Dr. Language Guy

It is I, Dr. Language Guy.

In words used to describe the late TV journalist Edwin Newman, Dr. Language Guy is “a lone literary warrior fighting the encroaching barbarism of imprecise and fraudulent language.”  Dr. Language Guy is eternally vigilant, steadfastly determined and should not be confused with that unrepentant grouch, Curmudgeon-at-Large, or various other persona that I assume when I get befuddled or the moon is full.

My inspiration for this idea came directly from Dave Berry.  While he would understand the need for more than one person to be on constant alert for poor language and grammar, I need to finish my article before the cease and desist order arrives.

Whenever Dr. Language Guy sees or hears a badly phrased sentence, usually by ex-jock TV commentators or by political contenders, but now more and more by the mainstream (lamestream?) media – spoken and print, his teeth grind, his ears ache, his spine shivers, his loins gird, his hackles rise, his knees wobble: Dr. Language Guy is an anatomical mess.

Here are a few examples that send Dr. Language Guy to the medicine cabinet.

1.  The Federal Reserve plans to reshuffle its portfolio of securities to try and lower long-term rates.   (MSNBC/Associated Press, Nov 2011)

When did we, as confident, determined English-speaking nations (that includes you, Canada), decide that we would collectively “try and do” something instead of “try to” do something?  If we try and lower long-term rates, haven’t we succeeded in lowering them?  Aren’t we just trying to lower them?  Better yet, just lower them and be done with it.

2.  She described the scene of her parents sitting she and her sister down … (daily mail online UK, Dec 27, 2011)

Why is the context of subject and object so hard?  As a subject, it’s I, she, and he whether alone or together.  I sat down.  My sister and I sat down.  As an object, it’s me, her and him.  Her parents sat me down.  Her parents sat her sister and me down.  I believe that writers and speakers feel that I/she/he sounds more impressive than me/her/him.  By the way, I/me comes last.  It’s “between her and me” not “between me and her.”  Aarrgghh!

3.  “Any person could of been these victims.” (posting to WJLA website, Jan 3, 2012)

Yes, Marlon Brando in On the Waterfront “coulda been a contender” but the rest of us could have, instead of ”could of,” done better in our grammar.  Double aarrgghh!!

4.  Profiteering off Steve Jobs’ death.  (CBS News 2012)

When did we start profiteering off instead of profiteering from?  When and why did off and out of become preferred to from?

5.  Impacted and conflicted instead of affected

This usage affects me.  It doesn’t impact me and I am affected by it, not conflicted by it.  I know that we often confuse affect (to influence somebody or something) with effect (to succeed in making or doing something) but is this any reason to discard a good word entirely and replace it with, in my opinion, lesser ones?  I didn’t think so.

You will be impacted by a cannonball:  You will be affected by bad grammar.

6.  The misplaced modifying phrase

“Members of the Memory Café at a United Methodist Church work on a puzzle, which aims to help the patients and caregivers suffering from dementia, Alzheimer’s and other diseases.”  (from a regional newspaper, July 2012)

I am sorry to read that the caregivers are suffering from dementia, Alzheimer’s and other diseases.  They would probably be better caregivers if they were healthier or if the modifying phrase were correctly placed.

In closing, I quote an avid reader – the only one I have – who writes: “Who do we thank for the pitiful state of modern American English?”

To which Dr. Language Guy replies “WHOM do we thank …!”

23 thoughts on “Dr. Language Guy

  1. Dr. Language Guy, you are my kind of guy! Just this morning I cringed when I read (in our local newspaper): “This storm was different than the one last week.” One thing differs FROM another (‘than’ has no place here). Copy editing is obviously a lost art (of course, those doing the editing likely didn’t study grammar rules in school anyway).

  2. Oh, Dr. Language Guy, I love you. I rant regularly about misplaced “only”s, people who don’t know the difference between “that” and “which,” dangling participles, lack of agreement between noun and verb, inconsistent tenses, etc. It’s enough to make a person cry big salty tears of disgust.

  3. I understand Dr. Language Guy’s angst over the mashing of the English language. I, too, feel his pain, though I tend to cut casual writers more slack than I do more formal writers. Great post!

    • I agree with you wholeheartedly. I have no problem with the writer, casual or formal, who writes well but makes an occasional slip up. It’s the affected or sloppy writer that sends me to the medicine cabinet.

  4. Aaaagh! Brain… exploding… now… Those first five examples nearly did me in, but thank goodness for misplaced modifiers and punctuation. At least they give me a laugh:

    A panda walks into a café. He orders a sandwich, eats it, then draws a gun and proceeds to fire it at the other patrons.

    “Why?” asks the only surviving waiter amidst the carnage.

    The panda produces a badly punctuated wildlife manual and tosses it over his shoulder as he heads for the door. “Well, I’m a panda,” he says. “Look it up.”

    The waiter turns to the relevant entry in the manual and, sure enough, finds an explanation:

    “Panda. Large black-and-white bear-like mammal, native to China. Eats, shoots and leaves.”

  5. No one could possibly make learning grammar more fun than you, Dr. Language Guy! I cannot decide what I like most about this post, the information or the humor. Thankfully for me, I don’t have to chose!

  6. I wish I could “love” this. I used to think I had a reading comprehension problem until I realized that there are many writers who have a writing problem.
    Also, honest question for Dr. Language. Is it even right to say “profiteering from Steve Jobs’ death” or would it be more better (see what I did there?) to say “profiting from Steve Jobs’ death”? The technical writer in me hates the use of fancy words when the simple one will do.

Leave a Reply But Wipe Your Feet First

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s