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Wednesday, October 2, 2013

English Usage Errors Flourish In Portsmouth Daily Times Headlines

Johnson Naloxone bill closer to pasing

Hit-skip accident leaves woman severly injured

Jackson schools settles lawsuit over portrait

I recently watched an episode of the popular television series Judge Judy in which the judge, unable to decipher some important evidence presented in electronic communication, bemoaned the current use of the English language. From the bench, she expressed concern over a new generation that cares little about correctness. She continued to explain that too many young adults display sloppy mechanics, use indiscernible abbreviations, and accept a general philosophy that correct grammar and usage are not important hallmarks of language arts.

As a retired secondary language arts teacher, I found myself listening intently to the judge and nodding in agreement. My memory quickly served me with relevant recollections of errors in headlines from the Portsmouth Daily Times online edition. So, I decided to troll the site and reaffirm my retention.

What you see above are seven recent headline snafus (last couple of weeks) as published in the online version of my local newspaper, the Portsmouth Daily Times. The errors of usage, spelling, and simple mechanics make me shutter. Can you easily identify the problems I see? Why does this bug me?

* First, I dislike them because they stand out so prominently -- they are not buried in the text of articles, but instead occur in eye-catching headlines. 

* And, when I see these mistakes, I believe reporters generated them out of a trend of indifference with an Alfred E. Newman "What, me worry?" emphasis on instant transfer over correctness and accuracy. 


OK -- I hear the local reporters and my skeptics saying, "Why you old goat, you are far too picky. All that really matters is the transfer of information." 

I heard this argument so many times from students who were reluctant to learn the language that my ears bled. I don't buy it, and I'm sure I never will.  

My answer to this argument was always the same. Every civilized language has standards that insure the proper attentive transfer of important information. Without rules of usage, grammar, syntax, etc., no language could be taught and learned in its preferred, definitive form. And, without conventions that could be understood by foreigners, global communication would be impossible. 

All human languages have a grammar. Grammar and usage are important because they are an integral part of a language that makes it possible for all people to write and talk about what comprises the constructs of communication. For example, grammar names the types of words and word groups that make up sentences not only in English but in any language.  

Knowing about proper conventions also helps people understand what makes sentences and paragraphs clear and interesting and precise. Grammar can be part of literature discussions, when humans closely read the sentences in poetry and stories. And knowing about grammar and usage means finding out that all languages and all dialects follow certain language patterns.


A person with good command of English conventions is able to better accomplish the following:

* Write without ambiguity

* Write with style and accurate description

* Adjust their spoken and written communication for different audiences and purpose

* Comprehend and appreciate intelligent texts

* Create and critique intelligent texts

* Understand and interpret patterns of different languages and dialects



Writing is communication free of gesture, facial expression, voice inflection, and immediate exchange and clarification available to those who speak. For that reason, considerations of audience and possible ambiguity are foremost by anyone who wishes to successfully employ the written language. 

Unlike speech with its vast available means of instantaneous correction, writing relies on printed accuracy in the use of symbols and their proper arrangement on paper in order to effect total comprehension. Writing represents a permanent copy of a person's understandings. Standing alone on a page without the benefit of verbal explanation, writing relies on utmost precision. 

The mastery of English conventions is necessary for the majority of highly intelligent people. An expectation of such is built into the culture of academia and business. In short, producing good writing projects a good image. A site online needs to adhere to proper grammar, good usage, and correct spelling to sustain a trusted relationship with the public. Actually, an online newspaper, despite views that profess proper usage of language is secondary, must view this need as essential.

My Take

Like it or not, the way you write and the way you speak reflect your personality and your intelligence. Mistakes make us human. We all make them. However, habitually displaying indifference and ignorance of English usage makes others think just one thing -- "This is so dumb. What idiot wrote/said this?" 

I ask the Times to consider this blog entry for their sake, and I continue to ask high school students to consider it for the benefit of their future. Language is power, but it is only as powerful as its master. Learning to speak and to write more effectively is a lifelong process. We all help ourselves by pledging to master the usage of our own language.  

A good writer must hone his craft and attempt to minimize any embarrassing errors. Most can't afford to hire a competent editor.

And, finally, please, for God's sake, use the "spellcheck." Nothing is worse than sheer laziness.


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