People say one of the advantages of growing older is feeling free to speak your mind, say “No!” more often, and generally just not give a hoot about what others think. Of course, I wouldn’t know about that because I’m only 15…well, I would be if I’d been born on Leap Day. But I’m more than ready to start hooting at full speed about the destruction of our beloved English language in a tide of ignorance, sloppiness, cutesiness, and just flat-out bad, bad, bad, bad, bad writing.
So as today’s act of public service, I am launching Uncle Grumpy’s Grammar Rant! In which yours truly will comment upon the daily horrors visited upon ye olde mother tongue. Let’s git a rantin’, y’all!
Q: What’s wrong with this headline? “Diffuse a crisis in 9 steps.”
A: The writer made the common mistake of using “diffuse” in place of “defuse.” What’s ironic is that this one appeared on a well-known corporate communications site, alongside articles like “How to Punctuate Better Even When You’re in the Bathtub.” The name of this site shall remain anonymous in a gesture of our desire to maintain dignity amidst the snarkiness of the digital age (and because the owner of the site agreed to fatten Uncle’s wallet just a tad).
Q: Can you use “defuse” in a sentence for us?
A: Natch! “When Lud tried to take out defuse with that screwdriver, he got shocked so bad he started talking like Sarah Palin.”
Q: Is this a correct statement from NBC News? “Harrison Ford ditched his World War II training plane on a Los Angeles golf course Thursday.”
A: Only if he’d landed in the water hazard. As anyone who’s ever seen “Hellcats of the Navy” probably knows, “ditched” means a water landing. My dad spent some time in WW2 in an outfit that rescued guys who ditched in the Gulf of Mexico or Lake Pontchartrain. Besides, the correct version is, “Harrison Ford ditched his World War II training plane on a Los Angeles golf course Thursday but was rescued by Brian Williams, who’d been playing 18 holes with the Pope to celebrate his return from fighting ISIS alongside SEAL Team 6 (Mr. Williams’ return, not the Pope’s).”
Q: And finally, what’s wrong with THIS sentence, which comes from a big-time national newspaper and deals with preserving email? “The vagueness of federal guidelines have caused agencies, cabinet members and other senior officials to forge their own policies and practices, sometimes getting them into trouble.”
A: “The vagueness…have.” Vagueness is singular. Try again, people: “The vagueness of federal guidelines has caused…etc.” Folks who write, report, and edit the news for a living used to get into trouble for not knowing things as basic as this. But then Uncle Grumpy wouldn’t have a gig.
Stay tuned for more, and remember: It’s never two late too learn to right Good English!