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Cranky old English teacher pet peevesPosted Wednesday, October 15, 2008, at 12:20 PM
Over the years, I've developed a sort of running list of most common English mistakes that I continually had to correct in my students' papers. Now that I'm retired, I see the same mistakes out there in the public domain - whether in the blogs, or, sadly, in the newspapers.
Since I'm really burned out on politics, and the hummingbirds are gone, what better time to introduce a new, totally-unrelated topic? Most people seem to think that good grammar is a sort of pie-in-the-sky subject anyway.
I must first point out that there are several levels of English, and not all levels are appropriate all the time. Standard English is, of course, at the top of the list, since it's the "most correct." However, in a social or informal situation, Standard English can be pretentious and "high falutin'."
Colloquial English contains many of the regional variations that I personally find charming - like "ya'll" in the South. Colloquialisms give foreigners fits (ah, I used another colloquialism!), because these words don't make literal sense.
Closely related to colloquial English is Idiomatic English, which may really be the same thing. I never realized how colloquial and idiomatic my speech was until I had foreign exchange students in class. Without thinking, I use phrases like "down pat," "crack the window," and "give fits."
Slang consists of the most current words, often belonging to certain groups, such as teenagers. Slang from my mother's era in the 40's, for example, contains such cute phrases as "the cat's pajamas" and "Oh, murder!" My students tried to keep me updated by saying such things as "I got your back, Mrs. D!" I used to keep a little list on my speaker's stand, so I could whip out a current slang term now and then. It always got a laugh!
Aside from all these regional and current variations, I have a list of common irritants:
* alot - This is a spelling mistake. No such word. It's spelled "a lot." Another similar word is "allot," as in "I'm going to allot you a certain amount of time." Though "a lot" is used a lot in conversation, it really isn't acceptable in formal writing. Here again, we have a distinction between "formal" English and "informal" English!
* It's - This is a usage mistake. "It's" is a contraction for "it is." ALWAYS! No exceptions! To write "The dog ate it's bone" is to say "The dog ate it is bone." Forget the possessive apostrophe!
* affect and effect - These two words are NOT interchangeable! "Affect" is a verb; "effect" is usually a noun. I illustrate: "I was greatly affected by his speech." "The speech had a good effect on me." True, you can use "effect" as follows: "The president's policy effected a very great change."
* mischievous - This word causes a double error: Many people misspell it as "mischevious," so they mispronounce it "mis-chee-vee-ous." It is pronounced "mis-chi-vous." Accent on the first syllable. No "e" sound in it.
These are a few of my favorite grammatical goof ups, but I'm sure we can come up with more.
However, when it comes to Blogger English, the grammar has to be pretty bad before I'll take issue with it. After all, blogs are the ultimate "informal English" situation.
From the golden hills of downtown Tillman, Missouri, this is your sometimes grammatically incorrect and always roving rural reporter, Madeline, signing off on a breath-taking Autumn morning!
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Madeline (Giles) DeJournett is the Advance writer for the North Stoddard Countian. A retired high school English/history teacher, she spent 32 years teaching in 5 schools in Missouri and Alaska. These days, she lives quietly with a menagerie of wild and domestic animals on 52 secluded acres in the remote Tillman hills south of Advance. She graduated from Dexter High School in 1960 and Southeast Missouri State in 1964. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.