Tuesday 21 January 2020

Does it matter if we misspell or misuse words?

By Fr Michael Commane - The Way I See It

How important are words? Does it matter if we misspell or misuse them? No doubt change is one of the characteristics of a living language-it develops over time. People in different regions spell words differently. Indeed, sometimes it can be fun observing the changes and differences. Or is it just the mind of a pedant who has nothing better to do than spot mistakes? Then again, are they mistakes?

I was reminded of words, their misspelling and misuse last week when someone pointed out that they had seen flashed across a television screen the night of the slaughter on London Bridge '... van plowed into crowd'. She was confused by the word 'plowed' and thought it should have been 'ploughed', as I did too. But I have since discovered that's how they spell it in the United States. Just a few days after that there was a piece in a national newspaper in the property section about apartments for sale in a 'gentile area' in plush Dublin 4. Have you ever spotted how people write 'expatriot' when in fact they mean 'expatriate'?

These are some common classic errors. The redundant or misplaced apostrophe can be great fun. Is it 'it's' or is it 'its'? Not too long ago I saw a posh property for sale. The advertisement selling it explained about its 'Sales Fee's'. A fancy restaurant in Ballsbridge advertises 'Gourmet Pasta's and Soups'. And that's particularly baffling. Why does one deserve an apostrophe while the other doesn't? A real mystery. Why oh why do people write '1970's' when in fact if should simply be '1970s'? The same goes for 'photos': one often sees 'photo's'. And how often does one see 'FAQ's'? It is so annoying.

There is a gent in the UK who travels by night, operating anonymously, correcting grammar errors and he has a particular penchant for ridding the world of the redundant apostrophe and inserting it when it should be in place. He carries with him a ladder and a specially built 'apostrophiser' tool.

We all know the plural of 'sheep' is 'sheep', without the 's'. Some months back, there was a headline in the business section of an Irish daily newspaper which ran: 'New aircrafts to boost Aer Lingus transatlantic flights'. Surely the plural of 'aircraft' is 'aircraft'?

After the last general election a commentator writing on the Healy-Rae phenomenon wrote: 'Sneered by the rest of the country for their brand of parish-pump politics they're perceived to 'pedal', the Healy-Raes have built up a well-oiled political machine.' I presume neither Michael nor Danny cycle anywhere. They might well have opponents who believe they 'peddle' a brand of parish-pump politics.

Does it matter? And yet when someone says: 'I done that', many of the movers and shakers are disgusted. Although I did hear Ray D'Arcy say on his radio show : '...would have went to him'. Ouch. A question, do you spell 'organise' with an 's' or an 'z'?

Has it all to do with American influence? Maybe it is that the Americans can't spell. On the other hand maybe all the misspellings and misuses are signs that the language we use is alive and always developing/changing. Guess what, maybe everything about living is always in process. Does that mean everything is relative?

Wexford People