Speak the language! German scholars will recognize the title as “If you live in this country. . .” Most of us know this statement well and hear it from time to time when one of us is frustrated by a heavy-accented voice or a non-English speaking citizen. “If you live in this country, speak the language!” was front and center when Geno’s Steaks in Philadelphia posted a sign for its customers that read, “This is America: When ordering, please speak English!” Ah, the city of brotherly love!
But how many of us really speak the language? Can we really excuse the people from another nation or ethnic background whose English is, well, not up to par? As long as we can understand them at all, is there any need for perfect, or even good, English? Maybe, maybe not. It depends on your tolerance as a denizen of this great smelting pot, the United States of America. What is inexcusable is the butchering of English by its own citizens, professionals, entertainment moguls and self-appointed critics of the so-called gibberish speaking foreigners.
One of the biggest offenders? Big industry, of course. In the world of entertainment, writers, actors, producers, spokesmen and spokeswomen cram scripts, newscasts and general statements with the most inane, worthless words and phrases imaginable. Some are just wrong! When the History Channel broadcasts a program where one army or group of armed combatants decimate another army, I wonder why one army decided to kill every tenth soldier. But it seems if you use a word long enough (and wrong enough) because it sounds, well, absolutely decimating, its meaning can change. Due to popular demand, the misuse of the word decimate is not only becoming acceptable, its constant misapplication is now a dictionary definition. The lack of respect of Latin roots is appalling, if I still understand the definition of the word appalling.
See the difference in definitions of “decimate” between Bing and Merriam Webster!
One word that is constantly battered in the English language arena is “virtually.” It’s literally disgusting! How often have we heard advertisers say, “This will virtually clean your whole house!” or newscasters and newspapers say or print, “They are trying to virtually eliminate bullying (sex abuse, crime, etc.).” In fact, its literally impossible to read or hear anything where the word virtually is used instead of literally! Most of the time, neither word is necessary! But the “clutter” sounds important. The thought is enough to virtually decimate your mind!
Definition of virtually and literally.
One other word that really frosts my berries is “horrific.” Although it actually is a word dating back to the middle seventeenth century, I feel it is overused, particularly by the news media, and it just doesn’t sound right. When I hear a bubble-headed reporter describe an accident as “horrific,” I’m not sure if it was horrible or terrific. Perhaps it was horribly terrific, or terrifically horrible. Truth is “decimate” even sounds better. With words like terrific, horrible, and terrible, let’s kick “horrific” to the curb. Of course, in a language where fat chance and slim chance mean the same thing, there’s little chance that will happen.
Webmaster’s note: It’s Part of the Language will be a constant theme in this blog, so we’d like to know what bugs you about the English language. Give us your opinion and if we use your ideas as a theme to an article, we’ll give you credit.