Sunday November 23, 2014

From the pet peeves department


It’s been a while since I’ve done a column on English language pet peeves. Partially, it is because, like so many lexicographers, after a while you just throw up your hands and say, ‘it has become such common usage, it is pointless to fight it.

A classic example is the verb comprise. When I was learning the language, proper use of this word was unequivocal. Something comprises something else, not something is comprised of something else. This always bugged me especially because in regular conversation people typically speak simply and just say something is made up of something else. As soon as they are in front of an audience or a reporter’s recording device, perhaps in an attempt to sound smart, they pull out “is comprised of.”

Similarly, substituting ‘myself’ for ‘me’ as in “it surprised myself” only comes out when people are seemingly trying to impress.

Unfortunately, ‘comprised of’ has become such common usage that even most dictionaries now acknowledge it as acceptable even as they discourage it.

Another peeve I have almost given up on is the hope that sports commentators (at least North American ones) will ever learn to use adverbs. It is “he played calmly,” not “he played calm,” sheesh!

The second reason I have not written about this recently is because I have not really come across any new pet peeves in a long time. This week I found two.

The first is do-it-yourself instructions. I fully admit that I am not the world’s greatest handyman although home ownership is quickly changing that and I am very good at following instructions even poorly written ones (which they usually are). Unfortunately, these days, you are lucky to even get written instructions. I call this “the IKEA effect.” And the hieroglyphs that have replaced written instructions are about as useful as including a blindfold in the package.

My second new peeve is something that I have been guilty of myself (note proper yet possibly unnecessary use of the reflexive pronoun) and probably not all that long ago. When I saw the phrase ‘to say nothing of’ in a new book by a very well-respected journalist, however, I vowed to forever remove that and its close cousin ‘not to mention’ from my bag of literary tricks.

When you actually stop and think about these commonly used phrases it is immediately apparent that they are invariably followed by the thing that is to be said nothing of or not mentioned.

Furthermore, it is frequently of greater import than the previous statement that necessitated its inclusion in the first place.

There are those who tire of my obsessive contemplation about the use of the language. What can I say? I am a writer. It is what I do.



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