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Monday, September 17, 2012

Write Right

     Do viruses affect the English language? Or is there a linguistic climate change? I wonder, because it seems to me that several goofy errors and misuses began to turn up in American conversation a few years ago, and now they are rampant. 
     All of a sudden, no one can write January 2 or June 3 in an ad or poster or PowerPoint slide. They add the unnecessary ordinal and make it January 2nd or June 3rd. It adds no information, and it looks clunky. So why is it ubiquitous? Perhaps it came in holding hands with the ampersand. The little blighter "&" has multiplied all over the place, like an invasive species taking over the habitat of the correct and perfectly serviceable "and." The Associated Press Stylebook allows an ampersand if it's part of a company name, like Baltimore & Ohio Railroad, but nowhere else. Poster makers and newsletter writers, take note. Please. 
     It must be about the five-year anniversary of the beginning of the language mutation. See what's wrong with a "something-year anniversary"? Check out that root word "anni-." It means "year." The "-versary" part means "return," or, we could say, "observance." So a "five-year anniversary" is a "five-year year-observance." Dumb. Redundant. All you need is the ordinal, spelled out, please, if the number is less than ten. When the ninth anniversary gives way to the 10th anniversary, use those little ordinal endings all you want. Some publications used to spell out through the "-teenths." I don't care. Just keep the ordinal endings away from the dates.
     Hey, did you notice the careful placement of quotation marks above? They are very happy when used correctly, but they will twist things up if you try to use them for emphasis. Watch for signs that advertise "vegetarian" burgers or "real" cheese or "fun" carnival. Or even "sausage" on a stick (for all you Terry Pratchett fans out there.) Tossed in like this, they nudge us in the ribs and say, "Not really." It can get so embarrassing, you want to die, literally. Ah, a clever introduction of a new fungus. Guess what? Literally literally means literally, as in "really, truly happened." So if your head explodes literally, there are brains on the wall. The literal outbreak is literally non-partisan, as Joe Biden famously misuses it for emphasis, but so does Sean Hannity. It must be stamped out before nothing makes any sense!
     Now, that was an exclamation. It has an exclamation point after it. The exclamation point belongs there because the sentence expresses emphatic emotion. Desperation, even. It probably doesn't belong with comments on cute puppies or new haircuts. And even if you think your group's picnic is going to be the best ever, a long string of exclamation points won't make it so. List all the nifty activities, and give me a chance to say, "Golly, that sounds like fun." Please don't try to force me to be impressed. That would be great. Thanks!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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