Thursday, March 20, 2008

Lingua Americana

When it comes to additions, subtractions, or incorrect usages of American English, I have often likened myself to the legendary boy with his finger in the dike. I know that language changes, and words and expressions that used to be incorrect are now ones I frequently use myself. My rule is: If I like it, then it's O.K. Certain vogue expressions past and present amuse me, but others I find insupportable. One that I like is "deal breaker." One of many deal breakers for me is the inability to distinguish between "lie" and "lay." I really tune out when I hear this one misused. To me it exemplifies one's educational level and the inability to speak American English correctly. I've also heard it misused in Britain; they probably caught the virus from us.

I grew up with the delightful military acronym "snafu" (situation normal—all f****d up), which was always sanitized to "fouled up," as I recall. But only after the terrible occurrence, right in my East Side Manhattan neighborhood, of the building crane accident that destroyed a local hangout called Fubar, along with much else, did I learn that the bar's name was a relative of snafu, and also a military slang acronym—perhaps more recent—meaning "f****d up beyond all recognition." Wonderful. Love it. Since we also had, for a while, an Asian fusion restaurant called Fu's in the neighborhood, I thought that the name was just an Asian one. But the bar owner set people straight when he was interviewed after, sadly, losing his business.

A word that I've never been able to prove incorrect is "arguably." I simply refuse to employ this unnecessary adverb. None of the writers' manuals mentions it, but I did find one bit of advice online which suggests that it smacks too much of  journalese and should be avoided. I wish others had happened upon this warning. Another offender, often cited, is "hopefully." However, it's now so widespread that I just throw up my hands. I won't use it myself, though.

And please, please, please deliver us from "awesome" and "like" except when absolutely necessary in their original meanings. I know I'm not getting anywhere with this, but blogging about it gives me a chance to vent my spleen (another good old, if clich├ęd, idiom).

Still will not accept:
"criteria" as a singular; it's "criterion."
Same for "media."

OTOH, (Look! I'm so trendy!), I've been saying "candelabra" for years, when I mean only one candelabrum. I've never heard anyone say "candelabrum." Maybe in ancient Rome. But, believe it or not, I wasn't around then.

Update: This week I heard a military type being interviewed on Terry Gross's Fresh Air on NPR use the word "fubar" just as a matter of course. I guess it's been around longer than I thought, according to Wikipedia. Must have been living in a cave. Apparently it's of nearly the same vintage as "snafu."


willowmanor said...

OTOH...a few years back, when I had a housefull of teenagers, I was appalled when I heard "awesome" slipping out of my own mouth! ;)

willowmanor said...

PS~~ Is that the Maltese Falcon I see among your books?