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May 2006


May 19, 2006   

It’s strange how something won’t bother you at all, but something else really similar will. As far as language, I’ve noticed that misspellings, mispronunciations, and misconjugations don’t bother me, but using entirely wrong words and pronouncing things that aren’t there do bother me.

To be more specific, here are examples of things that don’t bother me at all:

  • Pronouncing “salmon” without a silent l, i.e. making the first syllable rhyme with “Al”.
  • Reversing the “i” and “e” in various words (with the exception of the word “weird” — this one bothers me everytime I see it as “wierd”)
  • Mistaking the verb root of “conversation” to be “conversate”
  • Ending a sentence with a preposition

These are big huge no-nos to a lot of people, and I do entirely believe [ETA: I totally typed this as “beleive” the first time. Hee!!] that people should work on fixing them, but the reason these kinds of mistakes don’t bother me on a personal level is that when people make these specific types of errors, it is clear that they are still trying to do the right thing by following the known rules. “Salmon” is definitely an example where the correct pronunciation is an exception to the rule in English. I don’t know many words where the “l” is dropped. So I feel like, ok, the person hasn’t learned the one-off rule for this word — that’s ok. They just need to learn it and the problem is fixed.

The “ei” versus “ie” has so many exceptions that it’s again a matter of learning the exceptions rather than someone being ignorant of the overall rule. There is that little rhyme but my undestanding is that there are exceptions even to the exceptions themselves.

As for “conversate”, let me first be clear in saying that no, just because people mistakenly use it often doesn’t mean that we should allow it into the accepted vernacular; I am not saying that at all. But I’m saying that it is not an indicator of stupidity and lack of learning, as people seem to often feel. My take on it is that it’s a lack of specific learning, not learning in general, and can easily be fixed because it in fact demonstrates that the person is capable of solid reasoning techniques. In this case, you have a word that is presented in its noun form. The person knows that it shares a common root with a verb. Take the example of “commiseration”. The verb is “commiserate” not “commiser”. Another example is “fascination”. The verb is “fascinate” not “fascine”. In a similar vein, the person clearly has applied the same reverse engineering method to the word “conversation” to come up with “conversate” rather than “converse”.

The problem with this specific example is that the word “converse” is quite a common word in both common speech and reading, so this usage could demonstrate either that they are not well-read or that people are always using the wrong conjugation in front of them. But I don’t think that makes a person stupid. We learn language by listening to our surroundings. It isn’t an indicator of innate capabilities.

Ending a sentence with a preposition (in non-technical or non-legal writing) doesn’t bother me because, sometimes, the sentences sound so unnatural in casual conversation when you follow the proper rules of grammar. I allow myself and others a lot of leeway in this rule (and others, like using “they” or “you” instead of “one” when discussing a single hypothetical person) just because casual conversations don’t need to sound so stiff and stilted.

I could make a general hypothesis at this point that I don’t mind mistakes that are made when I can expect reasonable, intelligent, and capable people to make them, depending on lack of exposure to the given word or phrase, but I’m not sure that’s defensible.

Take the specific things that DO bother me:

  • Using “deep-seeded” instead of “deep-seated”, e.g. “She has some deep-seated, unresolved issues from her last relationship.”
  • Using “balled” instead of “bawled”, e.g. “I bawled my eyes out when the two main characters finally got together in the end.”
  • Using “would of” instead of “would have”, e.g. “I would have bought that pony, but I couldn’t figure out how I’d take care of it.”
  • Using the “____ and I” construct to the total exclusion of “____ and me” even when proper grammar strictly calls for it, e.g. “Paul decided to join Amy and me for dinner.”

I can’t actually think of a specific example of when people add or drop syllables in words at the moment. For the other examples listed above, I can come up with plenty of scenarios why a reasonable, intelligent, and capable person might consistent make these mistakes, but I can’t get away from the fact that they still bother me.

On reflection, maybe I’m just an self-centered bastard and if I think it’s a mistake *I* can and have made, then it’s ok, but if it’s something that I don’t do, then I get bothered by it. How terrible.

Let me add for clarity that those mistakes listed above don’t make me think less of a person or make me question their intelligence; rather, it’s the mistakes themselves that bug me. I don’t tend to extend my annoyance at the error to the person who makes it.

Furthermore, I had to correct this entry a billion times for errors, and I’m sure it’s still riddled with them. Heh. When I read Eats, Shoots & Leaves, I found that I consistently made certain mistakes in grammar that I hadn’t known about until the moment I read about them. Heh.