Friday, January 30, 2015

A Brief Visit From the Grammar Nazi

It seems that some grammar and spelling mistakes somehow take on a life of their own and end up becoming part of the culture. Or at least become widespread enough that I find myself ranting about them repeatedly. Errors such as "rediculous", "mix and mash" and "funner" seem to have become almost acceptable in our culture of late. (That last one has even shown up in a McDonald's commercial recently.)

So it will come as no surprise that my most recent complaint is one of these errors that appear with alarming frequency. And what is the phrase in question? "Wreck havoc." (And its less frequently seen sibling "wreck vengeance".)

I suppose in a way it is understandable, as things which wreak havoc do tend to also wreck things, so there is a sort of perverse logic to the error, the same way "mix and mash" works well for a world where "mash-ups" are commonplace. On the other hand, taken literally, "wreck havoc" would seem to imply creating order, as something that "wrecks havoc" would seem to be a force for stability and calm. In other words, "wreck havoc" is, literally, as much the opposite of what is intended as "I could care less" is.


And please, no defenses of "I could care less" as being sarcastic, ironic, or some other absurdity. I have read a half dozen on-line defenses by desperate academics and journalists, and the truth remains that "I could care less" is simply a mistake. It says there remain unplumbed depths of apathy, which is the opposite of what is intended.


One final item, an error too boring to merit a post of its own, but one which seems to be appearing more often, and in ever more respectable venues: the substitution of "of" for "have". Again, it is a very understandable error, as the contraction "would've" often sounds very similar to "would of", but a moment's thought should point out the error of this construction. Or, if one recalled the old rule about not ending sentences with prepositions, and recalled "of" needs an object, that too might cure this error. But I am always told learning such rules of grammar is stuffy and pointless, and anything is acceptable so long as people "know what you mean". Which sounds very nice until I recall that every time I stumble across this particular misuse of "of", it takes me quite some time to figure out what it does mean, which kind of cuts the legs out from under that "who cares" argument. (See "The Irony of Lax Internet Standards" for a longer version of this same argument.)

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