Friday, July 29, 2011

For Who the Bell Tolls

Did that title make you cringe? Get used to it. Our old friend from English grammar is not on life support. The plug has been pulled, and now we are just waiting to see how long the tired, old pronoun can breathe on its own.

Cause of death? Acute ignorance, aggravated by chronic regular-guy syndrome. There just aren't many of us around who know when to use it, or who, if we do, dare to use it in conversation.

My computer's dictionary says "its use has retreated steadily and is now largely restricted to formal contexts." I'll say. And even then, the who/whom conundrum catches writers with their grammatical pants down.

A writer at Reuters posted a column containing this: "But I have been working my sources to compile a speculative short list of whom might replace Geithner should that become necessary."

Admittedly, that was a tricky one, but my grammar instincts say he got it wrong. But I'm not 100 percent sure, and therein lies a glimpse of the whom-less future. If a stickler such as I (see? I didn't say "like me") can't be sure of the correct usage, where is the hope for the 99.9 percent of the English-speaking population who don't give a dangling participle about it?

To who it may concern: The bell tolls for we.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Horseshoe Awards Return, Part Deux

It's time once again to recognize those hapless writers/speakers who enliven my daily grind with their wonderful language near-misses. As long as there are those who will call a Rolex a Rolodex watch, there is laughter in the world, and I, for one, am grateful.

The latest point of light was spotted at, a Web site for Alabama newspapers. Teasers scroll across the top, with links to news stories. I was intrigued as this message rolled by: "Overturned truck was filled with young beer cattle…" Well, that was a bit disturbing. What hath genetic engineering wrought? I had to click on that one, of course. The headline made clear the unfortunate bovines were "beef cattle," but for just a moment I thought maybe we lived in a world where Bossy produced Budweiser.

On a recent episode of "Pawn Stars," the bald guy says of a 19th-century revolver that was purported to be a gift to Theodore Roosevelt, "There’s no providence.” Are you kidding me? Dude! One day you're just a bald guy in a somewhat seedy business, the next you're a star of the small screen. Providence has been really, really good to you. (For those few of you who do not watch this show or "Antiques Roadshow," the word he wanted was "provenance.")

Want more beef? I spotted "calves liver" on a menu recently. I am not a fan of liver, anyway, but the liver of conjoined calves? A rare delicacy, to be sure, but a big "no, thanks" from this diner.

Horseshoe Awards go out to all the above. Let me know if there are any more sightings of the elusive beer cattle.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Gaffing the politicians

The presidential elections are a year and a half away, but we are well into the season of the favorite sport of American journalists—Gotcha. As one who plays Gotcha on a very small scale here at Wordcrank, perhaps I should not wag a finger at the big leaguers, but they seem to have lost all perspective in pursuit of a score, better known in journospeak as a gaffe.

Most of the recent scores have been fairly high on the OGG ("oh, good grief") meter. That means that players—journalists, pundits, comedians—are trying too hard to catch the hapless politician in a blunder.

The most recent high-OGG gaffe was President Obama's misstating his daughter's age. There have been hoots and shouts of laughter than the man does not know how old his firstborn is. If you missed the brouhaha, Obama said Malia is 13, when she's actually 12. He said this on June 29. Malia's 13th birthday is July 4. Maybe he should have said "about to be 13," but, really, does he have to be that precise? OGG.

Michelle Bachman got the same treatment for including John Quincy Adams as a Founding Father. No, he wasn't. He was a child in 1776, but he got a very early start on national affairs. He accompanied his father, John Adams, on his diplomatic missions to France and Holland beginning at the age of 11. He embarked on his own career at 14, when he served as secretary to the American envoy to Russia. I'd call him half a generation away from the founding and an important early national figure. He was just the sixth President of the United States. OGG.

I suppose politicians know this is part of the landscape they have chosen to enter, but it's a shame. Is it any wonder capable people decline to run for office? We voters and consumers of popular culture should remember that when next we encounter roving bands of gaffe-hunters looking for a little sport.