Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Up and Down

              English is a wonderful language.  One word can have a dozen different meanings and spellings, depending on the context in which it is used, and every state, county, neighborhood, and household can have its own dialect making conversation into a serious guessing game.  Confused yet?  Let me enlighten you.

              Let’s talk about direction for a moment.  Down is down; up is up; and off is the opposite of on, right?  Wrong.  “Down”, apparently, is a place.  Not just any place either.  It’s a place where we can go to take care of any business matter under the sun.  Wanna change your name? turn yourself in? open a savings account? Down is the place to go.  You’ve heard it before: “She went “down” and had her name changed.”  “He went “down” and turned himself in.”  “She went “down” and opened a savings account.”  Evidently, “down” is quite an important part of our lives.  This takes us to “up”.  The opposite of “down” perhaps?  Hardly.  “You owe me 20 bucks so “pay up”.”  “This kitchen is a disaster so “clean up”.”  “I know you stole the “I Shot J.R.” T-shirt out of my closet so “‘fess up”.”  Other terms of considerable interest also include “on” and “off”.  Spouting zingers to an offender is “telling off” while divulging a misdeed is “telling on”.  If one is “ticked off” might one alternately be “ticked on”?

          As if direction isn’t befuddling enough, there is also the matter of time.  Nobody agrees on what to call the recent past or the near future.  If today is Thursday the 10th, then “last Tuesday” was the 1st.  The 8th should be referred to as “this past Tuesday”.  Next Tuesday will happen on the 15th.  If you can’t remember the exact day something occurred, simply refer to it as “the other day” and no one will question you.  The same theory applies to quantity as well.  Not everyone is convinced that a “couple” consists of two and a “few” consists of three.  We Southerners have our own vocabulary of quantitative words including “passel”, “mess”, and “heap”.  Amazingly, we can accurately determine exactly how many fish are in a “mess” and much trouble constitutes a “heap”.  It can become most confusing, indeed, when one starts trying to describe time in quantitative terms.  “I caught a mess of fish the other day so we’ll have y’all over for supper next Tuesday.”  Now I’m starting to confuse myself.  Moving on.

           I am increasingly appalled by our country’s lack of knowledge about the English language.  When did English become a disposable subject like Music and Drama?  When was it emphasized that the grotesque abuse of the exclamation point is appropriate?  I received an e-mail that went something like this: “Hi!  How are you?!  I’m OK!  My car broke down!!!!  I ran off the road when the engine stalled but everyone is OK!!  I found out the next day that I am getting a small raise so that will help with the repair bill!!”  Is anyone dizzy but me?  How in the world could someone rationalize the necessity for such egregious enthusiasm?  Would I not have been equally as happy for the pay raise if the exclamation point(s) were absent?

Along similar lines is the ridiculous spelling mistakes that even manage to make it into literature from Corporate America.  My best friend, Pocahontas, called me one day and laughed while she read a headline from a newsletter.  It ready, simply, “CONGRADULATIONS!”  (In case you missed it, there is supposed to be a “t”, not a “d” in this word.)  It seems that emphasis on science and mathematics has turned my generation into illiterate computer geeks.  We refuse to learn our own language then misuse antonyms and have the effrontery to invent words to communicate our thoughts.  A sign in the office of Mom’s insurance agency reads: “Premiums do on the 15th of each month.  No acceptions.”  It has been hanging in full view of the general public for quite some time and no one seems to care.  Does anyone else find this as annoying as creeping underwear? 

Some of my favorite invented words include “irregardless”, “snuck” as the past tense of “sneak” (which has recently been added to the dictionary, but you’ll never catch me using it), and the possessive pronoun, “I’s” as in “There’s nothing but dust in David and I’s wallets”.  I’m also perplexed by the number of people who seem to think that just because a word ends in an “s” that an apostrophe is automatically mandated.  The Yankee and I were driving to church one Sunday and saw a sign on the lawn of a convenience store that said, “Pizza’s by the slice”.  Pizza’s?  What exactly do these “pizza’s” own?

Along with words frequently misspelled come words frequently mispronounced.  For the record, nuclear is pronounced “noo-clee-er” not “nook-you-ler”.  A public building full of books is a “lie-brar-ee” not “lie-berry”.  “Pamphlet”, the informational paper published on various topics, is pronounced “pam-flit” not “pam-plit”.
For me, English and the Americans who speak it will always be a paradoxical source of irritation and comic relief.  I know my English and writing style can be very casual, and that is fine!  I don’t begrudge anyone a few minor mistakes or even intentional grammar misuse in casual conversation.  I do, however, find it alternately amusing and embarrassing when egregious flaws are ignored on professionally published materials.

Eye wander how long this will go on B4 sum won gits up an putts a stop two it.

© Bertha Grizzly 2011.  All Rights Reserved.  No duplication or distribution.

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