Friday, December 16, 2011

The Defender Of The Language Is Alerted To Internet Idiocy And Idiom Inconsistency: Bad Grammar Never Takes A Holiday

Once again, it's time for the Defender of The Language to answer a few questions from devoted fans and Readers.  Let's start it off from a fan of the Defender who signs herself Miss M. of Western Reserve,Ohio.  She writes:

Dear Defender, I'm sure you are not a fan, let alone a user of Facebook, but allow me to vent my spleen regarding a universal spelling error I see on that site every single day.  Whenever someone wants to express how cute or precious something is, they type "Awe" or, even worse, "Aweeeeee," which I read as Aw-eeeeee, in two syllables, the last one being the letter E drawn out like some huge scream. Can't we do something about this?  I mean, how hard is it?  Come on, people!  The word is "aww," and it's really not even a word.  It's more of a phoneme, really. This really, really gets me. Can you help? Please? And hurry.

Oh, my.  Miss M., this is indeed aggravating, and I share your irritation at this faux pas.  You are, obviously, correct that the word "awe," which means "wonderment" is sadly abused over and over again on social media sites and in text messages when its simple counterpart "aww" is intended. I suspect its misuse is widespread in traditional writing as well. The reason is not important, is it? It may never be known. We just want this dreadful egregiousness to stop (along with so very many other irksome things).  Your concern is noted, affirmed, and now further publicized.  I shall, along with Readers here, concentrate more energy into educating the masses regarding its foul existence and swift remedy.

Next we will hear from a Reader in New York.  Jake has not disclosed his city or town of residence, so let's pretend he's from Rensselaer!  He emails:

Hello from New York!  I know you often talk about sayings/idioms in your posts, so here's a question about that.  One that really puzzles me is "The proof is in the pudding." Lots of people say that, but I saw one reference that said the real saying is, "The proof of the pudding is in the eating." Can't they both technically be correct? Isn't the first one pretty much implying that the proof of whether or not the pudding is any good is whether or not you can eat it? Do you get what I mean?  Thanks.  I think you're great.

Jake, thank you.  The truth is that the original idiom is "The proof of the pudding is in the eating." This very old English proverb's origins date back many centuries, back to when the meaning of the word "proof" was somewhat different than it is now. It may also refer to an entirely different kind of pudding!  During the medieval times, puddings were more like sausages--savories, not sweets. They contained blood, offal, and were stuffed into animal entrails to be steamed or boiled. It's been postulated that this proverb may refer to the safety of said pudding:  whether or not it was cooked long enough could only be determined or "proven"/tested by eating it.  If those who ate it did not become sick, then it was a good pudding.  This example helps to illustrate the earlier meaning of the word "proof," which was "test." Now if you go back to the idiom in its shortened form, it doesn't make much sense at all. Even the way you explained it, it still leaves a lot of mystery. Proof of what? What pudding? It's all very vague. Better to use the complete version and make a total analogy and sound more erudite in the bargain!

Finally, we have this Language Alert! from Defender Fan Alicia.  She did not tell us where she lives at all in her email.  I've assigned her the homebase of Benkelman, Nebraska.  She chortles:

Defender, I absolutely love, love, love what you do! And I have to show you this. I was searching the Internet for a recipe for an appetizer to take in to work, and I came across this review.  It is the absolute epitome of obliviousness when it comes to...well, you'll know exactly what I'm talking about.  Here it is, word for word. I didn't know whether to laugh or cry.  (But I laughed.  A whole lot.  SORRY!)

"As always, Alton makes something EXACTLY the way I wanted it to taste! It tastes like the best spinach and artichoke dip I've ever had and have tried desperately to find it again in restaurants, homes, or cookbooks....AND I'VE FINALLY GOT IT! Am making it in a bread bowl to serve chilled at a HUGE outdoor party tomorrow...I know its going to be a HIT! I made mine exactly as he states (except I used jarred artichoke hearts but I made mine slightly less fat by using reduced fat sour cream, reduced fat cream cheese, and half and half regular and reduced fat dont taste ANY difference or lack of something. EXCELLENT! Thank you Alton!"

Someone needs to know what the word "exactly" means, right?  And are you still waiting for the other part of the parentheses? I know I am!  Have fun with this one.

Dear, dear, Alicia.  Really, you shouldn't have. I counted six basic mechanic/usage/grammar/punctuation errors alone, and that does not include the bothersome idea of cold spinach artichoke dip or the idea that she is substituting a cadre of low- or no-fat ingredients for this appetizer which is clearly supposed to be an indulgence.  I also did not count errors in logic in this tally.  I wish I could share your mirth; I honestly do, but this recipe review is a sterling example of what I must battle every single moment of every single day.  I cannot rest.  I cannot falter.  I must defend The Language, for its marauders never cease.

Thanks to Miss M., Jake, and Alicia for their questions and Language Alert.  For the Defender Fans and Readers, don't forget to submit your questions and/or Language Alerts to Nance here at the Dept. of Nance via email by using the clickable link in the sidebar.


  1. Nance,

    If Jake of New York thinks "The proof is in the pudding" is a puzzling saying, he should have been around when my MIL was living.
    There was a puzzle!

    Frieda was an immigrant from Germany who learned English on the streets of South Philadelphia and ended up with a few sayings that the family is only now figuring out.

    If highly amused she would laugh and say,"That's as funny as a crutch". If someone offered her something she considered excessive she would say, "I don't want that,that's about as necessary as a screen door."

    This went on for years and not one of us knew what she meant until one day I was in a diner and I overheard the fellow at the next table laugh and say "That's about as useful as a screen door on a submarine." I did a Red Skelton spit-take with my coffee when I heard that. Mystery solved! Mom obviously hadn't heard the part about the submarine when she acquired the phrase.

    About the "Funny as a crutch" saying. That,too, was cleared up by skillful eavesdropping. The expression is used sarcastically when something is not really funny. It is "That's about as funny as a rubber crutch." Mom didn't stick around for the end of that proverb either; just started using it as she saw fit and the Hell with whether it made sense or not.

    I can only assume both expressions sounded good to her.

  2. I always live in fear when I comment on one of the Defender posts - I'm sure to have some error or other!

    I love how you assign hometowns to your "guests" - reminds me of Skip Carey calling Atlanta Braves games. "And that ball was caught by a loyal fan from Ashtabula, Ohio."

  3. @Nancy: Well, finally the mystery is solved for me, too. I had a British flatmate years ago who used to say "Funny as a crutch" and never quite knew what it was, but chalked it up to possibly being cockney rhyming slang, a rather complex genre unto itself if you were not born into it.

    @Nance: I would like to add a subsidiary to the Defender of the Language Department: Accurate linguistic portrayal in movie scripts representing 'period pieces.' I am not referring to things which hark back to Shakespearean times, but rather this past century, especially movies made today which take place in the 60's or early 70's. I am especially sensitive to this because 1975 was when I vacated the US and proceeded to spend a quarter of a century living outside its borders. This made for a lot of adaptation on re-locating at the end of the 20th century, and I had to catch up on quite a bit of slang, buzz words, etc. And while I am a totally unreliable source for pin-pointing when these expressions came to be common parlance, I can say for a fact that in the 60's and early 70's, absolutely NO ONE said:

    —It's not rocket science.
    ...and a long etcetera.

    I find this really annoying for some reason. And it's not the language per se; "translating" Shakespeare into modern language, for example, is just fine because it is understood that this is intentional. What bugs me is the Gen X-ers who don't stop to think that the language used is as specific to a generation as clothing & hair styles, and the lack of modern technology. Using expressions that were not in use at all during that time, but pretending that they were, is as jarring to me as it would be if you had someone with an ipod instead of a transitor radio or a walkman.

    What say the Defender of the Language?

  4. Ortizzle--As I am constantly embroiled in Language Defense, I do not go and see films. I will defer to Nance.--DoL

    Ortizzle--You know, I can't immediately think of any movies where this has happened although I'm sure you're right. I'm sensitive to it because I watch an inordinate amount of Costume Dramas, so if it happened in any of those, I'd be livid and ranting. Perhaps you're watching a different sort of movies than I am? In any case, maybe you should send DoL a Cinematic Language Error Alert or two and we'll get on it.

    The Bug--Please don't be so panic-stricken in the Comments section. Both Nance and I agree that Comments is a place where typos are far more common than actual linguistic errors. We therefore do not scrutinize them, and we certainly don't giggle and point at them behind your backs, metaphorically.--DoL

    Nancy--Why do you think it is such a proclivity among so many to shorten these proverbs and then use them anyway? I worry that we are becoming a sloganized civilization, hell-bent on destroying The Language.--DoL

  5. Hey, I could care less what you say.

    What do you think of that sentence? I hear it all the time.

    I do agree with you about the way some of our young people shorten these sayings. They have had every opportunity to have a wonderful education delivered to them by talented and dedicated professionals like yourself...

    But poor Mom came over here on the boat from Germany all by herself when she was 16 years old and picked up her English on the streets.

    If she had had the opportunity to spend just one year in your classroom I'm sure she would have known that her sayings were missing a few words that would have made them make more sense.

    Just think of all the young people who say things correctly because of your influence and interest in them.....

  6. Dear Defender of Language,
    Thought you should see this. If only you were still teaching...

    Warning! Explicit!!

    Two former honors english and creative writing students

  7. AP & Anonymous--This video would have been far more enjoyable had it not had egregious spelling errors within it. I suppose I should be grateful that it correctly identified the parts of speech correctly, and the usage of the word thereof. How very, very ironic, however, that one of the misspellings was that of the word "incompetent!"

  8. I agree that the video could have been better... what's with the random doodles/scratches making it pretend to be all old-timey and rustic? And the spelling made me want to throw the computer out the window. Alas...

    You might be interested to know that the narrator of that video was none other than the Voice of Disney, Mr. Wagner. I'm friends with his grandson.


Oh, thank you for joining the fray!

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