On a recent visit to a health practitioner, I was greeted in a friendly manner by a new receptionist. Me and Jane will be helping Sally now. (Names changed, of course.)
She may well be an intelligent and competent young woman. However, her inability to speak in a grammatically correct way anchored in my biased brain the belief that she was not terribly bright and thus not someone deserving my confidence. I had to struggle to return her pleasant greeting without correcting her grammar.
I promise to work on my prejudice. It is possibly as bad as any other overt bias based on insufficient knowledge.
The incident caused me to look up the distinction between prejudice and discrimination. Prejudice is an attitude. Discrimination is a behavior. If I were to speak in one-syllable words and short, simple sentences to this woman, that would probably be discrimination. I cant help my prejudice against poor language choices, but I can control the behavior I take because of my opinion.
I have learned that some people choose bad grammar to appear just folks, to fit in. In a business setting, I believe that is a mistake. People generally dont take offense at or even notice proper grammar, but they do notice errors.
Sometimes people make grammatical errors in an attempt to sound more educated. Probably the most frequent occurrence of that is saying between you and I. It should be between you and me. Thats because the object of a preposition between requires the objective case pronoun.
Other errors arent so easy to routinely root out. Some words are simply hard to spell, often because theyre regularly mispronounced and we want to spell them as they are mispronounced. February, ophthalmologist, prerogative and separate come to mind. Actually they came to the mind of Anne Stilman in her excellent book, Grammatically Correct. She also made note of words we mistakenly spell the same way as their root words: disastrous, explanation, maintenance, pronunciation.
Moot is a word often mispronounced and more often misused. If a point is moot (not mute, which means silent), it is open for debate or discussion, not unnecessary or superfluous.
Continual and continuous are continually confused. Continual means something that recurs regularly or frequently, with lapses in time. Continuous means something continues without any stops or gaps in between. Kathy is continually harping on word use in her Business Insider column.
Another way we abuse our language and end up looking, if not stupid, then certainly unimaginative, is in the overuse of favorite words. Each year, Lake Superior State University and various journals propose words that should be banished due largely to overuse. Fiscal cliff, trending, YOLO (you only live once), bucket list, double down, job creators, spoiler alert, kick the can down the road, passion/passionate, superfood, boneless wings and guru made the 2012 list.
I would add: not so much, exactly (when used as a sentence followed by an exclamation point), LOL (lots of laughs, laughing out loud), and ginormous (which is not a word but a combination of enormous and giant). I also read about two new combination words that I hope wont come into common usage. Maybe theyre already here, and Ive missed them: broga (yoga for guys) and doga (yoga for dogs). Oh, please.
Write me with your additions to the words and phrases nominated for banishment.
Kathy McIntosh, Boise author, speaker and freelance editor. Owner of A Well-Placed Word. firstname.lastname@example.org