Archive for the ‘thoughtless patterns’ Category

“The Single Greatest Country in the World”

In comparatives, redundancy again, thoughtless patterns on January 28, 2016 at 9:49 pm

Marco Rubio campaign ad

So it’s the turn of the third-place scrambler, the one with the fully Hispanic name, and it’s about an English error so common few of my writeous colleagues even notice any more. But I can’t ignore it. This time there isn’t even anyplace to put the excess word.

A superlative like “greatest” is already singular. There is none greater. Often, the “single” is simply misplaced as in, say, “I’d like to thank the single largest donor to my campaign,” one among many. Australia could be the greatest single-country continent, but I don’t see any other way to get to a greatest single country.

There could be great things for a country to do alone — humanitarian achievements, support for the arts, peacemaking — but then we’d probably use words like “solo” or indeed, “alone,” and use identification of the nation to modify something like “effort” or “action.” That might be too specific for a campaign ad, or indeed for this campaign over all.

Come to think of it, there is one thing I like about Rubio’s double superlative: It celebrates the current greatness of the USA, instead of asserting some vague past and greater greatness to which we might return. That may be all Rubio and his writers wanted, to distinguish their campaign from that other one that has made greatness its watchword. And there certainly isn’t any more greatness to which yet another campaign might aspire.


Happy New Year’s (and Beyond)

In significant insignificancies, thoughtless patterns on January 1, 2016 at 1:31 am

It’s an annual grumble of mine, mostly in places where I’ve sworn not to pick at people’s grammar, that well-meaning writers, with little more than an apostrophe, limit their good wishes to a single day. It’s clear to me that they don’t know they’re doing that when they leave off the designation “Day” that should follow the -’s. But it’s clearly a matter of carelessness.

Maybe it’s that we’ve forgotten what this “wishing” thing is about. It’s not just something you say, but an expression of hope for another’s well-being, or literally for that other’s happiness. It’s all too easily tossed off, in fact easier in currently fraught contexts than “Happy Holidays” or “Merry Christmas.”

Everyone gets a new year, whether we like it or not, whether or not we make resolutions and see it as a fresh start. But I’m always for mindfulness, for paying as much attention to what I say as to what I do. To say it without thought devalues it, and maybe that’s what makes me question the sincerity of an Internet conversant — or even a grocery clerk — who tosses it to me with the -’s and without the Day. I really would like to have all the wishes for happiness in 2016 that I can get. I do think it matters.

Thus, I wish you happiness in 2016, heartfelt wishes even if I don’t have an opportunity to say it more directly and warmly than in this post. The whole year. Happiness and joy.

While we’re at it, that’s not “well wishes.” Where you get your water is your business.

“This is unchartered territory.”

In compound expressions, eggcorns, thoughtless patterns on August 26, 2015 at 3:36 am

Gabe Sherman, National Affairs Editor, New York Magazine

 MSNBC 8/25 3:50-ish PM regarding Trump leading his followers away from Fox

No, he’s far from the only one to do this. And I doubt he’ll be the last one in the coming political circus, because it’s becoming a habit among more and more folks on the lookout for longer words to bolster their arguments. So what’s so wrong with it?

Mostly, it creates a dreadful mix of metaphors, robbing the second word of its significance. The original, uncharted territory, is clear and powerful. One pictures pilots of ships, reading the shoreline and the push and pull of currents, wondering about shallows that would be predictable if the cartographers had gotten there first. I never learned to read marine charts, but I love the look of them, with their underwater topographic curves. With the corruption, I’m afraid I lapse over into the Monty Python song about chartered accountants.

I generally prefer to address errors found in print, because you can be more sure someone had a chance to correct themselves. But I don’t think I’ve ever seen this one in writing. Maybe in the act of writing or typing two extra characters, the wrongness jumps out. I don’t understand, though, how it doesn’t register when the -r- in particular has to be pronounced. And today it was just a charter too far.

I’ve recently learned to call this particular kind of error an “eggcorn,” which gives it a category, but doesn’t make it grate any less.

Acts of Terror

In legal lingo, media laziness, search-engine optimization, thoughtless patterns on April 28, 2013 at 8:10 pm

I’ve been watching Boston all day. I know it’s not healthy, but I have a loved one in the lockdown and haven’t found a reason to walk away from the tube. I thought I was on one of the more responsible cable channels, MS-NBC, whose pundits shared in the well-earned ridicule of CNN for jumping to conclusions and spreading false rumors on Monday. But I’m becoming incensed by their position on the bandwagon misunderstanding — beginning Monday when they made a big deal of whether President Obama had used the words — that an act of terror must be committed by international, politically or religiously driven “terrorists.”

There’s a legal charge of “making terroristic threats.” It doesn’t require threatening more than one person, let alone having any such connections to other terrorists or terroristic movements. Terrorism is about the emotions it provokes in its victims, and yes, it tends to affect more people than the terrorist may have intended.

In the marathon-bombing case, especially as the suspects are found to be ethnically connected to a group with a gripe against a whole other nation, the pundits, even on MS-NBC, are barrelling down a number of roads that may be totally irrelevant. More than once I’ve seen a map thrown up with the city of Sheremetevka, Russia, flagged “Tamerlan visited …” and showing its proximity to Chechnya. At the same time, I’ve heard reporters acknowledging they don’t know where the elder suspect brother may have spent his six weeks in Russia, and that US records of his travel show only that he flew to Moscow. That makes me terribly suspicious of the map, since I recall that Moscow’s main airport is called “Sheremetyevo.” The city with the similar name is apparently 372 km from there.

So, as the anchors keep asking the “experts,” “what could have been their motivation?” It wasn’t until after 4PM that I learned Tamerlan was married to an American woman and had a child, that he was unemployed and had delved into religion only after his Golden Gloves career ended. Could the answer to motive be as simple as a feeling of emasculation and frustration? Where are his wife and child now? Did he know anyone in the marathon? Had he worked in any of the damaged businesses? Greater minds have been unhinged by such experiences.

The terrorists’ father, who reportedly went home to Russia to die of a brain tumor, has indicated he understood Tamerlan was a famous US national boxing champion, Dzhokhar a second-year medical student at 19. This is also little surprise. Fathers want to think their sons have achieved great things. His misunderstanding and disillusionment is no proof of anything else, and we should leave the poor man alone.

All of this only adds to my hope that young Dzokhar will be captured alive. If not, the “Chechen connection” will no doubt go down in history, and we’ll have a whole new category of neighbors to fear. The pundits will continue to “explain” how they think and why they hate us.

We can’t help our feelings of terror. We can help whether names like Tsarnaev, Lanza, Holmes, Loughner, … become merged into some inhuman hate-o-sphere, or remain recognized and mourned as our neighbors who were pushed or pulled over the brink by some very human sadness that we would rather not face. We are more vulnerable to such sadness than to any act of terror.


In compound expressions, significant insignificancies, thoughtless patterns on February 8, 2013 at 5:13 pm

A couple of weeks ago, when I grumbled about compounds that get denied the chance to go out separately, I somehow forgot to include the very significant mess made when throughout is used but through is what is really meant. This morning I was reminded by Stephanie Abrams of The Weather Channel, doing her anticipatory live standup on tonight’s possible blizzard in New York City. She referred to the difficulty of predicting how conditions might develop “throughout the next 48 hours” of storm-watching. The operative words that clash with the intensity of throughout are anticipatorypossible, and all the conditionals that come with the business of prediction.

I wouldn’t have objected if Abrams had been content to keep viewers posted throughout the weather event, but she was clearly predicting that conditions would change across her reporting period. That is, through the period. Weather forecasting happens to be one of the fields in which this distinction is more than a matter of linguistic elegance: If there is to be heavy snow throughout the night, there will be more accumulation than if blizzard conditions obtain for only some hours through the night.

It looks as though Boston is in for that kind of night, which is why the more senior TWC correspondent is set up there, on the Commons, though I’m hardly surprised to hear Jim Cantore get carried away and intensify his language without good reason. I wish they’d all calm down and just tell us what’s going on, so we can figure out how to get through

“Nancy Pelosi is incredible!”

In lost meanings, thoughtless patterns on January 25, 2013 at 9:35 pm

Sure as I am that Siobhan “Sam” Bennet, president of the Women’s Campaign Fund, meant that as an enthusiastic compliment when she said it on a recent episode of PBS’s “To the Contrary,” I just as surely wish she wouldn’t provide fodder for nitpicky critics. In fact, I wish we all could find some better words for expressing our admiration than those that imply the person or idea is literally too good to be true. Women like Rep. Pelosi — or Bennet, for that matter — are not fantastic or in any general way unbelievable. Neither are they terrific. Wonderful, maybe, but not wonderous.

Late in September, I was pleased to hear, on another public-broadcasting staple, “Fresh Air with Terry Gross,” a very funny exchange in which she teased author JR Moehringer with his published dislike for the overused “awesome.” They also touched on “amazing.” But at least those two mean what they’re overused to say, even if most applications actually fall short of the power those words should carry.

I just hate to see words lose their real meanings. When we have plenty of truly incredible politicians around, let’s find a way to get enthusiastic about the credibility of the others.

Whatever … and a few other compounds

In compound expressions, thoughtless patterns on January 25, 2013 at 9:10 pm

No, it’s not another rant against the universal and no-longer-new retort. In fact, I’ve occasionally found it useful myself. And I didn’t actually hear the title character today, but it’s been too many days since I’ve posted, and one of the kinds of abuses I said I wouldn’t criticize nevertheless reminded me of a peeve: It’s whenever folks are afraid to let a word go out on its own. They reflexively make it take along its little sister, making a compound or phrase. It’s becoming more and more rare to hear what without its ever.

The related word that set me off was on tonight’s “Antiques Roadshow” on PBS: “Whenever his wife died, he gave it to …” No, it wasn’t about a serial widower, but a one-shot bereavement and bequeathing.

A word even more often roped into nonsense by a frequent, but not necessary, companion is whether. Yes, it needs or, but if it has another alternative or two, it doesn’t need not. So many otherwise intelligent speakers of English fall into the likes of ‘Whether or not he stays or goes.’ I even hear the not doubled up: ‘Whether or not she likes it or not.’

I’m not often criticized for terseness, but compounds are not necessarily forever. Let that what, where, and whether have their independence, or find new friends. Keep in mind what all the word parts mean, and save some of them for later.

Whatever …

“This Will Be the Best Reality TV on Television”

In redundancy again, thoughtless patterns on October 19, 2012 at 2:48 am

This subtitle is actually attached to an amazingly clever and well-constructed article. Yes, it’s another under my byline, so I get to whine about editors. It was also written and submitted when the future tense (which wasn’t mine either) was appropriate to the main title, “Next [now Last, but I realize it fits in two ways, which would have been fun] Presidential Debate.”

Never mind. Brighter lights in bigger venues than this have committed the redundancy of packing both acronym and its full form into a single sentence or phrase. It’s hardly worth taking note of the number of times each day I hear ‘X a.m. in the morning.” At the same time, this subject gives me a chance to tell of a family-favorite exchange from the heat of an argument: (Parent) ‘You’re being redundant.’ (Enraged middle-schooler) ‘Redundant back to you!

“This may be the single most important night of the campaign.”

In comparatives, thoughtless patterns on October 16, 2012 at 11:04 pm

I fell off the “daily” wagon pretty quickly, but this repeat of a nearly constant abuse (which has almost certainly been uttered tonight by others in addition to Brian Williams on “NBC Nightly News”) stirred me to action. As it stands so often, that gratuitous single may try to, but of course cannot, intensify the superlative most important. I could be charitable and say it’s just redundant, but I would so like to see the single doing the job the speakers want it to do: ‘the most important single night.’

Come to think of it, I doubt even the pundits uttering this easy mess think that the presidential debate is going to be more important than the night they will spend enticing us to stay up all night counting ballots.

… former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney …

In Internet language, on line, political titles, search-engine optimization, thoughtless patterns on October 8, 2012 at 5:01 am

I figure the first post here ought to be about something published under my own byline, if not my control. When I submitted this article, it referred to “former Governor of Massachusetts Mitt Romney.” The site where I published it unfortunately does not allow for much give-and-take between writers and editors, and the editors favor SEO above all else. I suppose that would be the justification for changing my accurate and respectfully capitalized identification to mean ‘someone who governs or governed a place formerly known as Massachusetts.’ Given the setting, I didn’t think it was worth fighting about.

Now I have to find someplace to whine about SEO.

%d bloggers like this: