OF REDLANDS, CALIFORNIA  - Founded 24 January 1895

MEETING # 1587
4:00 P.M.April 24, 1997

What is Correct English?

by Martin H. MunzAssembly Room, A. K. Smiley Public Library

What Is Correct English?It is presumptuous of me to write a paper on this subject to be read before this august group of educated men -- professors, doctors, ministers, lawyers scientists, engineers journalists, etc. It reminds me of an experience my father had had in his youth as a minister in the Midwest. As his ability as a preacher was well known by his colleagues, he was urged to apply for the pastorate of St. Peters Evangelical Church in Elmhurst, Illinois, a wealthy suburb west of Chicago. This was also the Elmhurst College church. Although he was honored by the confidence placed in him, he decided not to apply for this position, for he said he would not feel comfortable to preach every Sunday to a congregation which included several professors and ministers.English teachers should be qualified to speak and write correct English. Having taught English for several years, I considered myself to be quite knowledgeable about the correctness of the language. I had more to learn, however, when I worked at the University of Redlands' Whitehead College for a few years as assistant to the late Dr. William Umbach who was Dean of Graduate Studies and a former member of Fortnightly. As the etymological editor of Webster's New World Dictionary for many years, Dr. Umbach was one of the outstanding authorities of word usage. As his assistant in the Whitehead program, I was responsible for critiquing masters' theses for grammar and composition, and for setting up orals examinations.Our graduate classes consisted of students who were employed full-time and who met one afternoon or night each week at various locations in Southern California. Each student was required to develop a project related to his work area and develop a master's thesis describing the project. I was responsible for meeting with each class once during the year to inform the students of our requirements and types of errors to avoid. In this paper I am including some of the information I gave to the students.Some of the most common errors relate to comma usage. I once asked a young secretary how she determined where to place a comma. She said she put a comma after each group of words when she took a breath. Commas are important to give the intended meaning to the sentence. How should one use commas in a series? Should one place a comma after the last word in a series before "and"? Let's look at this sentence: "For dinner we had mash potatoes and gravy, green peas, rolls, liver smothered in onions and ice cream". If we don't place a comma after onions, it can mean that we had ice cream smothered in liver and onions. James J. Kilpatrick, columnist for the Universal Press Syndicate, often featured in the Redlands Daily Facts, states that the "Placement of commas is mostly a matter of good judgement". He states further that several large newspapers prohibit the use of commas in a series before the conjunction "and" in a series. Two examples are the New York Times and the Associated Press.Many writers have discussed the distinction between "anxious" and "ea-ger". The difference is that "anxious" is related to anxiety. When we are anxious about something, we are worried, apprehensive, or concerned. When we are "eager", we are filled with pleasant anticipation.The words "healthy" and "healthful" each have special meanings. People are healthy but foods are healthful. Kilpatrick tells us that the distinction is fading, however.Another controversy concerns the words "lend" and "loan". The word "to loan" has been around for a long time, but "to lend" has a nicer sound than "loaning".In the educational process, we try to teach students to pronounce words correctly. One word often mispronounced is "athlete". Some pronounce it, saying "ath e fete". The word has only two syllables.
Likewise, the word "height" is often pronounced "heighth", as though it ended in "th", like eighth. Height ends inky end rimes with might, right, sight, etc.Our language is constantly changing. When I was in the third grade the word "today" was spelled with a hyphen, "to-day". But that changed within a short time.One of my pet peeves is the overuse of the reflexive pronoun "myself''. Kilpatrick discussed this quite thoroughly a couple of years age in his column. He quotes a sportswriter who wrote: "The traveling party was myself, my sister Terry, my mother, Pat, and my grandmother from Nebraska". He says the sentence "stumbles,'. He continues: "Myself,' serves a useful purpose only for emphasis. "I myself saw the flying saucer". Other wise we should use "I" or "me" or we should recast a clumsy sentence.Over the past ten years Gresham's law of language has been at work: Bad usage drives out good. The old distinctions between "who" and "whom" are steadily fading. The same can be said for "can" and "may". But we continue to insist on the first rule of English composition, which is that subject and predicate must agree in number.In the San Bernardino Sun, we saw this sentence during the last political campaign: "people in the District need someone more involved than Lewis, whom he alleged has not written a bill lately". If we omit "he alleged" we have "who has not written a bill". That sounds right and is correct. Here is a similar news item: "Pentagon officials are contacting about 5000 troops whom they believe may have been exposed". If we omit ''they believe", we know that whom is wrong.My favorite guide to English usage is a book by Harry Shaw entitled: Errors in English and Ways to Correct Them. He states that we should fully understand the function of pronouns in order to avoid errors. Here are some sentences which illustrate the correct use of who and whoever:The question of who is eligible is unimportant. This article offers good advice to whoever will accept it. That is the boy whom I saw at the beach last summer. Jack always tells his problems to whomever he meets. Give the present to whomever you wish. Jill asked Gray who he thought would be elected. I winked at the girl who no one thought would be elected.If we understand the function in each of the above sentences, we will fee! satisfied that we have used the right pronoun.A common expression we hear is "aren't I". Aren't is a plural contraction meaning are not I. We mean to say "Am I not".What is the distinction between "each other" and "one another"? According to Webster's New World Dictionary, "each other" involves two individuals, whereas "one another" involves more than two. Remember that in the Bible Jesus says, "Love ye one another".What is the distinction between "infer" and "imply',7 Although these expressions are often used as synonyms, there is a difference in meaning. "Imply" means to indicate without saying openly or directly; "Infer" means to understand what you think was said.We often hear this question, "Where is it at"? The "at" is superfluous; just say "Where is it"?In order to avoid over-use of certain words, we look for synonyms. There is a story told on Noah Webster. His wife caught him in the act of sex with the chambermaid. "Noah!" she cried, "I am surprised!" "No, my dear," said the great lexicographer, untangling himself, "you are astonished. I am surprised."Writers are becoming increasingly careless in writing incomplete statements as we found recently in the news:"Sometimes people who work in the background are overlooked as far as public recognition". I would add "is concerned"."Winning the game was huge as far as the tournament". Again, I would add "was concerned".The above sentences sound incomplete to me unless one adds "is concerned". So the sentence would read: Winning the game was huge as far as the tournament divas concerned".In his book on correct usage, Shaw writes, "Modern punctuation usage omits many commas that were formerly used; therefore you should be able to account for each comma in your writing. A comma must be needed for sense construction, clearness, or effectiveness. Avoid using commas needlessly to separate closely related sentence elements."In the following sentences, for instance, no comma is needed: "We asked to have the motion reread." "I found that driving was not so hard after all". "To do satisfactory work is my aim".Do not use a comma between two independent clauses where a stronger mark of punctuation (semicolon or period) is required. I recommend using the semicolon in such a case if the second clause is closely related in meaning to the first; otherwise use a period.Finally, do not use a comma in any situation unless it adds to clarity and understanding.We have heard the words "center around" quite often. Umbach used to ask, "How can you center around anything; you mean "center on or center in". Many have trouble with the use of "lay" and "lie". The principal parts are "lay, laid, and laid" and "lie, lay, and lain". "Lie" is an intransitive verb, i.e. lie it is not used as object, when one says, "I lay down for a nap". If one says "laid", he must state what he laid.People often misspell the past tense of "load" which is pronounced "lead" but is spelled "led".What is the distinction between "farther" and "further"? "Farther" relates to distance whereas "further" indicates more remote in space and time, degree or addition".We all know that in mathematics a double negative makes a positive. The same thing is true in language. Thus, if we say, "I can't hardly see you",we are really saying "I can see you". "Hardly" is a negative adverb.Why do many people have trouble with the use of personal pronouns? We heard an announcer of a college football game declare: "The halfback took the ball and ran for a touchdown and there was no one between he and the goal". Teachers try to teach their students to use the objective case when the pronoun is the object of a verb or preposition. In the sentence, "Have you met Jack and her?" the objective case her is object of the verb "have met". If we omit "Jack and" we have "Have you met her?" That sounds correct.In recent years many writers have changed their use of plural referent with a singular antecedent. Kilpatrick says that "Opponents of 'sexism', suffering from eggshell sensitivity, have brought this plague upon us." Let's look at these examples:"Just about everyone, it seems, think they are funny." "Everyone ages at their own pace". "Each honoree earned the respect of their peers in Hawaii". "Each child is learning at their own pace".Kilpatrick continues: "In the days before political correctness leaped to the saddle and seized the reins of English usage, a masculine referent served a universal purpose. Everyone thought he was funny, each child learned at his own pace, and each honoree earned at his own pace. Now the self-conscious writer clutters his syntax with 'his own her own pace' and 'his or her peers'. Clumsy!"There are half a dozed ways to avoid stirring up the feminists. Often a plural construction will pluck the stinger. Have all the honorees earned the respect of their peers? Most of us think WE are funny. Adults age at their own pace. No one is offended and the English sentence is not ravaged".Two years ago two top executives of Public Broadcasting Jennifer Lawson and John Grant resigned their positions. The president of PBS praised Lawson, but a TV columnist said the president has "forced she and Grant to give up some of their responsibilities".Presidents stumble, too. Testifying before a grand jury Bill Clinton said that after they profited on one deal, "Mr. McDougal invited Hillary and I to invest with Jim and Susan".How should we treat such words as "couple", singular or plural in this sentence: "A Redlands couple were among the governor's guests"? "Were" is correct because we think of them as two persons.What about the word "of,' in this sentence: "He fell off of the horse"? The "of" seems superfluous to me. Kilpatrick states that most of the time a sentence can be improved by omitting "of" but he would use the word in this sentence: "In the long run you can make more money off of good stocks than you can make off of good bonds".One of my gripes is "try and do" or "try and cut" from the staff or "try and remove the stain". The writer really means "try to do". Various authors regard "try and" as standard usage, but I don't like it!
Another common statement we hear is "we read in the paper where ..... The correct statement is "I read in the paper that".....When one feels ill does he feel "bad" or "badly"? If you feel badly, something is wrong with your sense of feeling; your fingers may be numb or calloused. If you feel bad, you're ill, depressed, or worried.Some writers use the phrase "the reason is because". This is wrong as the word "reason" implies the cause. One should state, "the reason is that".The correct use of the apostrophe is not understood by many students because it is somewhat tricky. Here are some examples of correct usage when the possessive case is indicated; women's, children's, ladies', heroes', Jim Jones', Queen Mary's Crown, somebody else's coat. In contractions we use the apostrophe to indicate that letters have been omitted, as in didn't, isn't, can't. etc.A common error is found in the use of apostrophes in forming the plural of nouns and the possessive case of personal and relative pronouns, such as ours, yours, his, her, its, theirs, whose. When the apostrophe is used in the word "its", it is a contraction for "it is".One of the often misused punctuation marks is the hyphen. When two or more words are used as a modifier of a substantive they are hyphenated, as bell-shaped hats, first-rate musician, six-room house, good-natured professor. At Whitehead College, Umbach insisted that we should always use a hyphen to separate the word self when combined with another word to form an adjective, as in self-esteem, self-confident, self-control. Other uses of hyphens are as compound nouns as by-product of coal, brother-in-law, Jack of-all-trades, court-marshal!, secretary-treasurer. Also use the hyphen in compound numerals from twenty-one through ninety-nine., and in the numerator and denominator of fractions as in four-fifths, one-half, and three-fourths. Do not use a hyphen when an adverb modifies an adjective as in "She was a highly trained secretary."Spelling causes problems for many students as well as for adults. Authorities have formulated nearly fifty rules, but most of us know only about a half dozen. A rule which we memorized in elementary school went like this:

Write i before e
Except after c I
Or when sounded like a
As in neighbor and weigh
During World War II, I recall reading the headline in the Arizona Republic in huge 2-inch letters "Leningrad Under SEIGE." Of course Leningrad was under siege. These two words are often misspelled. They are included in the list of "100 spelling demons" we used to teach our junior high pupils to spell correctly.Here are some words which are still problems for may of our students today:
occasion acquaint suspicionilliterate all right siegeirresponsible: noticeable seizeaccommodate basis pursuerecommend beginning unnoticeddissatisfied profited whethersaw. perseverance receivefamiliar sandwich believeaccidentally judgment questionnaireoccurrence
Years ago we taught our junior high students to spell all of the words on the list of "100 Spelling Demons." I don't know what ever happened to that list. Do you?Here are some examples of unclear writing which Umbach gave me. These sentences are taken from actual letters received by a local Welfare Department in applications for support.I am writing the Welfare Dept. to say that my baby was born two years old. When do I get my money?Cam forwarding my marriage certificate and six children. I had seven but one died which was baptized on a half sheet of paper.
Mrs. Jones has not had any clothes for year and has been visited regularly by the clergy.I cannot get sick pay. I have six children. Can you tell my why?I am glad to report that my husband who is missing is dead.This is my eighth child. What are you going to do about it?Please find for certain if my husband is dead. The man I am how living with can't eat or do anything until he knows.I am very annoyed to find you have branded my son illegitimate as this is a dirty lie. I was married a week before he was born.In answer to your letter, I have given birth to a boy weighing ten pounds. I hope this is satisfactory.I am forwarding my marriage certificate and three children, one of which is a mistake, as you can see.My husband had his project cut off three weeks ago and I haven't had any relief since.Unless I get my husband's money pretty soon, I will be forced to live an immortal life.You have changed my little boy to a girl. Will this make any difference?I have no children yet as my husband is a truck driver and works day and night.In accordance with your instructions I have given birth to twins in the enclosed envelope.I want my money as quick as I can get it. I've been in bed with the doctor for two weeks and he doesn't do me any good. If things don't improve, I will have to send for another doctor.
In most of the above sentences, there are misplaced phrases which can be corrected with a little logical thinking.In this paper I have tried to discuss some of the errors we find in the use of English. I acknowledge that there are many more aspects of the language which could be included.

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