Thursday, November 24, 2011

Guest Author: Bob Brink


A newspaper review by a former longtime creative writing professor praised the writing style of my novel, Breaking Out, for its "polish and grace." That observation has lent me sufficient authenticity, I think, to expound on a subject that causes me increasing dismay: the breakdown of standards in English grammar and usage.

At the risk of seeming insufferably snobbish, I will further quote the reviewer, Philip K. Jason, Ph.D., ( "His sentences and paragraphs are well turned."

I must say that the sentences and paragraphs in public communication these days are often turned inside out, upside down, topsy turvy – anything but straightforward and clear.

Let's see ... . Here are a couple of items from the Palm Beach Post, same day, same section: "It's got a bright taste," the writer said of a wine. Removing the contraction, the phrase becomes, "It has got a bright taste." Is there any reason in the world to include the word "got"? Then there's this sentence by a Post editor: "They walked everywhere, including to their new high school at 15th and Tamarind." How awkward. "Including" screams out to be followed by a noun, not a preposition.

The mishandling of "including" is ubiquitous. Even columnists for the New York Times occasionally are guilty of it.

Another endemic problem is the dangling modifier. A perfect example is this one, also from the Post: "Located across the street from the Blue Heron Bridge, Jaeger said the new store is in the perfect spot." One wonders how Jaeger enjoys the view in his location across the street from the bridge.

Here's a doozy by a columnist in The Condo News in Palm Beach County: "Being a member of my town's Code Enforcement Board, at our last meeting water violations seemed to fill our agenda." I kind of, sort of think she meant to say that as a board member, she noticed an awful lot of water violations on the agenda.

Speaking of "sort of," Chris Hayes of The Nation magazine surely holds the record for most frequent use of the phrase on a television network – namely, MSNBC. A few days ago, I decided to count during a conversation he had with a host. After he used it four times in about about one minute, I switched to CNBC, where watching my stocks fall was less painful.

Even more grating to the ear is TV's omnipresent "if you will." A political talk show host says the politician was "stretching the truth, if you will." Instead of calling the pol a liar, the host already has hedged with the "stretching" language. Is the added phrase necessary? Do these people have to qualify almost everything they say with that God-awful appendage?

Close behind "if you will" in frequency is "literally." "This house at 200 Pine Street was literally destroyed by fire," the TV reporter announces as the camera takes in the scene. And you think, Aw c'mon, I see a couple of charred studs still standing. You sure it wasn't just figuratively destroyed?

A mistake made by virtually every writer I've read involves items in a series in the first part of a compound sentence. Usually, the word "and" is omitted before the last item in the series, as though the second part of the sentence, which follows "and," were the last item in the series. Two "and"s are needed. Example: "I bought fruit, vegetables, milk, and went home." Wrong. That's two sentences, the verbs being "bought" and "went." So it's "... vegetables and milk, and went home."

A few more that stick in my craw: (1) "both X as well as Z." Nooooo. It's, "both X and Z," or "both X and Y, as well as Z." (2) "between X to Z." Does that sound illiterate, or what? It's, "between X and Z," or "from X to Z." I've heard "between ... to" on National Public Radio, and seen it often in the Palm Beach Post. (3) "I'll do it, however, I'm not happy." Wrong. Does "however" go with the first, or second, part of the sentence? It's, "I'll do it; however, ... ." Or, "I'll do it. However, ... ."

There are many others, but I've run out of space. In another spot, I'd especially like to offer my alternatives to use of the plural pronoun forms (they, them, their) when the gender isn't known. I've come up with a new set of pronouns. 


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