Every few months or so, a language-misusage fad comes down the pike.
About six months ago, for some strange reason, many people were sprinkling semicolons incorrectly throughout their email messages, memos and press releases. It was like a measles epidemic with semicolons being the measles spots. Here’s just one example of that craze, during which semicolons began to take the place of just about any form of punctuation:
“We went to Germany; and then Austria; before we boarded a plane to St. Petersburg; Russia.”
Thankfully, the semicolon plague appears to have passed.
However, we are now in the midst of a rampant “honesty” pestilence. Many people are preceding their comments with the words “Honestly . . . ” or “To be honest . . . ” You can hear it on talk shows all the time. They’ll say sentences like this: “To be honest, it’s supposed to warm up next weekend.” Or: “Honestly, the store doesn’t open until 9 a.m.”
What does honesty have to do with stores opening or warming forecasts? I suppose it’s a way of people trying to “underline” what they’re saying, rather like putting an exclamation mark at the end of a sentence or typing a sentence in bold print. People who really want to get your attention will say something like this: “To be perfectly honest, people of all ages are invited to the concert.”
There are times when “honesty” has its place in language, as in the following sentence: “OK, to be honest, father, I did chop down that cherry tree.” However, unless a person is ‘fessing up or down on his knees doing penance, it’s best to avoid those “honesty” intros.
We can only hope a brisk winter wind blows away this new word flu.
The following are other language-misusage trends, some of which I fear may become permanent:
More people are starting to say “conscious” for “conscience.” I can’t count the number of political leaders on TV who have said, “My conscious won’t allow me to vote for that bill.” This misusage popped up especially during the government shut-down when politicians were blaming one another for not having a “conscious.” I’m just waiting for one of them to say, “To be honest, he has no conscious.”
“Conscious” for “conscience” is similar to the time politicians were saying “eminent” strike for “imminent” strike when the Syrian crisis was at its peak.
Another apparent trend is to say something like this: “The students will tore France next month.” They say “tore” for “tour” and “torenament” for “tournament.” They’ll also say “shore” for “sure.” That pronunciation just might be an example of regionalism, probably indigenous to the New England area. An example of a regionalism is the way some people, including Bostonians like President John F. Kennedy, would say “Cuber” for “Cuba.” If it’s a regionalism, “tore” for “tour” is not incorrect. However, I don’t recall having heard that pronunciation at all before the last year or so. Besides, many people on TV are saying “tore” who are not New Englanders or Easterners.
Then, alas, there are the old misusage bugaboos that stubbornly persist, and I’m afraid there may never be a vaccine to prevent them. The worst is the widespread habit of using apostrophes to make singular words plural words. That mistake has become rampant these days.
Here is an example I noticed recently on a fundraising poster:
“We collect supply’s for the charity’s at the door also.”
The writer of that sentence mistakenly thought the way to form a plural word is to add an apostrophe, then an “s” on a singular word: one supply, two supply’s. It’s doubly wrong because to make a plural word out of most singular words that end in “y,” the writer must drop the “y” and add “ies.”
It should have been: “We collect supplies for the charities at the door also.”
The other day I saw this sign:
“Tenant’s must park in the back.”
That’s an example of using a possessive apostrophe where it does not belong – in a non-possessive plural word (tenants).
It should be: “Tenants must park in the back.”
As a lifelong student of the magnificent English language, what most perturbs me is these misusages seem to be the new norm. Some people like to excuse the use of sloppy language by saying, “Oh, well, it’s no big deal. Everyone knows what it means.”
That’s not necessarily so. Such inaccuracies can change the meaning of phrases and sentences. When it comes to language or anything else, none of us is perfect, but wouldn’t it be nice if more of us would learn to respect our language by learning to use it correctly?