Tag Archives: good English

Out to pasture with Uncle Grumpy

Buggy whips. Gas lamps. TVs with rabbit ears. Cars without seatbelts. Rotary phones. Dial-up modems. Pauly Shore. Copy editors.

Everything listed above is obsolete, old hat, antediluvian, bygone, timeworn, and generally kaput. Why do I mention “copy editors,” a group of fine hardworking Americans that includes my own self, your obedient language guardian Uncle Grumpy? Because if anybody with one sentient brain cell could still edit copy, grammatical horrors like these wouldn’t be sprouting like Kardashians:

“When emergency responders got to the seen, the man was deceased.”

“The victim was badly burned from the waste down.”

“Coastal elites really have a vice grip on the House Democratic Caucus.”

I know some of you are thinking that last one is correct, but it should be VISE grip. A vise is a tool, which rhymes with fool, which is what I must be for getting so steamed about this.

And when I say STEAMED, I mean I look like I’ve got tiny teakettles boiling in both ears. Because words and language were the heart of my working life – on radio and TV, in print, and online – it kills me to wade through this kind of sloppiness and ignorance. I constantly see things, written by adults who are getting paid to write them, that would’ve earned me a big fat red F in English from first grade on.

I try not to take it personally. I know the legions of scribes on the web really aren’t plotting against my sanity: “Hey, I’m gonna write ‘The clouds has moved offshore’ so I can send Uncle Grumpy around the bend!” (Not to be confused with up the creek, up the river, over the river and through the woods, up the pole, or over the hill, though that applies to me too.)

I sometimes wish the ‘net gods had never invented spellcheck, which allows “My longtime spouse” to become “My longtime souse.” The real problem is that our attention spans are so decimated by nonstop surfing that even the most hideous goofs just don’t register. Any day, some major news outlet will write a headline about President-Elect Tramp and no one will bat an eye.

Here comes Uncle Grumpy!

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!