

To say “data are” is to present oneself as a learned person of high standards. That, unfortunately, is an “old fashioned” attitude in this day of dumbed-down vulgarity.

He. It has become fashionable for academicians and pseudo-serious writers (e.g., those who spill pixels at The New Republic) to use “she” where “he” long served as the generic (and sexless) reference to a singular third-person. Here is an especially grating passage:

What is a historian of ideas to do? A pessimist would say she is faced with two options. She could continue to research the Enlightenment on its own terms, and wait for those who fight over its legacy—who are somehow confident in their definitions of what “it” was—to take notice. Or, as [Jonathan] Israel has done, she could pick a side, and mobilise an immense archive for the cause of liberal modernity or for the cause of its enemies. In other words, she could join Moses Herzog, with his letters that never get read and his questions that never get answered, or she could join Sandor Himmelstein and the loud, ignorant bastards. (Ollie Cussen, “The trouble with the enlightenment,” Prospect, May 5, 2013).

I don’t know about you, but am distracted by the use of “she.” First, because it’s not the norm, my first reaction to reading it in place of “he” is to wonder who this “she” is; whereas,  the function of “he” a a stand-in for anyone (regardless of gender) was well understood. Second, the usage is so obviously meant to mark the writer as politically correct, that it colors the reader’s assessment of the writer’s authority, for good or ill (and definitely for ill, as I see it).

Liberal (or progressive). Same as activist, but with a long list of desiderata.

Man. Here’s another word (like “he”) that was for ages perfectly understood (in the proper context) as referring to persons in general, not to male persons in particular. (“Mankind” merely adds a superfluous syllable.)

The short, serviceable “man” has been replaced, for the most part, by “humankind.” I am baffled by the need to replaced one syllable with three. I am baffled further by the persistence of “man” — a sexist term — in the three-syllable substitute. But it gets worse when writers strain to avoid the solo use of “man” by resorting to “human beings” and the “human species.” These are longer than “humankind,” and both retain the accursed “man.”

The political-correctness feminazi brigade needs to invent a better replacement for “man.” “Huwomynkind” perhaps?

The feminazi brigade’s fondest wish, of course, is to replace men, or simply to eradicate them. Luckily, those of their number who come early to the feminist religion are unlikely to reproduce. This is a blessing to the children they will not have and to the future of man — the species known as homo sapiens.

Niggardly. Some years ago, I met with a group of employees to discuss the state of the company’s budget. In the course of the discussion I used the word “niggardly” (meaning stingy or penny-pinching). The next day a fellow vice president informed me that some of the black employees in her division of the company had been offended by “niggardly.” I suggested that the correct response to their objection was not to abandon a serviceable word, but to offer remedial training in English vocabulary.

Monday Musings

Seven years ago yesterday I became a resident of Austin, Texas. To put it differently, yesterday was the seventh anniversary of my residency in Texas. Note well that I say “seventh anniversary,” not “seven-year anniversary,” in the usage of the day.  Why? The word “anniversary” means “the annually recurring date of a past event.” To write or say “x-year anniversary” is redundant as well as graceless. To write or say “x-month anniversary” is nonsensical; what is meant is that such-and-such happened “x” months ago.

A long life is a good thing if it is lived well and in good health. Among my male ancestors, I have a paternal great, great, great, great (g-g-g-g) grandfather who lived to the age of 92. Perhaps he owed his longevity to a vigorous life; he emigrated from Dusseldorf to the colony of Pennsylvania, and fought on the wrong side in the Revolutionary War, for which he was rewarded with a tract of land in Canada. One of his grandsons (my paternal g-g-grandfather) lived to the age of 80. On my mother’s side, I can claim a g-grandfather who made it to 84 and a g-g-grandfather who lived to the age of 87. I do not know how well these ancestors lived, or the state of their health as old men, but they have (in some measure) bequeathed to me a good chance for a long life. Living well and to doing what I can to stay healthy are my responsibilities.

Speaking of genealogy, if you want to trace your “roots” without spending a lot of money, buy a software package (like Legacy Family Tree), consult your relatives and whatever materials they may have compiled, and hit the internet, where there is a wealth of free information. It takes a lot of searching and cross-checking to make connections and fill gaps, and what you find may not be well documented, but in the end you will have a much richer picture of your origins. I have traced 16 generations of my family, from Orne, France, in the 1500s to Virginia, U.S.A., in the 2000s.

All of this revelatory rambling reminds me of Facebook. I acquired a Facebook account so that I can follow the remarks of my daughter-in-law, who posts (usually) funny notes about events in the life her and my son’s household. Unfortunately, I have acquired a few other Facebook “friends” whose musings are of no interest to me. I have solved that problem by (a) hiding them on my home page and (b) going directly to my daughter-in-law’s Facebook “wall.”

Facebook “friends,” in most cases, are like work “friends.” It is possible to have a real, long-standing friendship with a work “friend,” but (in my experience) almost all work “friendships” end when “friends” no longer share an employer. Moreover, the older one gets, the less interested one is in acquiring friends (work-related or otherwise). I have two long-standing friendships; both started at work, but a long time ago (40 and 38 years, respectively), and neither is a close or deep one. I made my last work “friend” (and last friend of any kind) about 25 years ago, and that “friendship” dissolved about 15 years ago, even while both of us were still working at the same place. Other friendships — with neighbors, school-mates, and fellow collegians — have long since died of geographic, economic, and intellectual distance. I  have a small circle of acquaintances in Austin; they are good for a laugh over dinner and drinks, but I have no wish to become close to any of them (nor would I, even if they weren’t lefties, which is about all you can find in Austin). Given what I have just said, it is possible that I owe my dearth of friendships to my aloof personality (see this, this, and this). Friendships are said to contribute to good health and longevity, to which I say “bah, humbug!”

Which brings me to families. Tolstoy opens Anna Karenina with this famous sentence: “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” I believe that happy families are as rare as close, long-standing friendships. I have a rough model of family relationships and the degree of lovingness and mutual regard that is to be found in them. From closeness to distance, it goes like this:

Spouse-children-grandchildren (all about the same)

Grandparents

Parents

Nieces and nephews

Cousins

Siblings

There are, of course, exceptions for those members of a family who are especially sunny, gloomy, nice, nasty, hard-working, indolent, temperate, drunken, etc. But my money is on a model in which sibling relationships are the most fraught of any.

You may have noticed the absence of in-laws from my model. I am loath to generalize about them. In my own case, I have a highly esteemed daughter-in-law. But it is easy to imagine cases in which many of one’s in-laws are at or near the bottom of the list.

Happy Monday.