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Notes from the Demise of the English Language

On September 19, 2010, Gene Weingarten published an article in The Washington Post titled “Goodbye Cruel Word: English, It’s Dead to Me.”  Here are some excerpts.

The end came quietly on Aug. 21 on the letters page of The Washington Post. A reader castigated the newspaper for having written that Sasha Obama was the “youngest” daughter of the president and first lady, rather than their “younger” daughter. In so doing, however, the letter writer called the first couple the “Obama’s.” This, too, was published, constituting an illiterate proofreading of an illiterate criticism of an illiteracy. Moments later, already severely weakened, English died of shame.

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“Helf! I’m Drownding” and Other Abominations

I am distressed when I see otherwise educated people making silly mistakes. People judge your professionalism and intelligence by the way you use words, so please, use language correctly. For example, take the word drown. The past tense of drown is drowned.  The process of becoming drowned is drowning.

Ladies and gentlemen, I do not care how far underwater you are: you are not drownding.  Be careful—this mistake could cost you your life.  An old “Far Side” cartoon showed a rescue plane flying over an island on which two deserted men had spelled out “HELF” in stones.  As they flew by, the copilot said to the pilot, “Nah, that’s not them. That says ‘helf’.” You don’t want someone to delay throwing you a life buoy when you cry that you are drownding.

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More Redundancies: ATM Machine to Horrible Tragedy

Last week’s post highlighted a few qualified absolutes such as “most unique” and some silly redundancies like “delete out”.  Here are a few more for the record book:

ATM Machine

Trick question, folks.  What does the “M” in ATM stand for?

Whether or not vs. whether

The word “whether” implies the “or not”; it’s unnecessary to add “or not”. For example, He asked me whether I would marry him clearly implies that the option of not marrying him was available.

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How to Avoid Redundant Phrases: Two Words Are Not Better Than One

Some phrases exude redundancy and illogic.  I sometimes wonder if people think, “If one word is good, two is better – if I say it twice, people will be sure to understand me.”  In refuting this view, I quote Thomas Jefferson, who said, “Never use two words when one will do.”  Here is a partial list of phrases that contain at least one excess word:

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