Moidering da Queen’s English

(As he did last year, The Curmudgeon is taking off the rest of August for a little R & R. While he’s gone he’ll fill this space with encore presentations – okay, reruns – of some of his favorite past posts every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. He’s doing this so you won’t forget him because despite all the bravado and bluster he’s one pretty insecure fellow.  During his absence the serialization of Taking Care of Business will continue every Sunday. The Four-Eyed Curmudgeon will return the Tuesday after Labor Day.)

(In perhaps no area is The Curmudgeon more curmudgeonly than in the use of words.  Remember NBC reporter Edwin Newman and his books on language?  The Curmudgeon thinks Newman was a slacker.)

A few pet peeves in the world of nouns and verbs.

Once upon a time, someone who was there one day but not the next was said to have disappeared.  Now, they have “gone missing.”  Exactly how does one “go missing”?

When did the supporters of a sports team, formerly known as its fans, become its “fan base” instead?

Attention, please:  something either is unique or it’s not.  It’s not a little unique, it’s not pretty unique, it’s not very unique, and it’s not the most unique.  It’s unique or it’s not.  When in doubt, cast the word out.

The plural of chair is not “chair’s.”  The plural of tamale is not “tamale’s.”  People who don’t understand this are dummy’s.

When did we start using “funds” instead of money?  Not long ago one of The Curmudgeon’s neighbors, faced with an increase in her monthly condo fee, declared that “I don’t have the funds for that.”  “Funds?”  It’s not a government appropriation, lady:  it’s money.

Once upon a time, we were said to have certain skills.  Now, we have “skill sets.”  Why?  Why?

When – and why – did our medicine become medication?

Speaking of pharmaceutical products that we ingest:  you’re sick, so you go to the doctor, who gives you a prescription.  When did that prescription become a “script”?  If it’s a script, do you get to choose what role you want to play?  Because if you do, The Curmudgeon wants to play the George Clooney role, since he’s a dead ringer for the famous actor.

When a news or interview program has a live guest, the program’s host will often refer to that guest as “in studio.”  This is especially common in the sports broadcasting world.  “In studio”?  How about “in our studio” or “in the studio”?  Is there a sudden, inexplicable need to conserve articles?  What’s next – a conjunction moratorium?  (And if there is one, what will they think at Schoolhouse Rock’s “Conjunction Junction?”)

The Curmudgeon wears pants:  short pants, long pants, pleated pants, straight front pants.  Pants.  Not trousers, not slacks.  Is there any reason, ever, to refer to these garments as trousers or slacks?

Once upon a time, the baseball player who hit second in his team’s batting order was said to hit second; the player who hit fifth was said to hit fifth.  Seems pretty simple.  Now, though, the player who hits fifth is said by some to be hitting in the five-hole; the player hitting sixth is hitting in the six-hole.  The Curmudgeon is hard-pressed to understand how this is an improvement.  Who made up this new construction?  Probably some a-hole.

Remember when the guy (or gal) who led a company was its president?  President – that’s a damn good title.  So why do company presidents now insist on also being called chief executive officer?  Isn’t that overkill?  And isn’t it especially overkill when you read about some clown who calls himself president and CEO and you learn he’s running a little mom-and-pop business with six employees, which means he has far, far less oversight responsibility than, say, a nineteen-year-old shift supervisor at McDonald’s?

In the world of sports, a player who is considered a malcontent or a troublemaker is often referred to as “a cancer in the locker room.”  This is an appalling use of the word “cancer” that makes at least some of us who have lost loved ones to that disease absolutely cringe.

Food that comes out of a body of water is fish.  Why do some people insist on calling it “seafood”?  Is there something about “seafood” that makes it more appealing, more palatable, than “fish”?

Speaking of food, calling those green, leafy, unpleasant-tasting foods “veggies” instead of “vegetables” does not make them taste any better.  The word “veggies” should never, ever be used in any conversation unless one of the participants in that conversation is under the age of ten.  Food writers:  stop treating your readers like children and call a vegetable a vegetable, for crying out loud.  We’re all grown-ups; we can handle it.

Still on the subject of food, a memo to the watermelon industry:  “seedless” means “without seeds.”  It does not mean “without black seeds.”   It does not mean “dozens and dozens of white seeds.”  It means “no seeds.”  None.  Zero.  Zilch.  Nada.

Finally, before you’re all fooded out, one more:  Attention, TV chefs:  the word “paprika” has three syllables, not four.  It is “pap·ri·ka,” not “pap-uh-ri-ka.”  You may now resume overcooking your risotto.

The web site defines “snub” as “to treat with disdain or contempt, especially by ignoring” and “to check or reject with a sharp rebuke or remark.”  Clearly, it suggests an active process – something someone sets out to do.  There is a tendency in the popular media, however, to call certain passive processes a snub.  If a certain actor fails to get an Academy Award nomination, for example, a headline might scream “Academy snubs Jones.”  The academy didn’t set out to rebuke Jones or treat him with disdain or contempt; it simply decided that there were more worthy nominees.  (And if the Jones that the academy failed to honor with a nomination is Tommy Lee, the academy is stupid.)  Similarly, a headline on a local sports web site recently blared “Iguodala snubbed for all-defensive teams,” explaining that a player on the Philadelphia 76ers basketball team was not chosen as one of the best defensive players in all of professional basketball.  No one is suggesting that the player in question is a bad player; failure to achieve this recognition is not a check or a rebuke.  All it means is that the people who vote for such awards felt there were other players more worthy of this recognition.  They did not “snub” Iguodala; they simply said someone else was better.

“Visit our showroom for special deals on select models.”  No no no.  Visit their showroom for special deals on SELECTED models.  Not all of them.  Some of them.  Those SELECTED for this purpose.

When people get together to talk, they have a conversation.  Or they converse.  They do not conversate.  The first few times The Curmudgeon heard “conversate” he thought the word was so ridiculous that he assumed its users were just kidding.  They weren’t.  They were ignorant.  Do not – do not – do not – conversate.  Are we in agreeance about this? defines “bimonthly” as “occurring every two months” or “occurring twice a month.”  Thanks for clearing that up,

“That’s a whole nother thing.”  No, it can be a whole OTHER thing, it can be a whole different thing, it can even be another thing, but it’s most definitely not a nother thing.

“The White House is poised to announce a new program for low-income mothers.”  “The Phillies are poised to announce the signing of Cole Hamels to a new contract.”  “Runners at the Boston Marathon are poised at the starting line, waiting for the gun to start the race.”  What on earth does poise have to do with any of this?  They are ready to announce.   They are prepared to start.  Poise is not a factor.  In fact, most of those marathon runners are probably anything but poised. defines poised as “1. (of a person) composed, dignified, and self-assured. 2. being in balance or equilibrium: a balloon poised on the nose of a seal. 3. teetering or wavering: to be poised on the brink of disaster. 4. hovering or suspended in or as in midair: a bird poised in flight; a helicopter poised overhead.”  Let’s reserve poise for when it’s really appropriate – you know, things like Miss America contestants, quarterbacks running a two-minute drill, soldiers who keep their heads about them in battle when all around them are losing theirs.

Americans hate people in government.  The press – reporters, pundits, editorial-writers – all think they’re smarter than the people in government.  So why does that press constantly refer to those who govern as “elites” when they so clearly think such people are anything but?

“Some 40 percent of those polled are happy with the job the president is doing.”  “Some 85 percent of parents hope their children will go to college one day.”  “Some”?  Some what?  It’s 40 percent – or about 40 percent or a little less than 40 percent or a little more than 40 percent.  “Some 40 percent?”  What does that mean?  The Curmudgeon will tell you what it means:  it means that some writer, deprived of his speaking voice, is trying to find a way to sound stentorian.  He (or she) doesn’t.  They just sound ridiculous.

The same can be said for “fully.”  “Fully 40 percent of those are happy with the job the president is doing.”  Really?  “Fully” 40 percent?  Either it’s 40 percent or it’s not.  If it’s not, state the number.  If it is, “40 percent” shall suffice.

It’s a popular major in college:  political science.  The Curmudgeon gets the politics part, but science?  Really?  Is there anything even remotely scientific about the academic discipline they call political science or is this more a matter of people who do very little work for a living believing that if they append the word “science” to the name of their field of study it adds a degree of legitimacy and weight that the field is otherwise sorely lacking?

You have a problem; The Curmudgeon feels your pain.  He feels even more pain, though, if you say the situation is problematic.  If you say it is problematical, the pain is excruciating.  Please be kind:  your problems are your problems and let’s leave it at that.

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