RANTS
(as if it's gonna make a difference - yeah, right)
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   I have never (yet) travelled to France. The prospect intimidates me. Two years of high school French, plus a lick-and-a-promise French for Reading Knowledge in graduate school, have not adequately prepared me to do much more than order a croissant in a café while scanning Le Monde's headlines. Supposedly, no sooner do you open your mouth to say something - in what seems sufficiently French to you - than a self-appointed Gallic language crusader jumps down your throat and rips you a new one. Your pronunciation, your vocabulary, your intonation, even your facial expressions are all, I'm told, going to be critiqued if you fall short of a near-native grasp of the language and its intricacies. (Not being a near-native, I would certainly fall short.) The story goes that French citizens in good moods will conduct impromptu-but-rigorous language lessons in an attempt to help you straighten up and speak properly. French persons in foul moods, on the other hand, will (reputedly) vilify you for your barbaric mangling of the mother tongue. Whether you're trying to catch a train, or buy condoms, or express an opinion, what you're actually saying will matter far less than how you're saying it. Is this true?

   But wait, there's more. So far as I know, France is the only nation with a formal scholarly organization (L'Académie Française) whose mission includes protecting their native language from neologisms and loanwords imported from other tongues, especially American English. (Makes me wonder whether French pen pals return missives to other nations marked up in red ink.) Shoot, in early March of 2000, the French Ministry of Finance upheld the proud tradition by banning Anglicisms like 'e-mail' and 'startup.' Instead, Monsieur Bureaucrat is supposed to write 'courrier electronique' and 'jeune pousse.' This is true.

   (Update from the Associated Press, July 18 2003: it seems France's Culture Ministry has declared that 'courriel,' a contraction of 'courrier electronique,' shall henceforth be the term of choice to describe electronic correspondence, 'e-mail' being an American neologism and therefore suspect. So is there an official in Paris whose title is 'Minister of Culture'? Can this person's secretary answer the phone and say, with a straight face, "Good morning, Culture Minister's office"? Just wondering...)

   (Update from Jeffrey Kacirk's 'Forgotten English' calendar, September 5 2005: today's calendar page notes that "On this date in 1789, future American President John Adams proposed that the Second Continental Congress create an academy whose purpose would be the 'fixing and improvement' of American English." I infer that the idea came to nothing.)

   I can hear the righteous indignation starting to boil over about now: "You ugly American!" "How dare you insult the French by making these inflammatory remarks?" "Who are you to criticize the great nation of France and its proud linguistic traditions?"

   Insult? Criticize? I ADMIRE French protectionist attitudes toward their spoken and written language! Maybe they go a bit too far with this Culture Ministry schtick, but at least they care about their language, and that's commendable. I wish more Americans cared enough to correct stupid, ignorant misuses of English wherever and whenever they're encountered. Sadly, our problem isn't among foreign travellers, whose English is (in my experience) typically better than ours; it's among us. Our friends. Our families. Our co-workers. Even (*gasp*) ourselves.

   Hardly a day goes by without my spotting some foolish mistake, or hearing someone misuse a common English expression. Trouble is, giving a damn about spoken and written English is about as socially acceptable as collecting toenail clippings. The minute you speak up, however gently, to correct someone's mistaken usage, you instantly become One Of Those Anal Types Who Get All Bent Out Of Shape About Irrelevancies. You may possibly get popped upside the head. More likely, you'll get a patronizing look and some comment about how you must have made your grammar teachers very proud, dear. (In point of fact, my grammar teachers despaired of me: I could say 'this is wrong,' and correct it, but to this day I can't tell you why. But I digress.)

   What follow are errors or misunderstood constructions. When they come out of your mouth or emerge from your printer, they make you look like an idiot and they diminish you in my estimation. I regret there's absolutely nothing I can do about these errors except point them out and try to teach my own children to avoid them.

   Unless, of course, you want to sound like an idiot.

'FLAUNT' and 'FLOUT.'
To flaunt something is to show it off, to display it openly, to call others' attention to it. To flout is to knowingly and deliberately ignore a convention or break a rule. The next time you go to a mall, watch how thirteen-year-old girls move when they're walking in groups and think boys are watching them. That's flaunting. Now listen closely after a harried mom who's chaperoning them says "Don't pop your gum, it's unsightly." You'll think someone lit a string of firecrackers. That's flouting.
   (I know you never go to malls. Nor do you ever watch television. Neither do I. So when you and I find ourselves standing beside one another in a mall, staring at a display window filled with TVs all showing a rerun of "Charmed," let's just pretend we've never met, OK?)

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"FROM THE GROUND UP" and "GROUND ZERO."
Build something from the ground up and you begin at the beginning, at the ultimate starting point. There's nothing constructive about ground zero - quite the opposite, in fact, since this is (by definition) the point on the earth's surface closest to the explosion of a nuclear bomb. Sadly, since September 11 it is also the proper name accorded to the site where the World Trade Center's twin towers once stood. (Perhaps people think that ground zero is the same thing as point zero, but as far as I understand it that's a theoretical construct from quantum mechanics. In other words, not likely.)

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"THIS IS THE END OF THE SENTENCE, SO..."
So what? Why so? So is a conjunction. You use it to tie clauses together into sentences that mean something. For example: "It looked like it might rain, so I took my umbrella." Say that without the second clause and you simply end up sounding like some goober who, confronted with the possibility of getting wet, can't figure out what to do. Ending a sentence with so is very expressive - if the messages you mean to send include "I am such a lazy bum I can't be bothered to end my sentence," or "I am so dumb I forgot what I was saying while I was saying it." In either case, be my guest.

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"ALLS YOU NEED TO DO..."
Please. All is already as plural as it can get. All means everything, the totality, completion, fullness. What, you want me to take you seriously if you're arguing for multiple everythings? I might be induced to buy that in philosophy, religion or theoretical physics (whoops, that's redundant), but not in casual conversation.

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'EXPECIALLY.'
May I assume the word you want is especially? If so, that second letter is an S, and should be pronounced that way - sibilantly (e.g. \s\). True, some cafés serve espresso while others serve expresso, but although you'll get some funny looks depending on where you order your coffee, the terms are functionally interchangeable. 'Expecially' is simply wrong.
   (In what Kingsley Amis would have called a "point for pedants" - and you'd hardly have read this far if you didn't have a little pedant in you - the distinction is that 'espresso' is an Italian word, while 'expresso' is the English variant.)

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'Y'ALL.'
There ain't a thing in the world wrong with saying y'all; it's one of the few ways we have to express the second person plural in modern English. Regionalisms are not incorrect simply for being regionalisms. That is, 'you' is singular, but 'you' can also be plural when one is speaking to multiple individuals in a group (e.g. '[each and every one of] you'). That guy in the third row, with whom the speaker is making eye contact, may not be sure whether the point is directed at him specifically, or toward the entire audience of which he's a member. The mistake is in using y'all as the first person singular - it's wrong. Youse, by the way, is also correct for the second person plural and also incorrect for the second person singular. You'uns is pretty rare but still correct for the second person plural. (Think about it: 'you ones,' i.e. 'all of you in this group.' 'You one,' i.e. 'you individual,' simply needs 'you.') The Britishism 'you lot' works admirably.

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'WHISKEY' and 'WHISKY.'
The latter term is only properly applied to the distilled spirit produced in Scotland, which is based on malted barley and generally called Scotch. The former is correct when applied to similar spirits distilled from corn (e.g. bourbon), rye or other grains. Simple as that.
   (It probably deserves its own entry, but Bourbon is not a generic term either - if it's distilled from anything other than corn and anywhere other than in the state of Kentucky, it's not bourbon, although it may still be whiskey. This is not to say it isn't good: for example, Jack Daniel's whiskey was an American treasure, more so before they watered it down - read more here - but it's rightly called what it is, Tennessee Whiskey).

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'AT THIS POINT IN TIME.'
If you mean 'Now,' say 'Now.' If you don't know what you mean, say nothing.

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'ERUDITE.'
This word means 'learned.' It has three syllables, not four ('AIR-oo-dite,' or - if you believe the Merriam-Webster Collegiate® Dictionary - 'AIR-yoo-dite.' I'm an OED man myself.) If you pronounce it as 'AIR-ee-you-dite,' you cannot claim the word as a personal descriptor.

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'NUCLEAR.'
Notice that the letter 'U' occurs only once in this word. It is pronounced 'NOOK-lee-ur.' It chills me to hear elected officials pronounce it as 'NOOK-you-lur,' particularly when those persons have the capability of using nuclear devices. Shrub, this includes you.

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'GROW.'
Yes, this is a verb, and like many others, I use it when I talk about gardens, or children, or traffic volume. So why does it put my teeth on edge when yet another vendor cold-calls and wants to help me "grow my business?" Probably because it sounds idiotic. Increase, certainly; augment, develop, expand my business - but not grow it.

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THE ROYAL PLURAL USED BY AMERICAN CANDIDATES AND ELECTED OFFICIALS.
You've heard this done so often in the last twenty years that you probably don't even notice it any more. A candidate for office, or someone who has already been elected, is defending a position or action, and says something like "We believe this policy will result in..." or "We'd like to thank our supporters for standing by us during this crisis..." As the punchline to an old joke goes, "Whaddaya mean 'we,' paleface?" An hereditary monarch can rightfully speak in the plural because an hereditary monarch is the embodiment of the state. An elected official is just another schmo holding a temporary job on the public payroll. I am sure that, if pressed, most such officials would argue that they're speaking not for themselves as individuals, but as representatives of large groups of like-minded voters. Crap. You hold the office as an individual, and ought to have the guts to accept the full responsibility of that position as an individual. I voted for or against you, not for or against y'all (see above).

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'EXCAPE.'
Phonetically this is the same mistake as noted above, with 'especially.' Is it that hard to differentiate between the sounds ESS and ECKS? Is it the letters S and C occurring so close together that leads to the confusion? I wish I knew.

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'TACK' AND 'TACT.'
My sailing skills are limited, but I know enough to sail more or less against the way the wind is blowing - that is, within 90 degrees. If the wind is blowing from the left side of the boat (looking forward), I'm on the port tack; if the wind is from the right, I'm on the starboard tack. On the other hand, tact is choosing one's words and expressions carefully so as not to thoughtlessly or needlessly give offense to others. (Some would say my tact skills are even more limited than my sailing skills, but I do try.) The distinction matters to me because I often hear someone suggest that "We should take another tact on that." Uh, no. Changing direction, and by extension one's approach to a situation, is tacking.

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Annoyances. Things that bug me (maybe you, too) out of all proportion to their 'real' effects. Not critical issues, like racism, corrupt political regimes, pollution and genocide - I'm talking about the little stuff.

CEL PHONES, AND PERSONS WHO TALK LOUDLY ON THEM IN PUBLIC, ESPECIALLY WHILE DRIVING.
You know who you are, and thanks to your inconsideration, so does everyone around you. Is your conversation really that important, or that absorbing? (Based on what I've overheard in restaurants, checkout lines, movie theatres and public restrooms - yes, really - I seriously doubt it.) I overhear cel phone conversations, such as they are, several times a week, and damned if they don't always go along the lines of "I'm [wherever]. Where are you?" If I were a wearer of bumper stickers, I'd proudly display one saying "SHUT UP AND DRIVE." Perhaps simply "SHUT UP."

I read that a scientific study - see http://www.cnn.com/2000/HEALTH/cancer/12/19/cell.phone.brain/ - has failed to conclusively demonstrate a correlation between cel phone use and brain cancer. Pity. Then again, considering how effective the 1964 Surgeon General's report on smoking and health has been in getting people to quit smoking, maybe even such a demonstrated correlation would make little difference.

And yes, I do spell 'cel' with one L. Remember being in third or fourth grade, and being taught how to break a word between syllables? Try it with 'cellular.' The rule was (and remains) that if the syllables break around a pair of repeated consonants, you 'give' one consonant to the previous syllable and the other to the succeeding syllable. "'Cell' phone" gives both consonants to the first syllable. (If you don't remember that grammar rule from third grade, surely you remember the lessons about sharing from kindergarten? Same deal.)

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LOAN OFFERS DISGUISED AS CHECKS.
I have no problem with financial firms offering to loan me money (not today, thanks). What bugs me is how many of them tout their products by sending fake checks. Of course I realize that they're not really checks - that's the point. What, I'm supposed to open an envelope, find a check for $40,000 made payable to me out of the clear blue, assume it's legit and try to cash it? And when the bank teller says "That's not a real check, sir" I'm going to immediately call the company and arrange for the loan? Anyone smart enough to tell the real thing from a fake is only going to figure that such firms are fishing for suckers and toss it.

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BASEBALL CAPS WORN BACKWARDS.
If you're 3 or under, it's adorable. If you're 3 to 7 years old, it's cute. Beyond that, you're either squatting behind home plate (hopefully with a catcher's mask over your face) or you're a complete dipshit. If the latter, find a hat without a brim.

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CHIHUAHUAS.
The dog breed, not the northern Mexican state from which it takes its name. We humans have done an appalling job of caring for planet Earth and the other life forms that share it with us. The Chihuahua is a prime example. I am at a loss to understand why humanity took something as beautiful as the wolf and from it bred these bug-eyed, yappy, schizophrenic, pathetic little creatures.
   (Prediction: this entry will earn more flames than all the rest of the items on these pages combined.)

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CRAP ON THE NET.
I can remember when the best part of the Internet was Usenet, and UNIX-based anonymous FTP was a crucial skill - yes kids, this was before the Web as you know it. Then, as now, there've been some things that brought me nigh unto a-spoilin' me pantaloons. (The Net Vets out there don't have to thank me for simply listing these as text, rather than as links; I wouldn't stoop that low.) See how many of these resonate with you.

Canter & Siegel. Leader Kibo. Gratuitous Usenet acronyms. Trolling for flames. Gratuitous Usenet emoticons. Six degrees of separation from The Holocaust. 'Cyber-'anything. AOL newbies. The Good Times virus. Black backgrounds with red text. 'The Information Superhighway.' Wavy gravy backgrounds with black text. Guestbooks. 'Under Construction' logos. Gratuitous music. Dancing babies. Anything-'.com.' Frames. Dancing hamsters. Proprietary browser tags. Rotating flaming skulls. Madame Guillotine (whom I understand has dumped Fressie the Guillotine, married the no-longer-extant Berlin Wall, and morphed into Madame Berliner-Mauer. And you thought your life took some odd turns.) Mahir. WebCams. Pastel backgrounds with pastel text. Nigerian 419 scams. Gratuitous Javascripts. 'i-' or 'e-' anything. Gratuitous acronyms. Banners. Spam spam spam spam spam. Open relays. Pop-up ads. Gratuitous Flash animations. Klez. Spyware. Phishing. 'Privacy' policies that mean "we'll use your information any way we can if it'll make us a buck." Confidentiality disclaimers in e-mail messages. Do-it-yourself Internet memes.
   ("Meet the New Economy...same as the Old Economy..." [apologies to Pete Townshend and The Who].)

But wait, there's more.

By this time you may wonder if I have even a shred of a sense of humor left. Thankfully, yes, I do. Every now and again I'll see a spam message with a subject line that grabs my attention and makes me laugh. When I do, I'll post it here (as a single item, not a list). Most recent howler:

Please revcvert!.

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Let me outta here!

Last updated 17 November 2009