By Joe Diorio
My readers are not shy. In last month’s newsletter I asked for submissions of grammatical grievances, and the sharing began in earnest.
Waiting on? Waiting for? Just deliver it already.
For example, “Since when do we wait ON something?” a subscriber asked, pointing to a Washington Post headline that read, “Puerto Rico still waiting on disaster relief funds.” His curiosity – complaint, actually – was why wasn’t Puerto Rico waiting FOR disaster relief funds?
The dictionary says one waits on someone as in serving or attending to. The stackexchange.com surmises that the usage of waiting on the delivery is a regional dialect germane to the Southeastern United States, but that wouldn’t explain the Post’s usage.
A little further snooping through Merriam-Webster suggests that waiting on can also mean someone is ready to take step two once step one occurs. In Puerto Rico’s case, step one would be the delivery of disaster relief funds. It makes sense therefore that Puerto Rico would wait “on” disaster relief funds, because no one in Puerto Rico is going to sit around and admire a disaster relief check once it arrives.
“Answering a text with ‘ok’ or ‘k’ is passive aggressive or even hostile,” writes a frustrated grammar grouch on Twitter. “When did ‘kk’ become the new ‘fine’ or ‘duly noted?’ Who has time for this?”
The writer’s frustration is kk with me, and may reflect some pushback over the evolution of our language. Social media and the internet have significantly accelerated the pace of terms being absorbed into the language. Gretchen McCulloch, author of Because Internet: Understanding the New Rules of Language, says the frequency of seeing new terminology online, particularly on Twitter, influences how quickly the new words and phrases are absorbed into daily usage. Twitter users, she notes, pick up new phrases twice as fast as those not regularly Tweeting.
Department of Redundancy Department, Overkill Division
“I was ordering a part for my car and the woman at the parts desk said I needed to ‘prepay in advance’ for the part.” Well, to “prepay” is to pay in advance. Would one need a WABAC machine set on extra early to prepay in advance?
Example One: The day before the Kansas City Chiefs were to host the Tennessee Titans in the National Football League’s divisional playoffs an ABC affiliate had the following on-screen graphic, “57000 tickets remain available.” Really? Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City holds 78,000 people, so that’s a LOT of extra tickets. Methinks someone overdid the zeroes.
Example Two: An NBC affiliate reporting on the impeachment hearings in Washington, D.C. posted a graphic that read, “Republicans say investigation is heresay.” Is it hearsay that language skills are eroding?
Example Three: Me (yes, me). In last month’s newsletter I said the founder of the Apostrophe Protection Society would “rage” war on misuse of the punctuation. While he may indeed be in a rage, he was actually WAGING war. Name the time and place and I’ll fall on the proverbial sword.
But back to the basics
One frustrated reader shared this chestnut: “The other day I heard a reporter on WHYY (NPR affiliate) start a sentence with ‘Me and him went …’ Ugh! A trained reporter ignoring the subjective case. What is the world coming to?”
OK, your teacher probably covered this in elementary school but let’s review. The word “me” is an object pronoun, and English sentences are constructed in a subject/verb order. If you and a friend are going somewhere you begin the sentence by saying one of the following:
- Josh and I …
- The two of us …
- We …
If you remove the object pronoun from the offending sentence it would read “Me went …” or “Him went …” and, obviously, it would be incorrect. Johnny Wiessmuller, portraying Tarzan in 1930s cinema, was probably the last person who got a free pass for saying “Me went.”
Just to stir the pot
Everyone seems to say the year 2020 is the start of a new decade. But is it? According to the Farmers’ Almanac decades begin with the numeral “1” and end with the numeral “0,” meaning the new decade really does not begin until January 1, 2021. Think of all those “new decade” themed marketing slogans going to waste.
Who writes this stuff?
If you ever wondered who is behind this email newsletter, then click here to read a profile on me in Word of Mouth Conversations. Thank you, Lily Clayton Hansen, for a job well done.
Let’s write carefully out there, people.
Joe Diorio is a writer in Nashville, Tennessee.