Wednesday, August 20, 2014

I am willing to tolerate a little bit of bad English

Anyone who reads this blog regularly knows that I can be very intolerant of bad English (and intolerant of other things, as well).

However, my feet are not so firmly planted back in the 20th century, or the 13th century, that I can't change my mind.

I recognize that, like minds, languages do change. Words get new meanings (at one time girls could be boys), additional meanings (cats and chicks can be people, hook up means more than to connect wires, a hood can be a head covering, a hoodlum, or a place), and even contradictory meanings (a gay person may be unhappy, an iPhone is both cool and hot, the latest Nikes can be so good that they're bad).

I am therefore ready to publicly cave-in and announce that I will henceforth not complain about two pieces of illogical English.

#1: The misplaced "only." If you say you "only eat vegetables" or "only buy European cars," you are implying that you do not sleep, read, watch TV, breathe, have conversations, go to movies, make love, or anything else. The correct sentence structure would be "eat vegetables only" or "buy European cars only."

However, people do manage to understand what you mean when the "only" is up-front, and that placement provides a bit of dramatic emphasis that proper placement does not. My first self-published book (shown above, and replaced by Stories I'd Tell My Children (but maybe not until they're adults) has the "only" where it does not belong. The title is a quote from a nutso teacher I had in high school -- an English teacher. 

She and I are not the only ones who misplace the "only." The song title "I only have eyes for you" is definitely ungrammatical, as is the book title above.

#2: The modified "unique." As I have pointed out in this blog and in books, "Unique" means "one of a kind." all unique things are equally unique. Nothing can be the "most unique." Nothing can be "more unique" than another. A unique snowflake is just as unique as a unique person or pencil.

However, President Obama, people who want his job, and countless millions of others use the phrase and understand it to mean "a bit more unusual than 'most unusual.'" Google shows more than 14 million links for the phrase, so I surrender to the will of the masses. For now, I refuse to use the phrase, but I probably won't criticize others who do.

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