Live television is to blame for many grammatical errors and I don’t envy those brave souls who put themselves in that position. The occasional mistake, such as ‘getable’ or ‘most remotest’, which I’ve heard recently, should probably be expected with the pressure of being put ‘on the spot’.What annoys me more than these one-off errors are the continual mispronunciations, such as Antartica, instead of Antarctica and def’nally, instead of definitely. It appears to be laziness but it might be that the speakers are not aware of their mistake, in which case their employers or the viewers should point it out to them! Our children are watching and unless we want them to pick up bad habits we need to take a stand.
Pollie speak, such as ‘the end of the day’ and ‘at this point in time’ have also crept into the media and into everyday life and hopefully are only temporary. They are annoying but not incorrect. What is becoming more common in the media is the phrase ‘one of the only’, which is not only annoying but poor grammar. It doesn’t make sense, people! What they mean is ‘one of the few’, which is fine, or they could say ‘one of only a few, or a small number’. Please, not ‘one of the only’.
Another common mistake is using ‘unique’ with any intensifier—unique means the only one of its kind. It is not possible to be ‘very unique’ or ‘slightly unique’. A thing is either unique or it isn’t. If that one word is not enough for you, choose a different one.
‘Literally’ is another example of a commonly misused word. Some throw it around as if it were a meaningless word that just emphases their statement. ‘I literally died of shock when I saw my ex in the street!’ No, you didn’t or you wouldn’t be here to tell us about it. Nor did you literally become incontinent when you were similarly shocked by such an event. Or perhaps you did, but if you’re using that word, literally, it means what you are saying is the truth, not an exaggeration.
The Subject of the Verb.
Growing up, John Watson was the principal of the school.
Police kept a gunman at bay for several hours before being brought down in a hail of bullets.
He was hit by a man wearing a balaclava that was armed with a machete.
His wife and niece intervened.
The above sentences are all examples of media mangling, with changes to minor details. Yes, we know what they mean, but why on earth can’t they say it? The first sentence tells us that John Watson was the principal of a school while he was growing up. Is that likely? What the speaker meant was that the other person he had referred to in a previous sentence was a student at the school when John Watson was the principal. In this sentence though, the subject of the verb is clearly John Watson.
The next sentence tells us police were brought down by a hail of bullets and is quite a possible scenario and therefore a more confusing one. The rest of the news story made it quite clear that it was the gunman who was shot, not the police, but in this sentence the subject of the verb is not the gunman but the police. The gunman is the object of the verb – police kept gunman at bay. In order to have this sentence actually say what was intended it could read: Police kept a gunman at bay for several hours before they brought him down in a hail of bullets. Not a particularly good sentence but it is at least clear.
The next example is amusing and obvious – we know the balaclava wasn’t armed with a machete! Neither could we say: He was hit by a man wielding a machete wearing a balaclava. Clearly the machete wasn’t wearing a balaclava any more than the balaclava was wielding a machete! An easy correction would be simply to say he was hit by a man wearing a balaclava and wielding a machete.
The last sentence would be correct if the man was married to his niece. More likely it’s another example of lazy speech. His wife and his niece intervened is more likely what the speaker meant. Again, we know what they meant, but why not say that? It’s entirely possible that some people listening would presume that the man was married to his niece.
Every day I see examples in the media of poor grammar and misuse of words and I urge you again to please encourage your children to read—whether they’re reading the classics or Harry Potter or the Twilight series, get them reading!
The above rant is an excerpt from my free book at Smashwords: What Did You Say?
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