Sunday, 28 September 2008

Pedantry Top Three

Since I returned to higher education I have become something of a pedant or, as some people prefer to suggest, a language fascist. This may be because I am having to pay more attention to what I write, knowing that my compositions will be scrutinised, rather than merely read. Of course, if I am going to demand such high standards of myself then I am damn well going to treat my fellows in the same manner: a sort of perversion of the Golden Rule - 'do unto others as you do unto yourself.'

Consequently I have joined the legion of hand-wringers bemoaning the destruction of the English language. Above and beyond the increasing usage of SMS style language on the Internet, which has always been acronym heavy anyway, I get angry about the misuse of certain words. As such, I find the following five cases particularly annoying...

1) Less/Fewer
This is such a common mistake that it will probably not be seen as such in the near future. For those who don't know, you should use 'fewer' when you are talking about things that you count individually, such as apples, baboons or Californians; you should use 'less' for things that you measure or otherwise perceive as a continuum, like water, time and colours (as in 'less yellow').

2) Literally
Earlier this year, I was listening to a discussion about American policy towards Cuba on the radio. The presenter was interviewing a university professor about the subject during which the esteemed academic said something along the lines of "the American government literally has a strangle-hold on the Cuban people." Did he seriously expect us to believe that U.S. politicians and bureaucrats spent their time on that Caribbean island with hands clasped around the necks of the populace? I know some people accept that 'literally' can be used mean 'in effect' and to add emphasis to a statement, but that rather undermines the proper usage of the word.

3) Imply/Infer
This is something of an old chestnut and I include it because other language pedants would be let down had I not. So, for the record, the speaker/writer implies; the listener/reader infers. It really is as simple as that. As far as I know, this distinction is not being undermined in the same manner as the other two cases I mentioned, but it is surely only a matter of time.


p.s. I realise that by posting this rant I have opened myself up to ┼▒ber-pedants leaving comments correcting my grammar and punctuation. I look forward to seeing such criticisms because I am willing to learn and become a greater language fascist than I am already.


Anonymous said...

Well now...

You have used a colon where you should have used a semi-colon.

A colon should be followed by a capital, unlike the semi-colon.

Just thought you should know =]


Anonymous said...

Oh...and another thing...

Muphrey's Law states that any critique will invariably contain an example of the very thing being critiqued in the first place.

(Closely related to Murphey's Law.)

And why is it that only us foreigners who know proper English grammar?

Ribbit =]

Stepterix said...

Thanks for the comments...

Actually, I think the colon and the dash are in the wrong places. It should have read

I am damn well going to treat my fellows in the same manner - a sort of perversion of the Golden Rule: 'Do unto others as you do unto yourself.'

In that case the colon should indeed be followed by a capital; however, this is not always the case in English.

As for Murphy's Law see my post-script.