Use of English

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Here you will find some thoughts on "good" English… though not all couched quite as an English teacher might couch them.

The one at the bottom got a bit carried away…. but maybe you'll enjoy it? Hope so!

New entries at top….


I hope you won't….

I hope you won't use the common expression "Hopefully the weather will be nice for the picnic." What you want to say is "I hope the weather will be nice." The word "hopefully" is supposed to be an adverb, and as such when you say "Hopefully the weather…" you are saying that the weather, in a hopeful manner, is…. A totally hopeless concept. But what you are actually saying. Here's a sensible use of "hopefully" which may make that more clear: "At 11pm on 24 December, the boy hopefully looked out his window, looking for Santa".

But "you know what I mean" when I say "Hopefully you won't do this". Yes, you do. But because of the sloppy use of English, your brain must, unnecessarily, work harder. The fewer things one word means, the better. Suppose we started calling all household pets "cat". Then you could say "the cat's barking woke me up". At the second word, you'd know it was a pet, but you'd have to add the third word and calculate back to know it was Fido not Felix.

If your defense of a sloppiness is "You know what I mean", then my question is, "Well if I knew, why did you bother to say anything?"


Their there

The clumsy construction "his or her" is usually unnecessary. Every time you are tempted to write, say, "The customer has his or her right to take her or his (mustn't be biased… "his" shouldn't always come first) business elsewhere if unhappy" just change it to…. "CustomerS may always take THEIR business elsewhere"… but please, please, please… use "his or her" before you say "A customer may always take THEIR business elsewhere."


Dog on way to BA in English

Remember the first celebrity border collie, Betsy, who knew 300 of her toys by name? She'd hurt her shoulder and had to be kept from rushing about (I don't think the vet understood the breed he was treating). The owners tried to divert her from rushing about by getting her to learn toy names.

There's now one out there who knows the name of 1000 toys, and has some awareness of higher concepts, i.e. you can ask her to bring "tennis" or "soccor" or "a ball". And he's owned by an academic in a relevant field… I doubt there is anything faulty with the claims.

But think about it…

"Knows 1000…."

If they REVIEW ten toy names with him a session, 5 sessions a day, that's 20 days just to check he still knows each name just once…..

It would be interesting (well, to me anyway) to look at language acquisition in young humans. What words do they learn first? How fast dies vocabulary grow? Which language structures are understood first?


Use your words

I have a computer that thinks it is British. This is NICE 'cause I get a pound sign (£) (may or may not come out as such on your screen) with Shift-3.

But I get " for @ and @ for ", and of course I type both frequently.

And I am not QUITE a touch typist, and often watch my fingers.

My US keyboard is a US keyboard, and has a " on the key I use to get a @ and vice versa. AND sometimes I tell the computer to pretend it is a US citizen… It can be told to produce a " from the key marked "… but then my brain throws in the vestige of touch typing it has and says no, no, no… the " is up on the "2" key.

You do eschew "American" to mean that, don't you? And you wouldn't use "US" (a noun) for an adjective, would you? But if you can find an adjective for "of or pertaining to the USA", I will be grateful. (And yes, I know there are other "United States"es… but I'm willing to let that one go, because I'n not obsessive)…

AS I WAS SAYING… my little brain can't cope with seeing @ when I'm trying to type "….. and so, FINALLY, I have stuck little bits of paper on the offending keys and now the key my fingers and my computer think make an @ make an @!!!!!

Do you know the name for "the at sign"? If you try "what is @ called" (Oh it IS nice to get the " first try!…. ) with Google… something it is getting better and better at… you get several interesting essays.

Wikipedia tells us that it is a sign of our times (get it?) with no proper name. It's name is "the at sign"…. PU-lese! Use your words!!! We have "ampersand" and "apostrophe"… but no proper word for "the at sign". Sigh. I think we should adopt the Finnish Finnish sometimes call the symbol "miukumauku" (meow meow) owing to the symbol's resemblance to a cat and its tail, which is as bad a "non name" as "the at sign"…. but at least you could torture English (and American) speaking fifth graders with spelling it, and if they never found out the origen it would be as good as "apostrophe".

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