Most of my experience with English these days comes from the Internet, either written or podcast. This means that I’m exposed to the same relatively limited sources repeatedly, with little variation. It also means that when any of these couple dozen people have an oral or written tic that annoys me, I can’t escape it. Here are some which are bothering me these days:
Bringing up something you’re not ready to discuss
I find this both slightly passive-aggressive and distracting narratively. On one podcast, the host frequently says, “We’ll get to there.” If the point’s been raised, seems to me that you’re already there, so you should just address it.
On a website that I’ve stopped reading precisely because of this, several reviews feature phrases like “More on that later.” Well, why’d you mention it now? If your sentence / paragraph / thesis isn’t structured in such a way as to allow for the discussion of this point, re-work it or address your concern later in a way that flows naturally.
Explicate and unpack
I’ve really gotten to hate both of these terms. To my recollection, they came into vogue around the time of INCEPTION. The film has a nested narrative structure (stories within stories) and in order to discuss the plot(s), most of my podcasts started using these terms.
My dictionary defines explicate as, “1. analyze and develop (an idea or principle) in detail. 2. analyze (a literary work) in order to reveal its meaning.” Unpack’s third definition is “analyze (something) into its component elements.”
I’m not against either idea, though I am biased against any unpacking that doesn’t involve boxes or suitcases, but it seems like people latched on to both words and won’t let go. Not every episode of TV needs to be “unpacked.” How ’bout you just discuss the story and how it was constructed? Not everything is a riddle or a matryoshka. You don’t need to “unpack [your] feelings” about a fictional entertainment. I don’t want to hear about your baggage, just tell me your reaction. Leave the packing to professionals.
Continued misuse of there / their / they’re and it’s /its
Look, we all make mistakes, me included. But I don’t work for a website / news organization which employs editors. (I know many online content editors aren’t paid, but that’s not an excuse for not doing the job correctly.) One of the most basic reasons to have someone look over your work before you send it / publish it / print it is because someone without a relationship to the text can see it in a fresh light. These things should not be happening with the frequency I see. It’s just not acceptable.
As an aside, none of my Spanish ESL students had issues with mixing these up, even the kids. Because they’d learned the grammar (and had a good teacher), they were never confused (beyond the spelling of “their” which is weird-looking).
Finally, if these two puppets can figure it out, adults who only speak English should be able to grasp the concepts too.
Last Tuesday was something called National Grammar Day. Since I don’t live in the US, I can claim both ignorance and my usual I-schedule-a-week-in-advance excuse as reasons why I didn’t commemorate it here. There were some pretty great appreciations for clear and concise communication on the web, but I’m only going to share two.
The first is opening lines from novels, diagrammed, just like you had to in school.
The second is a post called “How the Grinch Stole Grammar!” Here’s an excerpt:
He hated a lot! As he harshly explained:
“In matters linguistic, you’re hopelessly trained.
Allow me to show you some AWFUL mistakes
That I fear almost every last one of you makes!
Each time you use ‘they’ to refer to one person
Your standards of speech irreversibly worsen
And when you pair ‘none’ not with ‘is’ but with ‘are’
You inflict upon English a hideous scar.
Whenever you make an infinitive split
You make yourself look a definitive twit!
One common misdeed that extremely disturbs
Is when verbs become nouns or when nouns become verbs.
Another thing – which, I assure you, is banned –
Is when you begin a new sentence with ‘and’!
What’s worse, without showing a speck of contrition,
You’ll end the next one with a foul PREPOSITION!
‘Between you and I’,
Are giving your language a horrible taint.
I could go on all day, listing errors syntactical
But there are so many… it wouldn’t be practical.”
For the record
I’m no longer so prescriptive that I object to ending sentences with prepositions. For that matter, in informal writing, like this here blog, I also don’t see a problem with beginning a sentence with either “and” or “but.”