RECENTLY, SOMEONE I barely know took exception to a phrase I used in an essay I had published about the provenance of my surname, Nishball. The offending sentence: “…this quirky, utterly unique last name has produced a club with very few members.”
Although he prefaced his email by saying he really liked the essay, he had one pet peeve: “You qualified unique (“my utterly unique name”). Can’t be done, my friend. Something is either unique or it’s not.”
Well, my friend, as British comedienne Catherine Tate’s indignant alter ego Derek would say, “How very dare you.”
Okay, he caught me. As a rule, you cannot modify absolute words. However, writing is not always about perfection. Writers often choose not to stick to the rules. I had adopted a colloquial tone in the essay and decided the cadence of “utterly unique” sounded better than the staccato of “unique.”
I drafted a brief response.
Thank you for your extremely unique email. I respect your stand as a linguistic purist and your grammatical pet peeve (Lord knows, I have plenty of my own).
Not that I’m trying to defend myself, but a recent story in The New York Times Style section said: “Paris is fashion and haute couture is a separate world of clients, discipline, invisible seams and utterly unique creations.” And a Rutgers University press release described the work of one of their scientists as “utterly unique.” We are all shameless when it comes to choosing what rules to follow.
True, my grammar is far from perfect. I’m no Mignon Fogarty (Grammar Girl). But I love language. I love what it can do. I love its elasticity. I love the sounds of words and how arranging them in just the precise way can create magic.
Yes, I sometimes break the rules when I feel it’s warranted, or the whim strikes me. But as far as I’m concerned, you can modify all the absolutes you want, split your infinitives and end your sentences with whatever preposition you want to end them with. I don’t care.
Still, some grammar, pronunciation and language blunders I find extremely irksome and assault my ear like a Yoko Ono concert. Here are some of the ones I wish would just go away forever.
I Literally Think
I literally want to explode whenever I hear the word “literally” being so abused. It has literally become the linguistic tic of the 21st Century. It’s the new “like” or “you know.”
I literally couldn’t breathe. I literally wanted to die. I literally thought his head was going to explode. I literally think you’re right.
Well, all you people are literally making me sick. And though the misuse of this word literally makes me want to pull out my eyes through their sockets, I can do nothing about it because we live in America where we literally have the right to be incorrectly literal.
I want to go back in time to when I had hair just so I could pull it out when I hear people being redundant by saying both A.M. and in the morning, as in “6 A.M. in the morning.” It’s like saying, “This is my Aunt Sophie who is my aunt.”
Tevye Knew Best
What happened to the subjunctive? The next time I hear someone say, “If I was,” I may literally explode, especially if it’s 9 a.m. in the morning. Just remember Fiddler on the Roof and Tevye’s up-tempo yearning for being wealthy: If I were a rich man…
If Not You, Then Who?
Personally, I think that starting a sentence with “personally” should be outlawed and subject to substantial fines. Apparently, if I don’t say personally you might get confused and won’t know for sure if I am speaking from my own perception or channeling some other entity that lives inside my brain.
I Got Plenty Of Nothing
Not for nothing, but the expression “not for nothing” is just ridiculous. What does it even mean? It’s useless filler—a phrase that has no place anywhere in our language.
“Not for nothing, but this TV show used to better.” “Not for nothing, but I think Lindsay Lohan may actually make a comeback.” “Not for nothing, but I literally just walked over here.”
Not for nothing, but this expression is nothing and says nothing. I beg you, stop it.
It Is, Is It?
It is what it is. This can either be the height of self-defeatism (oh, well, I’m screwed anyway) or a passive-aggressive insult if you’re on the receiving end of this odious phrase. Let’s just call it what it is, essentially a Zen way of saying, “You can’t do anything about it, so just shut the fuck up.
To Care Or Not To Care
“I could care less.” Really? If you could care less, that means you care now. You might only care a little, but you do care, so don’t lie to me. If you didn’t care at all about it, then you couldn’t care less. But if you continue to say it incorrectly, personally, I could care less.
This one really speaks for itself—would of and should of. Ugh! I’ve been seeing this a lot lately and it’s spreading like a virus. This particular error is probably just from fast, lazy typing. At least, I hope that’s the excuse. So, maybe just take second to reread before hitting Send.
Using The Write Word
Homonyms. Crazy, huh? They’re, there, their. Your, you’re. Those damn possessives and contractions. There so confusing to the brain. I get it. Their such a pain in the ass to keep straight. Just get it write. I mean, right.
I will admit that I too am sometimes subject to the slippery slope of the homonym. I recently sent my father an email that said, “You think there’s a chance he wouldn’t mind spearing some cash?”
My father sent a response: “I think you meant sparring.”
I countered with, “It’s not polite to correct typos on emails that were sent with autocorrect from a smartphone. And I believe you meant ‘sparing,’ unless you think I was going to go a few rounds in the boxing ring with the guy.”
r u ROTFL?
Where r u? OMG. LMAO. When it comes to that haiku known as texting, I’m often left dazed and confused. Don’t get me wrong, I love the advent of this form of instant communication. It’s just that these silly abbreviations make me feel like a parent in the 1960s who thought the Beatles’ hair was too long. Oh, these kids today and their texting. But it’s not just kids. There is just no excuse for people who remember seeing Saturday Night Fever on the big screen in 1977 (or even those who remember watching Saturday Night Live as a TV show and not YouTube clips) to use these kinds of abbreviations. I too have tried to abbreviate, but I felt ridiculous writing things like, “c u ltr.” Now when I text, I spell everything out, as if I were writing a full-length email. I’m sure getting a mile-long text is on the list of pet peeves of my recipients. And, not for nothing, but no one calls to talk anymore. I mean, WTF.
Kvetch, Kvetch, Kvetch
My absolute biggest pet peeve is know-it-all nitpickers who have a list of ridiculous language grievances and love to complain about other people who make mistakes. Oh, wait a second… Never mind.