Sharpening The Blue Pencils

Good wet and windy and quite chilly morning!

As usual (my padded cell may await),  I have been prone to discover interesting and likely awkward or even “forbidden” fruit in the local newspaper as I seek to find and pluck some interesting information or a provocative opinion.

But, before I begin to write, I have something important to say.  (I’m voicing Groucho a bit here.)

I relish and marvel at how creative and adaptive young children can be (1) as they first learn a language and (2) as they find ways to manipulate that language.  When our granddaughter was about two years old,  she asked her mother,   “Do dogs have jobs?”  Tough question to answer,  but her mother was able to give Ava a satisfactory answer,  “Some do.”

Here from the local paper is a squib quoting, late last September,  a seven-year-old boy who was having fun on the final day of the Cumberland County Fair:  “My favorite is winning games and getting lots and lots of rewards.  I’m a haver.  I love to have everything.”   Honest and completely understandable (though not yet in the dictionary, I think).  We all are probably “havers” quite often.  Are we not?

Here now are some stunners and pausers in recent times from the local daily.  Your task is to identify what is questionable and offer a correction:

(1)  A Police Captain is quoted as saying,  re an ongoing investigation,  “We want to make sure what may have went wrong.”

Each of the following two sentences have, strictly speaking,  the same error,  a missing “‘s.”  Supply the missing piece in each sentence and add a justification for the “correction.”        (2)  “.  . .  a grade fraud investigation at Terry Sanford resulted in one football player losing his eligibility.”  (3)  “These new threads were a gift from his mother, Sharhonda Harris,  to celebrate Damontre signing his national letter of intent to play basketball at South Carolina.”

(4) In a Sports story about Campbell University basketball star Jonathan Rodriguez,  a Belmont University coach,  Rick Byrd, is quoted as saying about Rodriguez,  “He’s pretty indefensible really . . . . We’ve never been able to defend against him with just one person.”  [Coach Byrd should also, however, be lauded for his creative and adaptive way with the English language,  here again speaking of Rodriguez:  “He’s sneaky-quick, and a phenomenal sneaky-great scorer against guys inside that are bigger than he is.”  Hey, Nike!  We need a line of Rick Byrd “Sneaky-Great Sneakers.”]

( 5,6)  Here is a “two-fer” [how’s that for creative?] from the popular “Cheers and Jeers” feature recently.  The complainer is having trouble getting damaged furniture replaced:  “The table were defected.  They were made aware of this and were suppose to replace my tables. . . . I need my tables!”  [No, the first solution would not be to add the vowel “a” in the middle of that verb.]

Show me what you’ve got!



6 Responses to “Sharpening The Blue Pencils”

  1. Jeff Thompson Says:

    (1) Bastardization of the language is commonplace, but I too cringed when I read Captain Chander’s comment. It should have been “…gone wrong.”

    (2) I think it should be grades fraud (plural) but I don’t like a possesive s. More than one grade was at issue.

    (3) “These new threads were gifts…” Syntax correction

    (4) Regarding the coach’s comments, the world of sports has developed its own lexicon. But it should have been “…he’s undefendable” I suppose, but he should have said “…he’s hard to defend.”

    (5) I believe there were two end tables in question, so it should have been “…the tables were defective.” and (6) “…they were supposed to replace my tables.” Again syntax

  2. Jeff Thompson Says:

    Dr. Rundus, I’d really like to read your thoughts on proper use of the language. I’m not convinced it’s being taught as it used to be. My generation used to begin learning lanuage in grade school, and we were taught to know it and use it correctly. I get the impression that the last couple of generations havn’t learned proper use of the language and have no respect for it. Some teachers tell me that the important thing is to adequately communicate thoughts and not worry about grammer. It’s like in mathematics, kids are taught how to use calculators not their brains when doing their multiplication, addition, subtraction and division tables.

  3. Raymond Rundus Says:

    Only Jeff Thompson up and about? Where have all the sleepyheads gone?

    In any event, enough time has passed to give all a fair opportunity to respond to my latest effusion.

    #1 Good job, Mr. Thompson, first of all, in correcting the usage error of the Police Captain. The principal parts of “go” (an unusual verb in its history and forms and thus more understandable in causing errors than with a verb with a conventional conjugation) are “go,” “went,” and “gone,” the last being the past participle–to be used after the auxiliary (or “helping”) verb form of “have.” We need some help in understanding the problem ( a problem at the least for us who are sticklers and curmudgeons) in #2 and #3. The situation is the same: the failure to use the possessive form of a noun or pronoun before a gerund (an “-ing” word used as a noun). #2 ought to have been written, “one football [player’s] losing his eligibility” and #3, “to celebrate [Demontre’s] signing his national letter of intent] . . . ”
    So far, none of these three problems involve the principle of ruptured “syntax,” that word meaning the arrangement of words in their proper order. English (unlike Latin and German, for example) is essentially a syntactic language, not an inflected one, in which words change form in relation to time, gender, number, and so on.
    #4 Coach Byrd or the reporter or both committed a malapropism: “undefendable” would be the proper word. To describe player Rodriguez as “indefensible” would at least suggest (connotatively) that he has committed some kind of error or even a crime.
    #5,#6: Your corrections are spot on: Both errors indicate the “Jeer” writer is probably versed more in spoken English than written. “Defected” actually cannot serve as a transitive verb (as it is structured here, even though the “actor” is not named). One might say something like, “The Russian ballerinas defected to the West yesterday.” That is a correct use of “defect” as an intransitive verb. And “suppose to” is an understandable error as, in the phonetic system of English, [d] and [t] are both “dental alveolars,” and thus when they jam up against each other, it is likely that one of the two will be omitted in writing (one is omitted in speech unless one says each word very deliberately).

    In response to the suggestion of my providing more thinking about the proper uses of the English language. Many others have written much more and have more knowledge than I do about the topic. David Crystal’s “The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Language” remains, for me at least, the indisputable resource for information and advice (heavy emphasis on the former).
    I would add that more English is being written today by more Americans than in any previous time: primarily due to the advent of “Twitter,” texting, Blogs and blogging, personal and social Web sites, word processing programs, and most especially electronic mail transmission and reception. At 75 years of age, I am once again a “babe in the cyberwoods.”
    So I will be content to keep “blogging” along and hoping that, occasionally, a crafty reader might have an “aha moment” or two.


  4. Jeff Thompson Says:

    You know what Doc, for what it’s worth, I was taught in high school (late 1950s) that planes, boats and trains are “due,” that in your comments on the language above you might have said “…primarily because of the advent of…”

  5. Getting a Better Grip on Speaking and Writing » Blog Archive » Thank You, Jeff Thompson Says:

    […] Thompson Says: November 16th, 2009 at 4:11 pm   editYou know what Doc, for what it’s worth, I was taught in high school (late 1950s) that […]

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