Monday, September 25, 2006

We must salvage American English?

MSNBC has a short and silly article about how bad current English usage is. It includes this ridiculous paragraph from a guy named Roger Peterson:
"How about this expression, 'for all intents and purposes.' What does that mean?" asks Peterson. "[Or] 'at this point in time.' What does that mean? How is it better than saying 'now?' 'That was an awfully nice dinner you just served me.' Well, was it a nice dinner or was it an awful dinner? Make up your mind. We simply, now, must salvage American English."
Well, here you go:
  • "For all intents and purposes" means that while a given thing may not be precisely a desired thing, it is a close enough functional equivalent. An extension cord, for example, can, for all intents and purposes, be a belt. The phrase communicates that while an extension cord isn't a belt, it serves the same needed function - holding up one's britches.
  • "At this point in time" sounds smarter than "now." It's wordier, too. Maybe not a great phrase, but so what?
  • "That was an awfully nice dinner" means that the dinner's nicety inspires awe. This one really gets me. I mean, there's no way to read that sentence to mean "Dinner was awful." "Awfully" is an adverb. Adverbs can modify a verb, another adverb, or an adjective. This one clearly modifies "nice". It is grammatically and colloquially impossible that this adverb modify the noun "dinner." There's no question about this. None. Even if the person said "That was an awful nice dinner", "awful"'s word placement would make it clear that "awful" modifies "nice". There's no ambiguity here.
  • "We must salvage American English" - what? Language constantly changes, and what was acceptable English in the past was not some golden ideal, some paradise from which we've fallen. It's just different. I mean, would this guy want to start talking all "Whan that Aprille, with his shoures soote"?
I don't think so. It's also funny that the article attacks the word "irregardless" as non-existant, but then must admit to its presence in the dictionary. I don't even like the word "irregardless", but it makes it clear that language changes and once unacceptable forms become acceptable.

1 comment:

warm fuzzy said...

neat post!