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Is it or Ain't it?

        By Mike Lushington

        Years ago, there was a musical and, later on, a film, entitled The King and I.

        A couple of weeks ago, I overheard an item on TV that mentioned a new film. I thought that I heard that the title was The Prince and Me, but I was certain that I had misheard. Unfortunately I hadn't. That is the title of the thing. I don't go to many movies in any case, but I will be certain to miss this one on the simple grounds that if the producers can't even get their basic grammar right there is little promise that the rest of the film will offer much by way of intellectual stimulation or gratification.

        I realize that it is only the title of what, by all accounts, is a piece of entertainment froth. At the same time, however, it is symptomatic of a larger problem. Over the past few years it seems to me that the quality of English in mass media has deteriorated almost to the point of embarrassment. I happen to believe that announcers on our major television and radio networks have a fundamental obligation to speak properly (and that writers for national publications have a similar responsibility to write properly).

        I happened to be listening to the morning information program on CBC recently. In fifteen minutes between news broadcasts, I heard and noted the following grammatical gems:

        "Most of the time, it is always the client... ." Which is it? Is it "most of the time" but not always; or, is it "always the client"? "Most" is a comparative word, "always" is an absolute. In this context, you can use one or the other, but not both.

        "it will revert back to the original." The word "revert" means "to turn back", so the speaker is saying here that it will "turn back back." She meant to say that "It will revert to the original."

        "If you are not intentional about it... ." I am even quite sure what this is supposed to mean, but I think that the speaker meant "If you do not mean it." This is the kind of error that is cropping up more frequently all the time as speakers try to make their statements sound more impressive. I hear "I have a thought" instead of "I think", "It is my belief" rather than "I believe" and so on.

        "It was a clerical error, not an inputting error." I really do not know what this means, or what the speaker intended. I was so dazzled by the word "inputting" (if it is a word at all) that I lost track of the thought (if it was a thought at all.) In the first place, any error that results from someone entering data is a clerical error, a mistake. If it was not, then it was not an error at all, but an intended effort to enter false data or to mislead in some way.

        I repeat, these gems occurred in a fifteen minute stretch. Professional announcers committed three of them and a public spokesperson, the fourth. I hear the same sort of thing, night after night, on the suppertime television news and information programs.And then we wonder why our children no longer seem to be able to speak and write correctly.

 

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