Cory Farley, voted "Best of Reno" 26 times in 27 years by readers of his column in the Reno Gazette-Journal, takes an unconventional look at topics from presidential elections to the best way to cook Brussels sprouts.

Location: Verdi, Nev, United States

Friday, March 07, 2008

6 things my English teacher says you do wrong

Before we begin: Sorry for the formatting problems in the previous post. Got a new laptop; it has new features, but I have an old-school brain. I'm told the problems are easy to fix, but I've tried a couple of times and all I've succeeded in doing is moving them around. I'll pile a new post on top and everybody will forget soon enough.--CF

But now: One of the marvels of dwelling in the public eye in a tourist heaven like Reno is that people you haven't seen in years come through, spot your name and track you down. Happens to me once or twice a year: I grew up in the Bay Area, and a lot of Bay Area people come through here, so the phone will ring and it's somebody who wouldn't talk to me in high school, all grown up.

Usually the experience is fleeting: We were acquaintances 40 years ago, I moved away three years later, and we don't have all that much to say to each other now. They're mostly Republicans anyway.

The other day, though, I got an e-mail from a woman who struggled to teach me English in 1961. English in those days was mainly diagramming sentences (a skill I never mastered and have never needed), struggling to remember what a participle was and trying not to get caught looking down the front of Carol Barthel's blouse (a skill I did master pretty well).

Her note led to an exchange of reminiscences, during which I was shocked to learn that she's only nine nears older than I am. That would have made her 25 when I was 16, rather than the 50 or so I figured she was, and a look at my yellowed yearbook indicates that she may have been the hottest teacher, and certainly was the hottest English teacher, I ever had. Once again I'm reminded that my life consists mainly of a dismaying series of missed opportunities.

Anyway: She's enjoyed my writing, she said, because "you avoid most of the mistakes that have devastated the language."

"Like what?" I shot back, forgetting that she was the first to warn me about using like when you really meant as. But as what still sounds funny .

I asked her for 10 examples of things I don't do wrong, and I'm sure it's only her advanced age that caused her to send but six. Now that I'm aware of them, I hear and read them everywhere, and she's right: They're wrong. Check yourself out:

  • "Where's it at?" You don't need at. Just say "Where is it?"

  • "Anyways." The word is anyway. Probably comes from something like "any way you look at it," and you wouldn't say "any ways you look at it."

  • "To no end," as in, "He annoys me to no end." The to is unnecessary and changes the meaning of the phrase. If you're annoyed to no end, it means there's no purpose to your annoyance. If you're annoyed no end, it means the annoyance is endless.

  • The "is-is" syndrome. Barack Obama isn't alone in doing this constantly: "The thing is, is that..." or, as I heard John McCain say the other day, "The thing was is that . . .," as though "thing-was" were a noun. Correct: "The thing is, almost everybody does this wrong."

  • "Decimate" meaning something like "devastate" or "damage." This has caught on recently with news reporters, who are forever talking about something being "decimated." As you could tell from the root word, if you'd paid attention in English, decimate means to take one out of 10. Line up the enemy, count off and shoot one every time you get to 10? Then you've decimated his force.

  • "Have got." This is one I violate all the time: "I've got a new computer" is prolix, because without the contraction, it's "I have got." "I have a new computer" says the same thing in fewer words.

If you'd gone to San Carlos High School in the early '60s, you'd know these things....


Blogger angelosdaughter said...

Your English teacher reminds of me my excellent senior English teacher, the late Grace Bordewich. I did learn diagramming, and it really helped me make sense of the parts of a speech, i.e. noun, pronoun, adverb, etc, and how they function in a sentence. I am forever grateful for the lesson.
One of my pet peeves these days is the ubiquitious misuse of the apostrophe in the possessive case of the word 'it'. The only time 'it' takes an apostrophe is when used in the contraction for 'it is' as in 'It's nice that you have a new laptop'.
I always had a feeling from your grammar, Cory, that you had an English teacher like Grace Bordewich.

12:45 PM  
Blogger mike said...

Her note led to an exchange of reminiscences, during which I was shocked to learn that she's only nine nears older than I am.


4:12 PM  
Blogger Darcie said...

Wow and double Wow. Thanks for catching up. I missed you.


6:57 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

I have a new laptop, too. Actually I have two new laptops, the first one was stolen 11 days after I bought it--be sure to get Lojack for laptops, install it and do all the documentation they suggest. Engraving your Driver's license number and a phone number on the back will aid recovery if it does get 'lost' or misplaced.

I say I have two, and now I do! My laptop was stolen by a (now former) co-worker; I recovered it about 6 weeks after the sorry SOB lifted it.

I had an English teacher, Mr. Peddy, back in the 60's in Grandville High (near Grand Rapids MI.) He was a good man and a fine teacher; his brother was an Antarctic explorer/scientist so that our classes were penpal collectives of anyone who wanted to know about living in an alien part of our own world. Parsing sentences is a tough gig for a teacher, btw.

Love ya, Cory, and don't even miss reading you from the Reno Gasbag & Fish Wrapper.

From Tucson,

Brian Lamberts

2:02 PM  
Blogger Kathleen said...

If I see the currently vogue "bemused" employed one more time as a show-off-y synonym for "amused," I may have to self-medicate.

That said, "decimate" was a revelation. Thanks.

4:56 PM  
Blogger tuzoner said...

This is a regret.

A very personal one.

Mrs. Nixon was my high school english teacher. I was very mean to her. I am most certain she is six feet under by now. If God is listening, please tell her I am sorry for the trouble I caused. I think I could have learned much from her but instead I acted like an idiot most of the time and for that I am deeply sorry.

7:43 PM  
Blogger Sharon said...

Sounds like you *have got* a computer that has got you. Vista Blues??

7:31 PM  
Blogger EidolaC said...

56785678OH! OH! After looking at this list I believe that almost all of us get caught up in the modern slop. Your teacher caught me on some of them and I find myself saying "ya know" and it a makes me cringe.
I am no opposed to the street language but many times we go too far with something new. Because of its ubiquitousness "I've got" is one that I have picked up without even realizing it.

12:02 PM  
Blogger LauraBar said...

I can relate to EidolaC's remarks about 'you know". More people on radio and/or television are saying "you know" and when they do, I turn them off.

I have written NPR. No improvement has been "you know" noticed. So, I keep turning them off.

9:20 PM  
Blogger David Shearer said...

When someone asks, "Where are you at?", tell them you're behind the preposition!

6:39 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

One more I remember,Cory: Can't say, "very unique." Since unique means one of a kind the "very" is both unnecessary and wrong. Or at least it used to be. Ah, but the language has changed a bit since we were in high school, hasn't it!!

Oh, by the way, I'm kinda glad you were looking to get a glimpse down my blouse as my boyfriend at the time, Rich Jackson - being a good Mormon - didn't pay much attention... Carol Barthel

11:13 PM  

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