Posts Tagged ‘Bad English’

The English language can be tricky to master at times. A lot of the spelling is counterintuitive, and it’s often hard to know when to use a C, or a K, because they both sound the same. Don’t even get started on pseudopseudohypoparathyroidism.

Several prominent individuals (including Theodore Roosevelt, of monocle-enthusiast fame) have thus sponsored attempts to have the language altered and made simpler. They believe that words should be spelled like they sound, without any of those pesky modifiers and silent letters that have plagued them since childhood. Under these rules, ‘pharmacist’ would become ‘farmasist’, and ‘knight’ would become ‘nite’, despite the confusion that would bestow upon the world.

Others have sought to replace the Roman alphabet with one that introduces entirely new characters (such as symbols for ‘wh’, ‘ng’, ‘l337’), or does away with whole letters completely. No one uses Q or Z these days, at least no one worth mentioning, so it’d be much better to just get rid of them. That way, all the vital brain space could instead be used for memorizing the names of American Idol contestants.

It all comes down to traditionalism versus ease. Why learn how to properly spell ‘education’ when you can just shift the letters around until it’s so simple that even a caveman can do it?

As you might guess, the primitive spokespeople for Geico are *not* behind this movement.


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The Bulwer-Lytton Award is truly a tournament after this blog’s heart. It’s an annual competition held by the English department of San Jose State University, and instructs contestants to come up with the most absolutely horrible opening line to a story that their minds can conceive of. No “Call me Ishmael”, no “It was a cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.” Any semblance of talent or virtue is immediately discarded into the circular filing bin, though it should be noted that it takes a special kind of talent to intentionally butcher the written language as required.

The contest is named after Edward George Bulwer-Lytton, author of the famous opening line, “It was a dark and stormy night.” Readers may remember this as Snoopy’s favorite introductory sentence during his writing pursuits. It comes from the novel Paul Clifford, and is widely considered to be a prime example of literary cliché. The contestant who manages to exceed it over all others receives $250, and the proud knowledge that he or she has constructed a written passage so atrocious that it has been proven to cause blindness in lab mice.

Some past winners (or losers, depending on your point of view) of the Bulwer-Lytton Award include:

The camel died quite suddenly on the second day, and Selena fretted sulkily and, buffing her already impeccable nails–not for the first time since the journey began–pondered snidely if this would dissolve into a vignette of minor inconveniences like all the other holidays spent with Basil.
– Gail Cain, San Francisco, California (1983 Winner)

Dolores breezed along the surface of her life like a flat stone forever skipping across smooth water, rippling reality sporadically but oblivious to it consistently, until she finally lost momentum, sank, and due to an overdose of fluoride as a child which caused her to lie forever on the floor of her life as useless as an appendix and as lonely as a five-hundred-pound barbell in a steroid-free fitness center.
-Linda Vernon, Newark, California (1990 Winner)

The moment he laid eyes on the lifeless body of the nude socialite sprawled across the bathroom floor, Detective Leary knew she had committed suicide by grasping the cap on the tamper-proof bottle, pushing down and twisting while she kept her thumb firmly pressed against the spot the arrow pointed to, until she hit the exact spot where the tab clicks into place, allowing her to remove the cap and swallow the entire contents of the bottle, thus ending her life.
– Artie Kalemeris, Fairfax, Virginia (1997 Winner)

They had but one last remaining night together, so they embraced each other as tightly as that two-flavor entwined string cheese that is orange and yellowish-white, the orange probably being a bland Cheddar and the white… Mozzarella, although it could possibly be Provolone or just plain American, as it really doesn’t taste distinctly dissimilar from the orange, yet they would have you believe it does by coloring it differently.
– Mariann Simms, Wetumpka, AL (2003 Winner)

As he stared at her ample bosom, he daydreamed of the dual Stromberg carburetors in his vintage Triumph Spitfire, highly functional yet pleasingly formed, perched prominently on top of the intake manifold, aching for experienced hands, the small knurled caps of the oil dampeners begging to be inspected and adjusted as described in chapter seven of the shop manual.
– Dan McKay, Fargo, ND (2005 Winner)

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Bad English isn’t always the result of poor education or carelessness when it comes to proper syntax. Quite a lot of the time it’s because English isn’t the person’s native language, and they don’t understand the numerous linguistic rules. Something gets lost in translation, and “I ask that you do this for me” becomes “I demand this request be transferred into answer!” The basic gist is usually apparent to the listener, but the language has still been beaten up pretty badly in the process and should probably be taken out for a stiff drink.

Colloquialisms are particularly hard to translate. If you’re not from an English-speaking nation, there’s no real way to know that “Kick the bucket!” means to expire, or that “Dressed for bear” doesn’t mean they should start dressing like a furry. Along similar lines, the Liberal Democratic Party is actually the ultra-conservative party in Japan, but unless you know that you are likely to gain a skewed version of politics in that country. The only real hope is to build up a resistance to poorly chosen words or phrases before you lose your marbles (figuratively) and start throwing dictionaries at people on the subway.

A few mistranslations from around the around:

Switzerland – Because of the impropriety of entertaining guests of the opposite sex in the bedroom, it is suggested that the lobby be used for this purpose.
Japan – Special cocktails for the ladies with nuts.
Romania – The lift is being fixed for the next day. During that time, we regret that you will be unbearable.
France – Please leave your values at the front desk.
Norway – Ladies are requested to not have children in the bar.
Greece – Visitors are expected to complain at the office between the hours of 9 and 11 A.M. daily.

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The internet, as it is known by the strange and curious folk who use it, is a truly marvelous invention that has allowed for previously unprecedented levels of communication and commerce. Its numerous merits can be praised until the end of time, but for some reason, it also has an invariably debilitating effect on the ability for people to use proper grammar. A well-mannered teenager who is polite to his parents and speaks in perfect English while in school will, upon going online, immediately transform into a slackjawed moron who brags that he ‘p3wned’ someone and how ‘u r teh lamzor!’

Proper spelling, sentence structure, any semblance of good taste… all become tragic victims the moment they are written in an online context. Internet L337 speak (which roughly translates to leet, or “elite” speak) is merely interested in expressing basic concepts and emotions in an extremely shorthand manner, preferably with numbers and ASCII symbols exchanged for the letters whenever possible. There is no need to use correct syntax – unless you’re talking about a syntax error, of course, but no one has seen one of those in quite some time.

L337 to English Dictionary:

LOL – Laughing in a loud and boisterous manner.
Haxxor – A computer programmer with great proficiency.
W00T – Hurrah! A pleasant experience has occurred!
Suxxor – Something has regrettably failed.
Pr0n – Adult material involving Jenna Jameson.
OMGWTF – Creator of mine, thou has forsaken me!
Noob – A youthful person lacking sufficient experience.
O RLY? – Are you sure you wouldn’t like to reconsider?

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George Bush, Sr. had a difficult decision to make during the summer of his 1988 presidential campaign. Who was going to be his running mate? The Vice-President is an important factor to a U.S. election, mostly because the person chosen is a heartbeat away from the presidency, so he sat up for several nights going over the various possibilities, debating the positives and negatives, and finally, at the Republic National Convention, announced his choice: Dan Quayle.

On paper, the one-term Senator from Indiana seemed like a perfect choice. He was a handsome man, he had great hair, and his conservative voting record would help shore up George Bush’s standing with Republican voters, which was on shaky ground at the time. Sure, he didn’t have much experience but… look at that smile!

It quickly became apparent, though, that Senator Quayle was not particularly gifted in the brains department. He constantly misspoke, confusing different tenses with each other, and rearranged words in a manner that English professors had previously never thought possible. The politician soon became renowned for his verbal gaffes and widely perceived degree of lesser intelligence (which, in the past, had been considered vital traits for a sitting Vice-President.)

The most famous example is probably the potato incident. Dan Quayle was visiting a spelling bee in Trenton, New Jersey when the word ‘potato’ come up. The contestant, William Figueroa, spelled the word correctly, but the Vice-President claimed that he did not, insisting it was actually spelled ‘potatoe’. He was wrong. Late night talk show hosts would skewer him relentlessly for this gaff over the next several months, but that’s probably just because they’re in the pockets of the Idaho potato cartels.

Some legendary quotes from Dan Quayle:

– “I have made good judgments in the Past. I have made good judgments in the Future.”
– “What a waste it is to lose one’s mind. Or not to have a mind is being very wasteful. How true that is.”
– “When I have been asked during these last weeks who caused the riots and the killing in L.A., my answer has been direct and simple: Who is to blame for the riots? The rioters are to blame. Who is to blame for the killings? The killers are to blame.”
– “It’s time for the human race to enter the solar system.”
– “Illegitimacy is something we should talk about in terms of not having it.”
– “I believe we are on an irreversible trend toward more freedom and democracy – but that could change.”
– “We’re going to have the best-educated American people in the world.”

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