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.

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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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Finding the Dunce in Redundancy

I’m reading a book set in Australia in the early 1800s. Or rather, I was reading it. The author seemed competent, the story flowed, and the characters were engaging. Then all of a sudden I was jerked out of the fictive dream. “She had the intestinal fortitude necessary to help build this new country.” What? Intestinal fortitude in the 1800s? I think not.

First, intestinal fortitude is a ridiculous euphemism for guts. Fortitude is courage. Period. It needs no modifier. And it has nothing to do with intestines. Sure, some people do get cramps or diarrhea when facing fear, but then it’s up to the author to show it rather than relying on the wretched phrase “intestinal fortitude.”

Second, guts meaning fortitude did not make an appearance until the 1930s. Which means that the euphemism intestinal fortitude came later.

There are certain terms I would like to rub out of the English language. Intestinal fortitude is one. Coed is another. What a patronizing term! Coed is short for coeducational and refers to the women who were allowed into previously all male colleges and universities. Perhaps it had meaning back in the nineteen-thirties, but its use today is demeaning. It says men are educated, and women are co-educated. (Like a pilot and co-pilot.) So please, do not use coed. Student is sufficient, or woman student if you have to differentiate.

Another term that grates is excess verbiage. Verbiage means excess words, so excess verbiage is excess excess words. Doesn’t even make sense. Nor does “reiterate again”. Reiterate means to say again and again. Reiterate again means to say again and again, again and again.

The moral of the story? Don’t take any of your words for granted. They are a gift. And a responsibility.

On Writing: Coeds with Intestinal Fortitude Eating Veggies

Coed is a term that was born in the nineteen thirties when women enrolled in previously all-male colleges, and it is a term that should have died there. Writers today are careful about not using other sexist terms, but coed is still prevalent. Short for coeducational student, it is demeaning when used as a term for a college woman. It says that men are students, and women merely co-students.

Writers who do not fall into that trap often fall into another, calling a man/woman team, such as police partners, a coed team. Unless it refers to education, it is meaningless. When applied to unisex restrooms, coed might be appropriate, but then, as adults, what can we learn about the opposite sex in a restroom that we don’t already know?

So, do your writing a favor, and can the coed.

Intestinal fortitude is another term that ties my guts into knots. I suppose with all the indigestible food that we eat nowadays, intestinal fortitude could refer to the digestion process and the garbage that goes in one end and the crap that comes out the other, but any other application is ridiculous.

So use plain old fortitude or have the guts to say guts, and leave the overly cute and clichéd intestinal fortitude in the toilet where it belongs.

And don’t get me started on veggies. I will merely say that kiddies might need to be coaxed to eat veggies, but we are adults, and we should eat vegetables and write vegetables.