Say What You Mean–Please!

by Lisa Rosen on October 13, 2011

I’m writing this at the airport; Delaney and I are waiting for our flight to LaGuardia.  My big resolution for this post is to proofread it before it goes live.  Several of my posts in the last couple of weeks were written in, um, unusual settings (one on a plane, another in the car while we were barreling down I-26), and when I looked at them later, online, I realized that they were riddled with typos and misspellings.

I am mortified.

Sloppy language errors drive me crazy.  Actually, sloppy language in general sets my teeth on edge.  I’ve always been fussy about grammar–occupational hazard–but lately I’ve been on a bit of a tear.

It started with a series of odd emails from a random stranger, who apparently doesn’t have any punctuation keys on his computer.  At first it cracked me up, but then it started to get on my nerves.  And then . . . punctuation and spelling errors started jumping out at me, everywhere I turned, even worse than usual.

Even on my own blog!  Quelle horreur!

The worst thing, though, the most egregious error, the one that makes me want to tear my hair out and smash my head into the nearest wall, is plain old imprecise language.  It’s insidious and sneaky and DOES NOT WORK.  I’m not talking about anything that’s an actual error, per se.  I’m talking about words and phrases that, while grammatically correct and perfectly acceptable, mean absolutely nothing, or at least nothing useful.  The point of language, remember, its raison d’être, is communication.  Words are meant to convey meaning.

The example that’s stuck in my head at the moment:  someone asked me recently if I wanted to get a bite to eat.  Heard in a vacuum, without any reference point, this is not a particularly useful phrase.  Does it mean lunch?  Dinner?  A bag of potato chips eaten in the car?  I have a choice–I can attempt to pin down someone who (whether consciously or not) is avoiding a specific commitment, or I can try to ferret out the meaning.  Neither option is comfortable for the person trying to answer the question (me).

“Over there” is another one, or “That way,” if I don’t have a visual reference (i.e., when I’m driving, looking at the road, and the person giving directions is in the back seat.  Hello–please use specific directional words!  I can’t take my eyes off of the 18-wheeler in the next lane to look at you in the back seat, waving and pointing–just tell me right or left!)

Rant over. We now return to our regularly scheduled programming.

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