Disdaining Improper English

A character in an older book I just finished reading was a stickler for proper English. Many of his objections were constructions I had no idea were improper, such as the use of “due to unforeseen circumstance” rather than “owing to unforeseen circumstances.” Since I didn’t know it was improper, I’ve always said “due to” rather than “owing to,” though now I will make sure I say it properly.

It made me wonder what other phrases I have been using improperly all my life, which led to the realization that my own disdain of improper English is probably misplaced. If improper phrases such as “due to unforeseen circumstances” are so prevalent as to seem proper, then today’s ridiculous constructions that I abhor will become (in some cases have already become) the preferred usage among the populace. “Veggies,” for example. I despise the cutesy word, suitable only for small children who have to be enticed to eat food they don’t particularly like. It isn’t at all a grown-up word, and yet everyone uses it. I can’t remember the last time anyone but me used the proper word, “vegetables.”

“Intestinal fortitude” is a phrase used in place of courage and the strength of mind to bear adversity, which is utterly silly. “Fortitude” alone means exactly that. I imagine somewhere along the line, someone thought they were being cute, using an erudite-sounding construction instead of saying “guts,” but eek. The phrase “intestinal fortitude” irks me as much as “veggies” does.

“Supposably” instead of “supposedly” has become so common, it no longer grates on my poor ears, though I will lop off my tongue if I ever hear myself say it.

An “executive decision” is one made by a person or group of persons who have executive power, so a person who decides something for a group of people is making an executive decision, but a person making a decision for himself alone, one that affects no one but himself, is not making an executive decision, but going by what I read and hear, everyone nowadays must be an executive because they are all making what they claim to be executive decisions. A decision is a decision. It needs no qualifier.

As for “get out of Dodge.” I can’t believe how often I read that phrase in books. Characters no longer get out of town, they always “get out of Dodge,” even if they are living in a major metropolitan area that in no way could be compared to Dodge. Luckily, so far, it is only a common phrase in fiction; I don’t hear many people saying it in real life.

Did you see what I did here? I said that my disdain of improper English is probably misplaced, and yet here I am, being disdainful. At least I kept the list of words and phrases I abhor short. Be thankful I didn’t go on a diatribe about the president of the United States being called the leader of the free world. Does anyone in France consider POTUS their leader? Does anyone in England? Or Germany? Or Canada? And what is the free world anyway?

Oops. I almost went on a diatribe after all.

***

What if God decided S/He didn’t like how the world turned out, and turned it over to a development company from the planet Xerxes for re-creation? Would you survive? Could you survive?

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9 Responses to “Disdaining Improper English”

  1. Estragon Says:

    I have my peeves as well. Americans describing weapons as “nucular” being one. “Irregardless” of anything is another.

    Maybe it’s an age thing. The language evolves, and maybe we’ve been around long enough to see the evolution leaving us behind. Irregardless, I do like to see a copula verb linking what is “due to” whatever.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      Both of those irritate me, too. I know language is a fluid thing, otherwise we English speakers would probably still be speaking in Old English, and going back even further, all of us would still be grunting, but it would have been nice for the proper English I grew up with to still be the language of choice.

  2. Uthayanan Says:

    It is very interesting as far as I am very fond of the language, word, vocabulary, linguistic. In everyday life when I read how one can use the nuances of the langage. My English knowledge is very limited.
    Already I find lot of different in American and English.
    I am very much appreciated of your topic.
    Like life I am always in a learning process to understand better English and American.

  3. Uthayanan Says:

    It is very interesting as far as I am very fond of the language, word, vocabulary, linguistic. In everyday life when I read how one can use the nuances of the langue. My English knowledge is very limited.
    Already I find lot of different in American and English.
    I am very much appreciated of your topic.
    Like life I am always in a learning process to understand better English and American.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      You do well with English, considering it’s what — your third language? I have no other languages, which is probably why I wish to use proper English.

      • Uthayanan Says:

        Thank you. Your wish to use proper English help me lot to lean. Simply I can say I can read literature directly in three languages. I am learning nearly 10 years japanese my fourth language. I have learned one year German (my fifth) 40 years ago but stil I can remember to count and for me it is easy to count in German than Japanese (Pandemic stopped my japanese classes and grief stopped me working at home with my languages studies (trauma psychological). I have worked as a IT technician I have less chance to improve my language proficiency academically. If you learn more than two languages for you it is very easy to lean more. My parents were perfectly bilingual than me so that helps and lived with a wife loved languages and she was brilliant professer in languages. Our relations bound with languages.
        You have read a lot from childhood (and of course your personality) and still reading that is one of the reason that I believe when you write you have a lovely touch.

  4. Mark Says:

    Personally I think the idea of improper language (English or otherwise) is nonsense. Descriptive grammarians have the right idea, all you can ask of a language is how is it used at any given time or place? To say how it ought to be used, particularly as regards native speakers, is just… well if what you’re doing with your language is telling others what they ought to do with theirs you’re wasting both. Not saying you are doing this, by the way, it was a great post.

    • Pat Bertram Says:

      I understand what you’re saying about improper language being nonsense, and I know that language is a living thing, always changing, but certain constructions still make me cringe. I never correct people’s language, though. That’s not my prerogative. Thanks for adding to the discussion!


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