Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Why are you telling me?

Before I address language issues, I'd like to extend my condolences to the family of the hiker mentioned below. While the facts of his death have spurred a conversation about usage, his death surely remains a source of great pain to his loved ones. May you all find peace.

One problem with being interested in language is that often times people assume I will share their indignation at the “bad usage” they see in the world. Most of the time, I don’t.

I figure, if you can correct someone’s usage, it means you can understand it. And if you understand it, why are you correcting it? And why does the form of language (non-standard verb form, misspelling, etc) take precedence over the content?

One of these situations came up last week when someone came to me sharing some news from the local NBC site; a hiker had gone missing and there was a development in the story. Since the woman who shared the story is a hiker, I expected some details about the conditions, the trail, something like that. No, I got a rant about the news site's non-standard usage.

Here is a snapshot of the article on that day:

The rant went on about "how can college-educated people say that?" I put forth that this sort of thing is not actually taught in college, and that was actually accepted.
But the rant went on for a few more minutes, something about curtains and people.

Apparently 9news got the memo by the next day:

Our local ABC affiliate didn't change theirs until yesterday.

But why did they change it? The most recent survey of the American Heritage Dictonary Usage panel found that just under 1/3 of their panel approved the use of "hung" as the simple past and past participle for hang meaning death by hanging. And they are not alone. A quick phrase search on Google finds similar results for common usage. Today, the phrase "hanged himself" got me 944,000 results; "hung himself", 628,000.

So again, if you understand it, why are you correcting it?

But really, why are you telling me about it? I know the "rules". But I'm not likely to share your indignation. I can recommend a number of blogs and fb pages where you can rant to an audience who shares your perspective.

I know too many people who have suffered with the loss of a loved one through suicide. Here's a good local organization committed to suicide prevention.