Category Archives: just plain grammar

Time Served for Crimes against English

I was a senior in high school in the spring of 1987, when Jim Bakker’s mishandling of The PTL Club‘s money was first brought to light. Bakker would later serve time in federal prison for wire fraud, mail fraud, and conspiracy. He is a free man today, but he has yet to stand trial in Grammar Court for his atrocities against the English language.

Bakker’s television “ministry” was called The PTL Club. Worshiping Christians across the country are familiar with the PTL initials, even heard in contexts having nothing to do with Jim Bakker, because they are often used as initials for praise the Lord. However, Bakker would often say that the initials also stood for people that love, and it is for this crime that he must someday be brought forward and made accountable.

We gave free massages to every person that finished the race.

Take the message to all people that need to hear.

Who are the people that contributed?

Please do not use that when referring to people in this manner. Who is the word. People who love. People who care. People who study the English language and practice its responsible use.

It is a common mistake. In fact, Jim Bakker’s article in Wikipedia, at the time of this writing, contains this sentence:

The $279,000 payoff for the silence of Jessica Hahn, a woman that was mistakenly supposed to be a Bakker staff member, was paid by Tammy Faye’s later husband, Roe Messner.

Don’t worry. I whipped out my trusty electronic red pen and corrected the error. Please be aware of it in your own writing and lend your knowledge to people who are yet unaware of the repugnance of this crime against the English language!

Verbing Weirds Language

The title of this entry quotes Calvin in a great Calvin and Hobbes strip. A lot of people get annoyed with the way so many people turn nouns into verbs, as in Googling, Photoshopping, partnering, and impacting. I understand their ire, and most of the time, I agree with the complainers.

It brings us back to the stylistic use of language versus the ignorant misuse of language. I have always liked words like emailing and Googling because I think they are creative, fun, stylistic uses.

In Hawaii, we often use the word lei as a verb. I used to work as a photographer for a company that would greet tourists as they arrived at the airport. Models wearing pareos would say hello, give the tourists leis, and pose while I snapped their photos. We would frequently utter sentences such as, “Get the pax off the plane quickly; lei them here, then take their pictures here. If we’re late for the next shoot, have the escort lei them herself and meet us in baggage claim.”

Another favorite of mine is dorming, as in Will you be dorming next year, or living off campus?

It turns out that impact and partner are also verbs, even though many people who use them do not use them correctly. I see my English-teacher colleagues grit their teeth whenever someone uses them, and I usually join in, especially when someone tells us that we are tasked with something.

As with most complicated issues in life, I say it comes down to intent. If Barbara Kingsolver verbs a noun, I say she gets the benefit of the doubt because she has already proven herself a poetic, brilliant, elegant writer. If some bozo talks about partnering with someone in tasking someone else with impacting some other thing, then asks that emails be sent to your supervisor or I, I am much, much less inclined to be so generous with that benefit of the doubt.

My advice, then, is to stick to standard English. Do not, in formal or professional communication, turn a noun into a verb except where the verb is already an established part of the jargon, as with the lei example I’ve given. You will never be thought wrong if you stick to conventions; you will often be thought ignorant if you do not.