The English Teacher / The Social Network

Careless Language & “Common” Usage

America comes stock-equipped with multi-cultured, richly layered distinctives. Heritage hails here from all over the world, whose “tired and poor, huddled masses, yearning to breathe free” call the US ‘home.’ If the dinners on our tables distinguish us — East coast seafood, Midwest comfort food, West Coast fusion food — then certainly our colloquialisms differentiate us all the more. It’s okay, I guess, to pronounce ‘measure’ with a long A rather than a short E, though how the L sound shows up after the ‘o’ and before the ‘th’ in ‘both’ stupefies me. Some people, I realize, do choose to ‘mash’ elevator buttons, but when I hear the phrase, I quietly ask myself, “REALLY!?!?!” since I would only mash the potatoes and push the buttons. We have the “Valley Girls” to thank for, like, you know, the transformation of what used to be a verb expressing some positive affection or a preposition used for comparative, into outrageously annoying verbal clutter, and like, you know, I’m really sort of, you know, like, whatever…

Lately, new highs in low usage confound me. Increasingly obsessed with the image in the mirror, the narcissistic apparently cannot abide by the proper grammar that demands last place in the inclusion of self, preferring this jewel of communicative re-telling of recent events: “yeah, me and my friends…”  Tellingly, they observe the equally wrong usage of “Please send the invitation to my friend and I…”  Egad. But the coup de grâce comes with ubiquitous overuse of a particular metric weight  — the ‘ton’ — to indicate an extraordinary amount of just about anything. To wit: in the past 48 hours, we in the Midwest have gotten “a ton of rain,” and across the US “a ton of media coverage” surrounds the horrific events in West, TX, and Boston, MA. Okay, okay — I get it. A LOT of rain fell. About 4.5 inches at our house. Certainly, horrific events garner local, regional, and national, and sometimes even world-wide media coverage. Again, quite a substantial number. I understand the usage, and it’s common, indeed. A few months ago, a radio spot for a product targeting menopausal women aired locally. The product guaranteed the following: an end to hot flashes, night sweats and that ‘annoying belly fat.’ One satisfied customer raved, “I lost a TON of weight on the ___________ program.” I thought to myself, “REALLY!!?!?!  You weighed over 2000 pounds????” wondering if anyone noted the irony…

In tough grammatical times like these, I turn to the Bard, who simply made up words when he couldn’t find one that suited him, and inverted the English grammatical structure on many a syllabic whim. And, yes, I do note the irony. Before my superiority complex weakens under the strain of these commoners, I leave you with this Shakespearean rejoinder, should you encounter any language malefactions “out among them English” :

“I would challenge you to a battle of wits, but I see you are unarmed!”








6 thoughts on “Careless Language & “Common” Usage

  1. Great post! What is deeply unsettling for me is that the generation ahead is breeding an unattractive language of silly acronyms because of instant messaging and chatting.

  2. Be careful with use of units of weight. The metric ton, sometimes spelled tonne, referenced is actually 2,204.6 lb while the ton quantified above is a US ton, sometimes referred to as a short ton.

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