Can’t we all just get along?

For the past week and a half, there has been a lot of fuss over the idea that the British don’t like the way Americans speak. This is not a new phenomenon. In fact, it’s a horse that has been well and truly flogged. The latest round of this game started on 13 July when the BBC posted an article about Americanisms that annoy speakers of British English. The author asked readers to send in their own examples.

While that was happening, plenty of others were weighing in on the issue. On the same day as the original BBC article, Dan at “The Blog Formerly Known as @SFX” posted a reply. Then, on 16 July, Mark Liberman wrote a post over at Language Log about how 4 out of 5 of the examples in the article were actually of British origin, not American.

On 19 July, the BBC published the 50 most emailed examples of hated Americanisms. The very next day, the Economist’s language blog, Johnson, posted responses to some of the examples that appeared on that Top 50 list. The author pointed out something that many of the examples have in common: Continue reading

Drum roll please…

At long last, it’s time to reveal the Big Kahuna, the Top Dog, the Numero Uno Bête Noire of Summer 2011. Before I name the Best in Show, I would like to offer a final justification for why I’ve put this list together. First of all, I had no intentions of trying to scold anyone or of suggesting that I am rigidly prescriptive about language. In fact, I often enjoy the way language rules can be broken when we are being resourceful or creative because this might result in new meanings or useful distinctions.

I also wanted to make clear that I focus on the errors that native speakers make with their own language. Of course there are some learners of English that may make the same mistakes, but confusing grammatical structures in a second language is understandable. Learning another language is a huge undertaking and errors are a natural part of the process. Native speakers have less reason to be confused, especially with the more basic structures that should have been learned in elementary school. Continue reading

Bête Noire III: Excuse me, darling, but you’re dangling again.

Number Three in the countdown, after Bêtes Noires Five and Four.

Many a school child has been stricken with fear at the words “dangling participle.” They see the correction, they understand what the teacher says…sort of…and then they go ahead and dangle another participle with a seemingly blatant disregard of prior feedback.

Part of the issue may lie with the name of this mistake. Dangling participle. They’ve also been called hanging or unattached participles. Shakespeare asks us “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose / By any other name would smell as sweet.” So then we can call it a different name – a less threatening name – and it would still be the same thing, right? I suppose this might work up to a point, but from experiences trying this renaming technique with other grammatical issues, it only goes so far to ease student anxiety and promote retention of the correct structure. What really needs to happen is that the item should be understood more clearly; perhaps only then will its name no longer be so fearsome. Continue reading