Editor’s note: Peter Hannaford, a faithful contributor to this site for many years, filed this column on Friday morning. On Saturday, we learned yesterday, he died suddenly at his northern California home. His young colleague Robert Zapesochny, with whom he coauthored a number of recent columns, pays tribute to him nearby, nicely capturing Peter’s historical importance and great qualities. Here we present his final contribution, mourning his passing and grateful to him for his service to America and the gentlemanly and resourceful example he always set.
In a new Harris Poll, “Millennials” (ages 18-34) complain more than any other age group about misspelling and bad grammar.
There may be two reasons: (1) having a strong sense of entitlement they may have expected better; and (2) many of them had educations that paid little attention to either spelling or grammar. These had gone out of fashion in the nation’s schools.
All age groups polled were bothered by these things, but at 74 percent, Millennials outranked all others. A Harris Organization executive told the Associated Press, “The poll was great way to get a sense of how people really feel about the way we communicate, whether through our speech, social media or even signs and restaurant menus.”
So, listen up Millennials! Here’s our chance to lead the nation in a revival of good spelling and grammar—and good education—for the next generation.
Get together with a friend of two. Establish what could be called the Clarity Corps. After all, the purpose of common usage (“rules”) in spelling and grammar is clarity of communication between people.
You may find chapters springing up all over the country, as soon as like-minded Millennials get word of your work via the Internet.
Your mission will be to become the watchdog of such things as the news media, menus, ads, signs, and restaurant menus. Scan newspapers, magazines, blogs, television, radio. Every time you spot a mistake, drop the offender a letter, an email, or post a Tweet to politely but firmly correct the error.
The media themselves may be the greatest offenders, sort of a collective Typhoid Mary, spreading a virus.
Here are a few examples: the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, which used to be very particular about “style’ (spelling and grammar), now permit their reporters to use “like” as if it means “such as.” It does not. It means “similar to.”
Television, cable, and radio are especially bad about twisting verbs into nouns (“intercept” for “interception”, “CONstruct” for “construction,” “invite” for “invitation”).
The word “media” itself is widely misused by the media and therefore by many others who assume that if the media use it a certain way, it must be right. “Media” is straight from Latin and the word is plural. The singular is “medium.” Example: “Television, radio and the Internet are media; television is a medium.”
Another word widely misused is “route.” It is pronounced “root.” The word “rout” (pronounced “raute”) is what you do to the enemy army.
As for advertising, how many times have you been offered “a free gift”? Of course it’s free, the primary meaning of “give” is “to make a present of.”
Once the Clarity Corps is fully up to speed, it can turn to other word mangling. Mispronouncing foreign names is one area. While this affects mostly people in international business, government, and politics, it can shape perceptions on what kind of world leadership the U.S. provides.
The latest example: A few evenings ago, TV reporters were aflutter over the news that an information technology specialist who had set up Hillary Clinton’s home email server had been called to appear before a Congressional committee. He announced he would invoke the Fifth Amendment rather than testify. His name is Bryan Pagliano, which the TV reporters pronounced, “Pag-li-ano.” That didn’t sound right. It sent me to my pocket-size “Berlitz’ Italian for Travelers.” Its pronunciation guide says “gl” is pronounced “ly.” Thus, it would be “Pahl-yano.”
Why didn’t the writers who write the news the readers read note this? Time pressure? Laziness? Lack of resourcefulness? Maybe all three. With the Clarity Corps on the job, quick corrective tweets to the offenders would caution them to shape up.
As the CC’s success and influence expand, they could take on the most irritating element in the language, clichés.