Wednesday, December 28, 2016

I Don't Know What to Say

I have come to terms with the fact that some people will always believe it is "I could care less", and even make up paper thin -- and usually nonsensical -- arguments to justify this mistake. I even manage to control myself and not mock those who write "rediculous"  - -though every so often I do ask if the "redicule" people, I just can't help it. I can even manage to ignore -- with great effort -- those who "mix and mash" or believe it "takes two to tangle". But now I am beginning to wonder if my efforts at reluctant tolerance don't just inspire even more idiocy.

Here are a few quotes I discovered while sampling at random from IMDB comments:

"has it down pack"
"fall by the waste side"
"lose her innocents"

Now, obviously, these are not characteristic of everyone who writes on the site, but sadly, they seem to be the rule rather than the exception. Nor can they be excused by youth, inexperience, or even foreigners learning cliches phonetically. No, these are grown, mature native speakers, who still manage to completely mangle the language.

And thus, I have decided to rescind my efforts at tolerance. I am, at heart, a spelling and grammar Nazi anyway (despite my frequent typos, and frequent sentence fragments -- at least I know it is wrong). And thus I am returning to my argument in "The Irony of Lax Internet Standards" and elsewhere. Rules exist for a reason, we need them to make sure our messages are communicated clearly. Just to take one example, if you "could care less", does it mean you do still care? Or that you mangled an old cliche? If you knew how the cliche was used, and used it properly, we would know which you meant As it is, I can't tell if you have unplumbed depths of apathy or simply sloppy writing habits.

Nor is it an excuse that it is "just the internet" and "an informal place". Precision is even more important with strangers. Friends know you well enough to guess at your meaning and intentions, strangers do not. And, on the internet, there are two other factors arguing for precision. First, without nonverbal cues, the words are all we have, and thus the meaning must be absolutely clear. Second, with users coming from all over the world, many with limited comprehension of English, it is vitally important to make our meaning clear. Writing "informally" and misusing words is more damaging on the internet, not less.

Thus, I am once again throwing down the gauntlet and refusing to allow such atrocities to pass unchallenged. It may make me a "Nazi", but at least I will be a Nazi who is easily understood.


We need to be careful in our arguments, however. I was once criticized for "not knowing" a cliche. I was arguing with someone who I believed was making absurdly inaccurate caricatures of my arguments, and I told him I would not longer "bother tilting at straw men". He informed me I was wrong, and it was "tilting at windmills". I explained I was well aware of the common cliche, and its origins, but I was simply applying it in a new context, invoking an image of a man jousting with figures of straw. His lack of reaction made it clear why he had criticized my words, he had no idea what "tilting" meant, and imagined its only use was in this single formula. So, it may be a good idea, before we criticize, if we are certain we understand what cliches mean, and where they originate. (If people understood the simple meaning of "I could not care less", for example, they would not try to justify the improper version gaining currency at such an alarming rate. This is also why we so often see "free rein" written as "free reign", as the writers fail to understand the equestrian origin of the cliche and imagine it has something to do with rulership.)


I am trying to find a term for a particularly unusual mistake I found in one of these reviews. It is not precisely a mixed metaphor, as the terms actually relate quite well. The problem is, if we take the metaphorical terms literally, they make nonsense of the argument. In other words, the metaphor is getting in the way of the meaning. In this case, the phrase is "...keep the script from sinking due to its lack of depth." Now, on the surface, I suppose it is a fine sentence, but since "sinking" and "depth" are both metaphors (though we use "depth" so often in this sense we often forget it is metaphorical), and "sinking" implies an excess, not lack, of "depth", this metaphor actually seems to be arguing the complete opposite of what the sentence intends. Is there a proper term for this? It is not a mixed metaphor, but rather a metaphor getting in its own way, a metaphor stumbling over its own toes, something along those lines. But for the life of me I can't think of a proper term for it.

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