Saturday, July 19, 2008

Peeves - Language

No, I am not going to go on and on about politically correct speaking and writing, in this Peeve. Instead I will go on and on about the stupid things I hear and read on a daily basis. I recently received as a Father's Day gift an iPod Shuffle to block out most of the speech garbage; everything from the way people speak, like, you know, people of very small minds both young and old. However, I am still exposed occasionally to gross misuse of the English language.

Let's start with the redundancies. The weather report will invariably include a reference to "rain showers." This reference is used, obviously, so that listeners won't be misled into thinking that there will be a 20 percent chance of a meteor shower or a bridal shower, I guess.

These reports are usually heard on the news that may include a reference to headlines in "the Sun paper." This one took me a while to figure out. There must be a good reason, I thought, why he is referring to The Baltimore Sun as the Sun paper. Why not just "the Sun?" Is it because he is afraid people will think he is actually seeing these headlines in that great ball of blindly hot gases around which the Earth revolves? Are these the same people who would run out and buy a baby gift after listening to the weather?

I am usually exposed to such things whilst driving during my daily commute on "the MARC train." Traffic reports will describe incidents or conditions one may encounter "travelling Northbound" or southbound. Now in most places the English language is heard, one is either travelling north OR one is northbound. Only in Maryland can one be both. And I have actually seen this in writing in the Kapital paper.

I listen, painfully, to talk radio during my morning and evening commute. During Tony Pann's or Justin Berk's weather report we may be warned about high temperatures that may reach "a hunnert, or a hunnert 'n one." Pann or Berk, usually plugs the report's sponsor that invariably includes a toll-free phone number: "1 8-hunnert, 9-hunnert-1234"

I thought this may be just a quirky way of speaking, akin to Tommy Lasorda's legendary sayings. I was wrong. A long-time sponsor of the radio station is a hearing specialist called Audiology Associates and following a real toe-tapper of jingle, the narrator tries to describe the practice's service and all the wonderful things they can do for you. He sounds like he can't hear his own voice. Imagine Tom Brokaw at the bottom of a well trying to communicate to you using a tomato can and some string. At the end of his spiel, though he manages to get in the phone number: "410-944- thirty-one-hunnert."

It took me months of listening to this radio ad before I recognized the word "balance." He was trying to say "hearing and balance," but the only thing I could make out was "hearing and ba." I remember thinking how insanely ridiculous it was to have a radio ad for a hearing aid service that listeners could barely hear! After a while I began thinking how shrewdly cunning it was to have a radio ad for a hearing aid service that made you THINK you couldn't hear!

Finally, I want to advise all public speakers (and, alas, some writers) that there is no law requiring you to stick the meaningless phrase: "going forward" or its cousin, "going fo-ward" at the beginning or end of any sentence. Unless you are describing the direction relative to a stationary object the phrase has no meaning. If you can't think of something meaningful to say, then simply stop talking.


Bruce Godfrey said...

Slow blogging day chez Netherland? (Please note that I did not commit the horrid offense of using "at" before the French preposition "chez.")

Mike Netherland said...

Thanks, Bruce. We eschew all things French on this blog. But I have been meaning to write this particular peeve for a long time.

Anyway, stay tuned...I just opened another bottle of Chianti!

Greg Kline said...

I share your frustration and appreciate those who take the time to respect the language enough to use is correctly. None of us are perfect but that should be our goal.

By the way, my peeve is the use of the word "whatnot". It is the low rent alternative to "etc."

Casual conversation is one thing but the written work and professional broadcasting should have higher standards.

Anonymous said...


Don't forget about another of my favorites..."what have you"...and "downy ocean"...and "going up Annapolis way"