English Is Misused, Abused and Poorly Punctuated

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NPR newscaster Nora Raum is having a tough time keeping her cool these days, what with all the bad grammar and lazy language use that she's been hearing.


These days, pop culture is pretty hard on people who love words and grammar, like NPR newscaster Nora Raum.

NORA RAUM: A new movie opened last week. It's called "10 Hours or Less" - that's right, less. Aren't there any editors in Hollywood? It's a fairly simple rule. If you can count it, it's fewer. Less milk, fewer glasses. I'm certainly not perfect in the grammar department, but this is the kind of thing that grates on the ear - my ear, anyway.

There are other things that drive me crazy. Once I wrote a short story in which the protagonist suspected that her husband was having an affair with a younger woman. She finally decided he couldn't be because the sweet young thing used impact as a verb. Certainly, her husband wouldn't be interested in someone like that.

Okay, I admit that story didn't go anywhere, but it's important that people try to use language more carefully. I hate it when people say literally when they don't mean it, as in I literally went through the roof. and one should never say or type ironically. If it is indeed ironic, your listener or reader will figure that out on his or her own. You'll notice I made sure the singular pronoun matched the singular noun. I'm also sensitive about that singular-plural thing.

My 16-year-old son calls me the grammar police. He likes to use that to annoy me. He'll say, Look at this, Mom, it's very unique. Ha ha ha, very funny.

Another word I can't stand to see misused is massive. Some dictionaries may disagree, but I go by the traditional definition that says massive means heavy as well as big. It denotes weight as well as size. So a mountain range or an aircraft carrier might be massive, but a scandal is large or widespread.

And decimate means killing every 10th one, so the army decimated half the opposition is mathematically as well as grammatically wrong. I must admit I yell at the radio a lot these days. Print communications can also be annoying. There are always apostrophes where they shouldn't be, and not where they should be. No one ever seems to get lie, lay, lain right, or the difference between imply and infer.

Maybe I'm being too anal about this. Our language is an ever-changing thing. As long as we can communicate, so what? Well, it's important, that's why, and I bet most of you agree that words are wonderful things and should be used carefully, and I bet most of you could come up with many more examples that drive you crazy. Just don't tell my son.

SEABROOK: Nora Raum fumes about grammar in Alexandria, Virginia. And you language-lovers, stay tuned. The puzzle master cometh with a puzzle that adds letters to old words to make new ones.

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