William Blake

Repetition and stuffing up

an offbeat look at expressions and pronunciation

Mad Max III on the box t’other night. Ice in beer, beer in hand, all’s right with the world. We arrive at the scene where Max is mistaken for Captain Walker, the long-disappeared leader of a tribe of plane crash survivors waiting for salvation in a desert oasis. The descendants tell the story of what they’ve “membered” about the world before “the Apoxoclypse.” One of the reminiscences is of the “v-v-video” suggesting that Captain Walker (or his teaching successor) had a stutter. Nice touch.

This got me thinking. “Hmmm” thunk I. “Needs more ice.” After that issue was resolved I turned my thoughts to the way bad grammar is often the result of repetitive exposure to grammatical mistakes. There was a legend told me many years ago of a tribe in Africa where (after some brief exposure to missionaries) they had adopted the head shaking and nodding of Western culture. However, after the missionaries had been eaten, the memory grew hazy and to this day the tribe supposedly shakes their head for “Yes” and nods for “No.” This may have contributed to the demise of further generations of missionaries who may have asked the innocent question “Are you cannibals, by any chance?”

Many English expressions are incorrectly heard and then repeated by countless future generations of the same village, family, or educational background. For example, you can tell whether a person attended Catholic school or not by asking them to pronounce the letter after ‘G’. If they give the more technically correct answer ‘aitch’ you can presume they went to a state-run school, if they answer ‘Haitch’ you can be guaranteed they have attended a Catholic run school following the traditions of Irish nuns and their pronunciation. If however, they answer ‘whillackers’ you should make your way quickly but calmly towards the nearest exit.

Many native English speakers have inherited poor pronunciation which follows into their written language. Internet forums and blogs are rife with phrases such as “would of” and “could of” as opposed to “would have” and “could have.” I put this down to
the similarity in sound between the abbreviation “would’ve” and the incorrect “would of.” Other misheard words that seem to be passed from generation to generation are the ever-annoying ‘fillum’ and the Pythonesque ‘fire burgade.’ Amb-a-lance also fits into that category.

The correct use of pronouns in a sentence with more than one subject has confused even the best of us. A regular Ajarn Forum poster (whose name shall be withheld to protect the innocent) gave a great example of this when he recently posted that he was “going to cancel Dear and I’s plane tickets.” The way to avoid this confusion is to separate the two subjects and use the correct pronoun structure for each. Put simply “I’m going to cancel my plane ticket” and “I’m going to cancel Dear’s plane ticket” simply becomes “I’m going to cancel Dear’s and my plane tickets.” Or for the more advanced linguist: “Dear and I are going to tell the airline what they can do with our plane tickets.”

They may well have stayed home and watched a v-v-video…


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