Notes from a Sensitive Grammarian

By: Michael Fowler

As a man of flawless diction and grammar who is also hell-bent on improving the ordinary man’s spoken English, I submit a few grotesque howlers that a variety of people have addressed to me in the last few days. Frankly, the speakers quoted here made me feel ill, so sensitive am I to errant language. I then offer the corrected versions, or what the simpletons should have said, in hopes this will improve the lot of man and settle my stomach.

1.) “Get out of the car and put your hands over your head.”

Poor diction indeed, betraying the speaker as a ruffian and a barbarian. It is much better for the officer to say, “Sure you went through a red light and struck that old lady back there, but I’ll let you off with a warning this time.”

2.) “Who wants to see your shriveled old thing? Pull your pants up.”

Frankly embarrassing. One cringes to hear such English, even from a pretty young lady in the park on a Sunday morning. Of course, it should be, “Let’s play Hide Mister Mole.”

3.) “Hey, man, can I borrow ten bucks till payday?”

Completely uncivil and showing a total disregard for the niceties of language. The correct wording is, “Hey, man, here’s that ten bucks I borrowed from you last week, and another ten for being there when I needed you.”

4.) “Your account is overdrawn. I’ll have to apply a service charge to your next deposit.”

Reprehensible in an otherwise sophisticated and well-trained teller. Proper is, “Would you like free checking?”

5.) “I’m afraid your car needs a lot of expensive work.”

Note how changing just a few words can render this faulty sentence correct, to wit, “Your car needs a small amount of inexpensive work.” Or even better, “Your car is okay.”

6.) “We’ll know more after the biopsy.”

Physicians are highly educated people, but even they can lapse into elementary blunders that lead to misunderstandings and, possibly, malpractice suits. Here the doctor should say, “It’s just a wart.”

7.) “I know I should have mentioned it earlier, but I have herpes.”

Sad to say, but one hears this infuriatingly faulty expression more and more these days. As we all should know by now, correct is, “I have a cramp.”

8.) “You’re not built very big.”

As bedroom talk, this leaves a lot to be desired. Is it really more difficult to say the correct “What a monster!”?

9.) “I feel like going to the opera tonight.”

Hideous, showing that, in women, beauty and good grammar do not always accompany each other. The lady should say, “Let’s go see female spaghetti wrestlers tonight.” Some grammarians, it is true, prefer “Let’s go to a tractor-pull tonight”; however, either is correct.

10.) “I have a gun. Hand over your wallet.”

Even a second grader should know what’s wrong here, although I doubt the man who said it to me had even that much education. He should simply have said, “I’ll work for food,” which is less cumbersome and safer in mixed company.

11.) “I done brought my Playboy Bunny sister over here to meet up with you on account of she thinks you is cute.”

Impeccable. Keep up the good work.

Again, these are just a few of the phrases, most of them appalling in their formulation, that have recently come my way. Be careful to avoid the first ten, and let others know how inappropriate they are. That way we will all work together for a grammatically correct world, which is the only kind of world I feel okay in.


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