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Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

Mr. Language Guy

After a hard day of wearing a new butt-crease in my chair in our conference room refereeing various committees drafting policies and procedures, allow me to unburden myself of a few pet peeves regarding the use and abuse of the English language:

“Utilization” and “utilize” are a blot on the English language. They are polysyllabic abominations spawned by the regulatory/consulting complex, suffering, as well it should, from an inferiority complex that renders it too insecure to use the perfectly good word “use.”

“Literally” is never used to mean literally. Rather, it is universally used to mean “figuratively,” its exact opposite (e.g. “He literally tore my head off for utilizing bad data in my report”).

Serial commas, by contrast, are God’s gift to careful draftsman, and are scorned only by those too illiterate to comprehend that they do, in fact, serve a purpose.

When, and why, did people stop using two spaces after periods? For that matter, when, and why, do people use apostrophes before every single frickin’ terminal “s” regardless of whether it is possessive? Or should that be irregardless of whether it is possessive?

No peeve too petty, that’s our motto. Readers are, of course invited to submit their own peeves in comments.

102 comments to Mr. Language Guy

  • Steve Peterson


    Great post.

    One thing, though. Use of the word “irregardless.” It is usually used to convey the meaning “regardless, ” or without regard, which is what I infer was your intent, as well. But, (another bad thing — beginning sentences with conjunctions) “irregardless” would be, effectively, without without regard, or “regarding.”

    Nitpicky? Sure, but it is an amusing addition to your list.

    Finally, have you noticed that prevalence of e-mail has increased the amount of sloppy writing out there in the world?

  • Dave

    People who didn’t learn to type (like me) are the ones who don’t put two spaces after a period.

  • Eric

    Two things:
    I was told that putting a single space between periods was now the “correct” way to type because it saves space. Back when I learned it was always two spaces, but now one space is the “correct” way. Who knows…

    This is my first time to this blog. Looks good. Maybe this has been brought up before, but is Robert Clayton Dean your real name? If so, it is the exact same name as Will Smith’s character in “Enemy of the State.” I’m sure this has been pointed out before, so I apologize for bringing it up.

  • Irregardless of the utility of the word “utilize,” the matter of double commas is a whole nother question.

    Microsoft Word would probably remove the redundant space, anyway.

  • Bernie

    When you need a way to do something try utilizing a methodology, and if it goes wrong you can fix it with remediation.

  • speedwell

    Word keeps the double space after a period if you use it, and you can set it to check to make sure that you do it (take it from a secretary). Of course, the same is true of single spacing. I consistently double space, though HTML reduces it to a single, and I have actually fought with my work-best-friend about it. SHE is a technical writer, but I was a professional copy editor. LOL

    Any onloookers who are confused about all this nitpicky English stuff (especially if English is not your strong suit, as is true for most people in England andthe United states, lol) are invited to join us at the web’s premier amateur-night English language help site, painintheenglish.com 😀

  • Can I put in a bad word for “comprise”, perhaps the most annoyingly misused word in the language? It’s best to entirely eliminate any word that is so misused. “Utilize” is certainly in this category, although it does have a precise meaning: “to take something not normally or naturally used for a particular purpose and adapt it to that purpose.” That distinguishes it nicely from “use”, but the distinction is so little followed and it is so tempting to the Howard Cosells of the world that I feel we must consign it to the outer darkness. So does ignorance impoverish our tongue.

  • Mike

    I’ll tell you what annoys the living shit out of me: people who don’t know the difference between “imply” and “infer.” Also: those who don’t know that “disinterested” and “uninterested” mean different things. Grrrr.

    For shits and grins, two malapropisms I’ve recently seen that put my teeth on edge:

    “tow the line” (towing it away, are you?)
    “here! here!” (where? where?)

  • R C Dean

    Yes! “tow the line”! Another peeve! I have seen this one quite a bit this election season. Its my understanding that the proper form “toe the line” derives from old-style boxing, where a line was drawn in the dirt and both men had to keep one foot in contact with the line while they pummeled each other. Bare knuckled. If you stepped back from the line, you lost.

    Double spaces after commas aid in readability; this standard was developed over hundreds of years experience with printing presses, and the ergonomics of reading are not changed by electronic composing. As for the stated reason for going to single spaces after commas, why anyone should care about saving space in electronic documents is a total mystery to me.

    Eric, R C Dean is my nom de blog. I have been in the past, and will likely be again, a political professional, and blogging pseudonymously allows me to give you the straight stuff without worrying about potential professional consequences.

  • R C Dean

    Blast. Should be double spaces after periods, not commas. But you knew that.

  • Ted Schuerzinger

    I was told once that you use the double space after a period if you’re using a fixed-with typeface (as was obviously the case with a typewriter). With modern word processing using variable-width fonts, the double space after a period isn’t necessary.

    One of my pet peeves not previously mentioned is writers’ not using the possessive with a gerund, as this sentence correctly does. Of course, I try to (not and!) demand proper English grammar and syntax from myself as I know there’s no way I’ll learn proper grammar in German or Russian if I can’t be bothered to learn the grammar of my native language.

  • Shadow Hunter

    My pet peeves comes from who else, my boss.

    The phrase Interface with… in lieu of communicate with or talk to is so over.

    He way over uses the term “Identify with”
    I do NOT identify with processes or inanimate objects. And I usally correlate or reference data.

    And he constantly asks the question “How do we know this?”, when what he really means is “What is the documentary proof?”

    Flame off

  • John Thacker

    Two spaces after a period went away with the shift to proportional fonts and automatic justification on computer word processors. Despite being fairly young (25), I still do it, though, since I learned on a typewriter.

  • Roy Lofquist

    All conventions about writing should have clarity as their raison d’etre.

    One of the most egregious mistakes of the 20th century was the selection of the period as the statement terminator in the COBOL (Common Business Oriented Language) computer language. The bugs caused by this are legion, exceeded only by those endemic in the abominable C language.

    The period is the smallest, least visible glyph. Failing to note its presence or absence in natural language can cause a mental stutter. Failing to note its absence in a computer program can be disastrous.

    Punctuation is a tool to clarify and convey the ideas of the writer. That extra space after the period is as important as paragraphs.

  • vinniethevendor

    My pet peeve- signs advertising an item and using an apostrophe signifying possessive when they mean plural.
    Examples……hot dog’s- taco’s

  • rdg

    “Serial commas, by contrast, are God’s gift to careful draftsman…”

    You mean draftsMEN, right? Or am I missing the sarcasm?

  • Guy Herbert

    Interesting to know you have what’s called in England “the greengrocer’s apostrophe” in the States. In matters of stopping we are otherwise so different.

    In that connection–maybe a specialist fetish–dates and decades get my goat. ” 60’s “, for ” ’60s ” (correct but fussy) or ” 60s ” (better).

    Not pedandtry, but a peeve nonetheless: I really don’t like the minor American comma convention araound formal titles, e.g.: “Mandelbrot, Inc., is an imaginary corporation,” even though there’s nothing can be done about it.

    The rule-fixed commas serve neither a grammatical nor a natural breathing function. They are just lying around, basking in unnecessary bandwidth, and waiting to be tripped over. Try instead: “Mandelbrot Inc. serves its readers, not ink manufacturers.” So much smoother on the eye. Wouldn’t the world be a better place with all those millions of comma-pairs doing useful work somewhere?

    (Careful readers of my comments will have noticed my commas wandering, which I claim is a typing disorder rather than a stopping one. I do know how to use them, honest. But I do so after the more flexible English fashion, rather than the American.)

    Confusion of common homophones also irritates me. Particularly common in my experience: “there” for “their”.

  • Just John

    I can’t name any specific instances, but the words “lose” and “loose” are interchanged far too often.

  • Euan Gray

    “Outwith” – used by Scots who are unaware of the words “without” and “outside”

    An inability to distinguish between uninterested and disinterested

    “Societal” instead of “social”

    Less common in the UK is “normalcy” – coined by a poorly educated American president who was unaware of the existence of “normality”


  • MTFO

    Lets see…

    “I don’t mean to be rude, but…” always means that you’re about to let lit up.

    “Disrespecting” something drives me nuts.

    Referring to one’s self in the third person should be punishable by cattleprodding.

    “Illogical” is just dumb.

    And, finally, having “an axe to grind” is not the same thing as carrying a grudge.

  • I hate women drivers – the grammar, not the people. A little thought shows that ‘woman drivers’ is correct; if we were being more polite, we would refer to them as ‘lady (singular) drivers’.

  • Duncan S

    Re Loose and Lose

    This one has got so bad, I recently saw it on a label inside an item of clothing for the Gant label.

    Something along the lines of “This garment will not loose its colour if washed”.

    I was sorely tempted to rip the label off and send it to the idiots.

    If no one has already pointed it out “Eats, Shoots and Leaves” by Lynne Truss covers lots of the grammar and punctuation howlers.

  • RPW

    Agree with Guy – mispelling homophones gets my goat too, “could of” for “could have” being an especially irritating one.

    Weasel – is either “woman driver” or “lady driver” strictly correct, given that in both cases we are using nouns as adjectives (and yes I know the expression is too firmly placed in the language to be uprooted)? “Female drivers” is surely the more strictly correct?

    And one rather scary one – people who can’t tell the difference between “prescribe” and “proscribe”. It’s scary because the first time I came across it was in a survey showing the declining standards of written English amongst medical students:-/…


  • Patrick W

    My pet hates:

    License when meaning licence

    Racialist when meaning racist

    Orientated when meaning oriented

    Exclamation marks to get every point across!!!


    US usage of ‘meet with’ when meaning ‘meet’

  • “‘Inflammable’ means ‘flammable’? What a country!” – Dr. Nick Riveria

    In the Canadian army we have “tasks” which refer to a job/appointment posting. These postings (posts?) are commonly referred to as “taskings” which drives a few people I know quite mad.

    “I took the 6 month tasking to work in Halifax.”

  • Robert, Meriam Webster begs to differ:

    Main Entry: uti·lize
    Pronunciation: ‘yü-t&l-“Iz
    Function: transitive verb
    Inflected Form(s): -lized; -liz·ing
    Etymology: French utiliser, from utile
    : to make use of : turn to practical use or account
    synonym see USE
    – uti·liz·able /-“I-z&-b&l/ adjective
    – uti·li·za·tion /”yü-t&l-&-‘zA-sh&n/ noun
    – uti·liz·er /’yü-t&l-“I-z&r/ noun

  • Speaking of spelling: it’s “Merriam”, not “Meriam”…:-)

  • John R

    Full stops after contractions such as Dr, Mr, Mrs etc. are irritating. Full stops should appear after abbreviations only. Try telling the spell checker in MS Word this.

    Oh, and talking of MS Word, its insistence on spelling Middlesbrough (in north eastern England) as Middlesborough.

    Oh there are too many to mention …

  • Patrick W

    ..oh here’s another…

    ‘Could care less’ when meaning ‘couldn’t care less’

  • R C Dean

    “Female drivers” is surely the more strictly correct?

    I prefer the term “gender-challenged drivers.”

    Alisa, Merriam Webster can bite my arse. Synonyms can be wonderful things. Wordy pretentious synonyms used by overpaid undereducated gasbags attempting to sound impressive are bad things.

  • GCooper

    Patrick W cites:

    “Orientated when meaning oriented”


    “US usage of ‘meet with’ when meaning ‘meet'”

    I agree with your other nominations, but not ‘orientated’ which Fowler believed would come to prevail in English usage and with which Chambers seems comfortable, as am I.

    The ‘meet with’ example is interesting as it is one of those reminders of our sweet old-fashioned cousins across the pond having retained traditional usage, while we have marched on to glorious illiteracy. It would have been perfectly acceptable to Mr Pepys.

    My own greatest hates (greengrocer’s apsotrophe, imply/infer) having already been aired, I’ll add ‘New’ Labour pseudo-management bollockspeak, like ‘step change’ and ‘keynote speech’.

    It was encouraging that Lynne Truss’s “Eats, Shoots & Leaves” was last year’s Christmas bestseller, though I wonder how many copies were actually read?

  • ian

    I always understood that with abbreviations (like Dr) where the last letter of the abreviation was the last letter of the unabbreviated word then no full stop (period) was required. If this does not apply then use a full stop.

    Also – don’t forget affect/effect.

  • Duncan

    “…exceeded only by those endemic in the abominable C language. ”

    C rocks…

    “Synergy” needs to be eradicated from the language… or at least limited to use outside of management…

  • A_t

    Saw someone yesterday talk about “exercising” their demons, but that was a one-off & I was much more amused than annoyed.

    The most irritating is easily the apostrophe thing, particularly when you see it on something that’s been printed; it’s one thing to scrawl it on a blackboard, another thing to type it & print out many copies.

  • What annoys me is when people use the suffix -phobe (ie irrational fear thereof) when they actually mean hate/dislike. It is possible to rationally loath someone or something.

    Another pet peeve of mine is the use of the word anti-semitism; a word with was invented by a judenhass because it sounded more neutral. The Nazis and the Islamists are judenhass…period.

  • The improper use of quotation marks as emphasis indicators.

    “Big” Sale now

    “Fresh” Produce

    …being two examples at the local supermarket which never fail to irritate me.

  • Is it in fact possible to meet without?

  • S. Weasel

    Two spaces after the period would be a pointless exercise for a blogger; HTML won’t render the second space. Poor thing just atrophied and fell off.

    My pet peeve is visual rather than literary, and the original post is lousy with it: the pictorial smiley. ASCII-based emoticons were a clever, simple system of widely-understood visual cues which arose spontaneously to meet a need. They informed without being intrusive. Pictorial smilies are ugly, distracting and <shudder> cute. And the animated ones…! Who wants to read with an anthropomorphic yellow pustule hopping around on the page pulling faces?

    I close with a question: when did everyone start capitalizing the first letter after a colon, mid-sentence? I first noticed it a few years ago, it’s near universal in newspapers and magazines in the US now, I’ve begun seeing it in the UK, and I didn’t get the memo.

  • R.C. Dean, no argument here, I was merely responding to Robert’s definition of the word.

  • Hank Scorpio

    I’m guilty of being a serial comma placer. I do it so often that I start to become self-conscious about it, even though I believe I place them where they’re intended to go; as a pause between thoughts.

    Any other thoughts on this? Do people find a proliferation of commas annoying, or am I just second guessing myself too much?

  • Jacob

    “And the animated ones…! “

    Me too, I hate them.
    Add to that pop-up ads.

    It’s a peeve not related to the English language but rather to Webese (?). I don’t know why perfectly nice and otherwise polite blogs must imitate the crude MSM and annoy it’s readers with popping ads in blogads. Couldn’t they just stick to non-popping ads ?

  • Ted Schuerzinger


    I agree with your suggestion of getting rid of “synergy”, as long as we can also get rid of “proactive”. (I’d suggest we get rid of its opposite, “propassive”, too, but nobody ever uses that word.)

  • anonymous coward

    Guy Herbert: Corporate titles are fixed in the incorporation papers, that’s why we have “Mandelbrot, Inc.” or “Dorkblaster Inc.” One could also have “Robbins Corporation” or “WeCool Ink.” We also have “Bob Jones University,” because that’s it’s corporate name.

    Latest pet peeve: All the Stateside newspapers like to say “let’s hone in on that.”

    Duncan S: “Eats, Shoots and Leaves” is exactly the sort of comma-sparing that other posters are complaining about.

    Alisa: Since the 3rd International Merian-Webster of forty years ago no one believes the dictionaries any more; look at what Oxford is up to.

  • bob mologna

    Disinterested can mean something different from uninterested, but it can also mean the same thing. In fact, my OED gives the first definition of disinterested as “Not interested, unconcerned” Sounds the same as uninterested to me.
    While leafing through the dictionary I came a across a word I never saw before: “Turnspit noun, a dog kept to turn a roasting spit by running on a treadmill connected with it.”

    Hey, I want one of those dogs!

  • Tim Sturm

    Two pet peeves:

    – “sat” instead of “sitting”,

    – “diagram” used as a verb, even if it is grammatically correct.

  • Philip Stevens

    The British government constantly takls about “delivering” healthcare, education and other public services.

    The last time I checked, the postman was the only person involved in delivery – now it seems they are all at it.

  • BB

    People using “ironic” when they mean “weird”.

    “It is so ironic that I am shoveling snow in March.”

  • Julian Morrison

    I’ve never seen the point in the two spaces convention myself. It’s not as if I can’t see the period and cap letter, fixed font or proportional. Seems to me, leaving two spaces just makes an annoying gap for the eyes to leap over, sometimes makes it all too easy to mis-leap to a closer word diagonally below, and skip into the middle of the next line. Can anyone inform me what useful purpose this once served?

  • “Passionate about…” [education blah blah blah]

    “Passion for …” [social justice blah blah blah]

    The worst by a mile

  • Ted Schuerzinger

    Philip Stevens wrote:

    The British government constantly takls about “delivering” healthcare, education and other public services.

    The last time I checked, the postman was the only person involved in delivery – now it seems they are all at it.

    Do obstetricians not deliver babies?

  • Julian Morrison

    Some of these “abuses” or dialect oddities are carrying new regular grammar or semantic subtleties. Examples:

    – meet vs. meet with: you meet a guy by accident, meet with him by design.

    – got vs. gotten: “I’ve got” is like “I have”, I’ve gotten” is like “I obtained”.

    – “sat” as in “I am sat on a seat” is a regular usage of the past form to indicate present imperfect like the archaic “seated”.

  • Hank Scorpio

    The only time I hear the word “seated” any more is either in reference to a host directing a party of people to their table, ie, “They’ve been seated”, or when talking about how a piece of equipment is attached to another piece, ie, “Is that video card seated all the way?”

    Other than that, yep, it’s archaic.

  • -I don’t like when question marks are placed at the ends of declarative sentences?

    -“Service” should not be used as a verb in place of “serve.”

    -some people dont punctuate at all they write long sentences like this readers must puzzle out what it means this is typically done in IM email or blog posts or comments nonpunctuation seems to be an affectation that says i am too busy ie important to punctuate but it gives readers mainly the opposite impression

    -Oh yeah: “affect” and “effect” ain’t the same, either as noun or verb.

    -“At this point in time” — what’s wrong with “now”?

    -A semicolon isn’t a comma; though some people use them interchangeably.

    -“May” is now often used in place of “might,” sapping meaning. I blame the apostrophe abusers.

  • D. Timmerman

    Wow, this has turned into a real bitch-fest, so I suppose I’ll throw in one of my own.

    I absolutely abhor when someone says “I just wanted to touch base with you.”

    You wanted to touch my what??

  • Tim Sturm

    Ugh! All you Americans: speech marks inside the commas and full-stops please!

  • David

    To Burglarize something…. when there is a perfectly good verb “to burgle”.

  • RN

    If I could apply a high voltage shock to the nipples of everyone who says “impact” when they mean “affect,” I would.

    If you don’t know how to spell “voila,” don’t use it. “Wahlah” is not acceptable. Ditto “segue” and “segway.”

    I hope you haven’t been “balled out,” (yikes!) but in fact “bawled out.”

    It may have been helpful to remain “mute” about a “moot” point, but these words are not interchangeable.

    “Low and behold!” you’ve mis-spelled “Lo.”

    Even though your back-woods dialect may make them sound identical, “are” and “our” are not one and the same.

    I know the French piss you off, but learning how to spell the words you pronounce (and therefore write, god help us) “nitch” and “bo” might me a good idea.

  • Vanya

    People who pronounce ‘issue’ so that the first syllable rhymes with ‘miss’. Whatever happened to the ‘sh’ sound? The BBC are to blame for this.

  • Findlay Dunachie

    “outwith” is a respectable Scottish locution, found in legal documents &c, though I don’t use it myself.

    I have exasperated some purists by pointing out that the phrase “behind [someone’s] back” should actually mean “in front of [someone]”

    The battle for “disinterested” is lost. “objective” is close enough (though not quite the same).

    “couldn’t care less” (the original, I believe) = simply unable to care, even if one tried.
    “could care less” = able to care – but why bother to?

    i.e., a fine distinction in the degree of indifference, or apathy

  • JoeB

    1) My first vote goes to apostrophes when the writer means plural. “Hot Dog’s and Coke’s”. Makes me insane with rage.

    2) There should always be 2 spaces after a period. Period. Those who single space are Philistines.

  • ian

    Two spaces after a full stop is not a grammatical convention, but a typographical one. It doesn’t affect meaning or presentation and is obsolete to everyone except trained typists.

    In practice of course they are all conventions and will change, however insufferable we find it. To pretend otherwise is to line up with the French and Japanese trying to stop the use of English words.

    The classic I think is the split infinitve – “to boldly go…” etc. This was an acceptable usage in English until Dr Johnson decided he didn’t like it. I’m neutral – sopmetimes it is clearer to accept it, other times not. It is still however only a convention.

  • beloml

    My pet peeve: the apparently losing battle over the difference between affect and effect.

    In this month’s Vanity Fair there’s an ad for Kendall Jackson wine that says something “had a direct affect” on something else.

    How many tens of thousands of dollars were spent for this abomination?

  • Ok, semicolons. Semicolons are wonderful; they add variety and allow one to construct complex sentences without relying too heavily on commas.[space][SPACE]


    I choke with rage when I see the word ‘except’ used to indicate acceptance, and when I see the word ‘accept’ used to indicate an exception. Using the words ‘affect’ and ‘effect’ interchangeably can cause strokes.

    I don’t care how many [unprintable] dictionaries include them, there are no such words as ‘orientate’, ‘criticality’, or ‘proactive’.

    The constant misuse and abuse of the word ‘irony’ is neither ironic, nor accurate. Sarcasm is not irony.

  • David

    It’s “try to win” not “try and win”. Doesn’t anyone realize the absurdity of saying, “He tried and win but lost.”?

    It’s “orient myself” not “orientate myself”.

    It’s “Where are you?” not “Where are you at?”

    It’s “I stepped off the curb.” not “I stepped off of the curb.”

  • kid charlemagne

    I hate snobby assholes like RN.

    Andrew Ian Dodge, “Judenhass” means Jew-hatred or hatred of Jews. A person can’t be “Judenhass”. Just say “Jew-hater”.

  • Ed

    Mine is orientate. Such a usless word, but it is even in dictionarys. Why?

  • David Mercer

    “Orientate” is in the dictionary because English language dicitonaries are typically descriptive and not prescriptive.

  • Alisa:

    I prefer my definition. Merriam’s doesn’t allow any distinction from “use” at all. If one said, “We’ve got all this extra paint around. Let’s utilize it to paint the walls,” that would appear to fit Merriam’s definition, but would express no shade of meaning that “use” wouldn’t. I prefer “use” in that situation. If you said, “The monkey utilized a walking stick left behind by the travelers to reach a banana hanging from a high branch,” you would be nearer to my meaning of utilize. Walking sticks aren’t made to knock down bananas. There is a fine distinction there that Merriam’s meaning doesn’t capture and that would be worth preserving if “utilize” weren’t so tempting to the compulsively and ignorantly multisyllabic.

  • mrs. grundy

    Pet peeves. The best kind of peeves.

    My boss often asks us to “simplify our verbiage” when she means, “Use simpler language.”

    She also tells us we are “begging the question” when she means we’re leaving some questions unanswered. The hair is standing up on the back of my neck even as I write this.

    I also would never really trust anyone who says, “Try and do something.”

  • diablo blanco

    I couldn’t care less what you say, Findlay Dunachie, “could care less” is just sloppy thinking. People say that when they mean they don’t care at all, and it figuratively kills me.

  • diablo blanco

    I couldn’t care less what you say Findlay Dunachie, “could care less” is just sloppy thinking. People say it when they mean they don’t care at all, and it figuratively kills me.

  • diablo blanco

    Double posting is also a pet peeve of mine. Argh!

  • Nancy

    I first heard the word “incentivise” from Heather Rabbits, ex Lambeth council harpy, who seemed comfortable enough with the word to use it on television; happily, it seems to have died a death on its own.

    Exact comma placement isn’t the point; it’s what is being written and who’s doing the writing that matters. Reading a truly great writer’s characters having a conversation is a joy, even given the multitude of commas that occur with written conversation. When sentences are well written and entertaining, the mind tends to incorporate the commas as if “hearing” the written word.

    By contrast, even if it is technically correct, no one can read: “The judge made some good points, notwithstanding her political views, of which we are well aware, considering that they were put forth, in great detail, in the Times article, less than a fortnight ago,….” without wanting to strangle the writer.

    Reading the above comments had filled me with renewed respect for anyone who masters English, when it’s not his native language.

  • Never use a large word when a diminutive one will suffice.

  • Never use a large word when a diminutive one will suffice.

    Triticale, was that irony? Surely you ment to write “smaller” or “tiny” instead of “diminutive”? Right?

    English is not my mother tongue, but I really find reprehensible the systematic dumbing down of English language in American spelling. Color? Labor? Theater? Defense? What is that?

    Also the urge to post some comment just for the sake of posting a comment is bad as well. My comment is a case in point. Sorry.

  • Ian

    My peeves:

    “Ensure” instead of “insure” and all their derivatives
    “fustrate” for “frustrate” (ARRRGGHHH!)
    “pacific” for “specific”
    “accept” for “except”

  • Mike

    ” I really find reprehensible the systematic dumbing down of English language in American spelling.”

    Clearly, Americans fell into this moral error because we’re all stupid. Feel better now?

  • This one I trust everyone will recognize as a joke.

    A grammarian was sent to the penitentiary, where he got shanked in the gut. He had to finish his sentence with a semicolon.

  • Jacob

    I also hate when Dale Amon consistently writes hanger when he means hangar ( the place where you have parties at airports).

  • Roy Lofquist

    Tourist: Do you know a good place we could stop at?

    Reply: I would suggest that you stop just before the at.

  • Language is a device used to convey ideas from one mind into others’. If the idea reaches its destination intact, then the device was up to the challenge.
    However, I do have several peeves. In no particular order, here are some of them:
    “Sign off on…” instead of sign.
    “LOL” this little all-purpose space invader should be banned.
    🙂 and all other smileys/emoticons are causing health problems everywhere.
    “Liase with…” instead of “Talk to…”
    That’s enough for now, I’ve been Dirk Thruster.

  • The ‘English dictionaries are descriptive, not prescriptive’ line is a professional cop-out. Lexicographers will quote Johnson’s

    [I] do not form, but register the language

    to support this attitude as Geoffrey Nunberg did to me years ago.
    This is selective quotation in action however, as Johnson also said:

    If the changes that we fear be thus irresistible, what remains but to acquiesce with silence, as in the other insurmountable distresses of humanity? It remains that we retard what we cannot repel, that we palliate what we cannot cure. Life may be lengthened by care, though death cannot be ultimately defeated: tongues, like governments, have a natural tendency to degeneration; we have long preserved our constitution, let us make some struggles for our language.

  • Maria

    After trying to learn another language and now finding myself stuck between the native and the foreign I struggle with simple spelling and the thingamajiggybobbers that sprinkle paragraphs. Yeah, I am a sinner and I am swiftly going to burn, someone pray for me or at least give me a little grammer help. I might inadvertantly affect someone else’s life with my poor use of the language and my shoddy writing skills. Oh well 🙂 at least I can rely on my looks to fade and my smart mouth getting my dumb butt in trouble, fun in the sun! Weee!

  • “I was on the curb but stepped off of it” appears to me to be correct usage, even if I stepped onto the sidewalk and not into the street. Thus “stepped off of the curb” is merely awkward and not wrong.

  • For Roy Lofquist (1:59 AM):

    Do you know the joke about the Alabamian at Harvard? (You’ll have to supply your own accents: I’m not going to try to spell them.)

    On the first day of the school year, a freshman from Alabama is walking across the quad. He stops an upperclassman and says “Excuse me, sir, can you tell me where the Harvard library is at?” The upperclassman replies with a sneer: “A Harvard man never ends a sentence with a preposition.” To which the Alabamian replies, “Well, sir, in that case, can you tell me where the Harvard library is at, asshole?”

    I’m on the upperclassman’s side grammatically, but I still like the joke.

  • Innocent Abroad

    Lemuel, color etc, are the original form of the word. The “u” was an elegant variation adopted in England towards the end of the 18th century, because there is a “u” in the equivalent French word.

    Theater neatly reflects the different pronunciation of the word in the US.

    Thru seems eminently reasonable. But Americans are as inconsistent as Brits – for example, they’ve kept borough and enough (among others) that seem to be crying out for help…

    One Americanism that does strike me as pretentious is absent for without. Whatever happened to dear old Fowler’s “prefer the Anglo-Saxon to the Latin”?

  • It is possible to make double spaces in HTML if you are that much of a purist.  The technique requires the &nbsp; code, which tells the browsers that, yes, I really want that space there.

    Other than that, I’ve got nothing to add, except to note that I feel like I’m back to hanging around Usenet’s alt.usage.english again. Thanks for the memories.

  • Make that &nbsp; (I hate having to code coding to make it show up right — but that’s a different rant.)

  • Thru seems eminently reasonable. But Americans are as inconsistent as Brits – for example, they’ve kept borough and enough (among others) that seem to be crying out for help.

    I’m one of them there users of “thru” and “enough” but I think my justification is valid. It is based on pronounciation, and “enuff” is wronger than “altho”.

  • Dave J

    Back to “literally”: I think my particular favorite misuse of that word was during the California blackouts, when Gray Davis said the state was “literally at war with Texas.”

    Like that fight would even be close, anyway.

  • jon

    Emoticons are a blight.

  • cp

    Mr White Devil,

    How ironic it is that you mention ‘figurative’ right after your complaint about ‘could care less’. It’s irony, son…

  • “Reign in” for “rein in.” I think that the mispelling of this phrase is due to the lack of understanding regarding the phrase’s origins; much as with “tow [sic] the line,” those who misspell it have probably never seen a horse (or boxed bare-knuckled), let alone ridden one that had to be reined in.

    As to the single space after the period, typographic expert Robin Williams (not the comedian) has demonstrated that it is more visually pleasing when using proportional fonts, and in fact can be seen in printed– not typed– material of decades ago; the use of two spaces after the period was a convention developed solely after typewriters became commonplace, and is solely for visual clarity in fixed-width font sets. In other words, the single period is far more visually pleasing, and is a mark of good design when creating a layout.

    Williams’ Non-Designer’s Design Book (and her similarly titled book on typography) contain clear explanations of such typographical phenomena, with illustrations of why one version is preferable to another.

  • Ysabel Howard

    B Durbin has it by a mile. In other words the single space after that punctuation-mark known to Brits as a full stop is because that’s what the DTP guys advise. When I learned to type on a typewriter 30 years ago, it was two spaces. The point (so to speak) is that, especially in the examples given in the books by said DTP guys, in a column of text rather than a page of text, in type of 11 point or more, two spaces after a full stop results in an ugly rivulet of white space running through the text.

    The film was reviewed by myself and Susan. Eurgh.
    The word is ‘me’ and don’t be passive about these things.

  • RK Jones

    Ok, this has been a long time coming, but as you have opened the door to the rants, here it comes….

    Is it too much to ask that most people not act and speak like dolts? Is it too much to ask that most people be taught what the word dolt means? How can we as an Anglosphere stop the senseless addition of a second r sound in the word “sherbet”? I am aware that anyone advocating spelling reform, or a return to some variant of the King’s English is promptly accused of trying to Frenchify the language; but damn it, how did we get to the point where people can’t even pronounce and spell the easy words? Like vagina, which is spoken just as spelled, not vergina.

    I don’t consider this to be tilting at windwills either, not like my crusade to eliminate the letter c. Why? Because it’s a useless letter, that’s why. It only makes two sounds, each of which is already made by a perfectly good letter. So, either eliminate it, or have it indicate the ‘ch’ sound without the h. Anyhoo, if I am ever ging to achieve arch-bastardhood, I need to punch up my curmudgeonly aura. And what better way to do that than by ranting about the way everything is going to hell in a handbasket. Everyone loves jeremiads right? After all, look at the sales figures for Silent Spring, or The Population Bomb, or The Holy Bible. If I could pad this out to book length I could call it Everything’s Getting Worse, and it;s the Fault of Everyone but ME!, or Why Things Suck So Much Today, or Why Parachute Pants Were an Abomination in the Eyes f the Lord.

    Speaking of the word length, what the hell is going on with people pronouncing the word height as if it were spelled heighth? No one pronounces the word weight this way. We aren’t even talking about differences of regional pronunciation, accents on different syllables. These meatheads are simply adding additional phonemes wherever the hell they feel like insertng them. Or, what about the folks who omit the ‘to be’ verb from their speech, as in “this car needs cleaned.” Am I the asshole here,or is this just wrong? We already had two perfectly good verb forms for this kind of communication, either “This car needs to be cleaned”, or “This car needs cleaning.” But were they good enough for the giggling waterheads who coined this bit of jack-assery? No, they were not.

    It is as though at some point back in ought-four (insert whatever year you had your own Abe Simpson moment), folks looked around and decided that incoherency shouldn’t just be for hillbillies anymore. And please, if you are a hillbilly with hurt feelings because of this, don’t call me. When you speak, to me it just sounds like two hogs trying to eat a bushel of corncobs. In any event, I’m not calling for the abolition of hillbilles, for if they went away, for how long could America remain competitive on the world nitro-burnin’-funny-car stage, and how would we coin words for new kinds of lip fungus.

    I am also saddened by the decline in the quality of modern cursing. There was a time when vulgairty could really add a certain punch to one’s speaking. Today, most of the classics are as oft used as would be any other intensifier. Overused in fact, for few classically trained speakers would use a single adjective four times in an eight word sentence. But now, one can easily use the word fuck alone for every part of speech. Is this some sort of Thoreau inspired effort to simplify, simplify, simplify the language? Consider if you will, the sentence “Fuck this fucking shit, you fucker.” If this continues, by the 22nd century it should take roughly 9 minutes to teach your newborn to speak. We will all talk like the Smurfs, but naughtier. Metamucil will change its name to You Shit Now, Fucker! Not only does this trend increasingly impoverish the language, but it also robs these ancient vulgarities of their sacred power. With the exception of the word ‘cunt’, none retains any real juice (except in Utah). And that’s fucked up.

    Also, my girlfriend uses the expression “Six and a half of one, a dozen of the other”, which doesn’t even make any goddamn sense.

    RK Jones

  • Ann Green

    Some of my pet peeves regarding butchering our language are:

    Due to laziness, I hear people (even newscasters) pronounce immunity as ah-munity. Election is ah-lection. Just listen, and you’ll hear it. “Often”, as I was always instructed, is pronouned”off-en”. As in, “off-en” (often) pronounced similar to “soff-en” (soften). Would one say, “soff-ten”? Due to my own laziness, I will sporadically use ” “; misuse punctuation; use run-on sentences and paragraphs (when new ones are required); have rambling and disorganized thoughts and not use spell-check. The children just arrived home from school, so I am rushed. Please ignore my errors. My apologies.

    I cringe everytime I hear, ” So, then I go…” for “So, then I said…”. Also, have you heard “ta” for to; fur for for; are (as in our house) for our; git for get; minny for many and “kin” for can. Could this be lazy English? Isn’t it “as I said”, instead of “like I said”? How about “I’m angry with you”, instead of “I’m mad at you”? Mad means crazy or insane. It’s not, “I am real happy”, but “I am really happy”. Have you heard, “Drive safe”, for “Drive safely”? What has happened to our adverbs? It isn’t “She put on a ton of makeup”. Did it really weigh a ton? I’ve heard one newscaster say “man-ah-facturing” for “manufacturing”. We have become more educated than earlier generations, yet we speak more poorly than they did. Why? I have read many letters from the late 1800s, and the writing is more eloquent than we write today even though it was written by people less educated than we are. When I was in grade school, the nuns drilled into us to use “real” as in “real (genuine) leather”, instead of as “She did real good”. It should be “She did really well”. Which is the correct response to “How are you”? : “I am good” or “I am well”? What happened to saying “thee” before words beginning with vowels? Now, all I seem to hear is, “The (not Thee) End” at the ending of a child’s book.” Listen for this common error. Where I currently reside, people will often call K-Mart, “K-marts”. They tend to pluralize. “Alls I know…” is used for “All I know”.

    “Children” is preferable to “kids”, or as my son says, “I am not a baby goat”. Misplaced modifiers are a problem here, as well. I can’t come up with one at this time. “Ah-scared” (combining afraid + scared) is heard sometimes used for “scared”. Dees for these; does (as in the female deer) for those; dat for that; dem for them is used frequently where I grew up. “Cousint” was the pronounced word for “cousin”. I would hear, “I seen it” for “I saw it” and “boughten it” for “bought it”.

    Could we say “At this time” or “At this point” instead of “At this point in time” because it is redundant? Have you ever heard, “I got up at 2 am in the morning” for “I got up at 2 in the morning” or “I got up at 2am”?

    My businessman husband (with an advanced college degree) says, “I got this for birthday”. Not, “I got this for MY birthday”. We drill into our two sons to say, “May I”? instead “Can I”? A neighbor recently said, “Him and I …”. At times, I am guilty of doing something I don’t care for, such as “Hope you have fun”(incomplete sentence) when I probably should write, “I hope you have fun”.

    I’ve rambled on for far too long.

  • Steinherz

    Finally, someone who has proven that the English language has not gone to Hell. Here are a few things that bother me:

    “Fustrate” is not a word. Type it into a search engine anyway and see how many people think it is. Frustrate, people.

    “I done did it.” Since people at my high school say this, I can only imagine that they passed grade school. How, I don’t know.

    “Where did you get it at?” I hate this one with a passion. They’re wasting time and using more words. This means more work. Leave off the useless preposition.

    “Its and it’s.” Need I say more?

    “The family are here.” There may be a thousand people in the family, but there is only one family. It is here.

    “Everyone has their own tastes.” Same thing. “Everyone” is singular. “Their” is not.

    Not too much is more annoying than when someone just starts writing a sentence you know like this and just keeps on going and going without coming to a point or using any commas or other punctuation just keeps moving forward and if you happen to look over and say hey how about some commas there and the person looks at you like you have lobsters crawling out of your head. Sorry, but that one has been bothering me for awhile. My friend made the fateful mistake of asking me to proofread her research paper for her. Commas.

    I know, who died and made me goddess of the English language? No one, but these things frustrate me beyond reason. Finally, I am free, and a little dramatic. There were more nitpicks, but I can’t remember them all. They will come back.

  • California Boy

    I can’t stand when people misuse the word myself. My understanding is that since reflexive pronouns refer back to the subject, “myself” should only be used when I was the subject. I’m constantly hearing people tell me things like “If you have any questions, just come to myself.” It sounds like their trying really hard to sound intelligent, but just failing miserably.

  • auntypizza

    Americans misuse the word “gotten” all the time, much to my displeasure. Use ‘got’.

  • sloppyjoe

    Thank you for mentioning the overuse of “myself.” That one really bugs me. I also can’t stand when people use “and I,” when they should use “and me.”

    He gave it to her and me. He didn’t give it to her and I, or she and I, or her and myself.

  • sloppyjoe

    Thank you for mentioning the overuse of “myself.” That one really bugs me. I also can’t stand when people use “and I,” when they should use “and me.”

    He gave it to her and me. He didn’t give it to her and I, or she and I, or her and myself.