Betty, the store manager at Leta Austin Foster Boutique, was complaining this morning about a rudeness she had seen today, and then she turned and said to me, “I guess it’s just a sign that we’re getting older.” Well, probably, and so, if any of the things I write about today bug you, then you can just put it down to the fact that I am not getting, I have gotten, older and let it go. But on the off-chance, that these things might be important to you, here are some of my pet peeves. I will probably add to them in future posts. Oh, dear.
First, as to the grammar: the French, those wonderful people, have a Society whose principal concern is that their language is not destroyed. They don’t call it destruction, but that’s what they feel. We need that Society in America. I think that the principal culprit in this Carnal Sin is probably television, but it might also be exacerbated by our egalitarian outlook, which usually I applaud whole-heartedly. However, I feel that bad grammar doesn’t make us equal; in fact, I truly believe that the person who doesn’t (or can’t) speak correctly is penalized—when he goes for a college or job interview, for instance. Obviously, the person who speaks well, and thus presents himself well, has the edge. So, I am going to point out some of the mistakes I notice on a regular basis, and you can please, please, please, send me your pet peeves, too. I will list some of the ones different people have already given me (but I have forgotten at least ten of them—please send!).
So, on my little pet peeve list, the first is: “Are you done?” You are NOT done unless you have been in the oven. You might have done it—whatever it is—because “done” is a past participle of the verb “to do,” and as such, must have attached the “helping” verb of “have.” I have done it; you have done it; he, she, or it has done it, and so on. So it’s “Have you finished?” I can’t tell you how many times I hear this (each time with a slight feeling of ennui, since I am so tired of it. I told you, I am old.), usually from waiters.
And that brings us to manners: One doesn’t say, “Are you done?” when a person has been eating. One watches, and when the diner lays down his knife and fork together at “4:20 on the clock,” that diner is finished. So you need good manners from both the server and the diner, in that instance. The other signal for being finished with one’s meal is that one leans back in his chair. So if you slouch at the table for the whole meal, it’s no wonder that the poor server comes up and says, “Are you done?” Eeek!
I mention both of those little examples of table manners above, because they illustrate that manners serve a purpose. Yes, as I said in my tirade about thank-you notes, in addition to adding a little civility to the world, manners are also a means of communication.
When one sits back in one’s chair after reading the menu in a restaurant, he is saying to the (hopefully) watching waiter, “I have read the menu, and I am ready to order.” After one is served, he sits forward until he is finished eating, and then leans back, and thus is then saying, “I have finished this plate and you may take it away.” It just makes life easier for everyone.
Now, back to the grammar and another pet peeve. You can not “grow your business," not can anything or anyone “grow the economy”. You can grow corn. You can grow soybeans. But otherwise, “grow” needs to be another participle. “I am growing.” “I am causing my business to grow.” “The economy is, because of (whatever reason), growing better.” The economy, itself, is an abstract expression, and it can grow, but you—nor anyone else—can’t grow it. Your business, because of whatever, can grow, but you can’t grow it. But you can grow fat, or older (in the case of myself), or better at grammar.
“So” and “as”: to use “as” and “as,” you must be using a positive form of something: “I am going as fast as I can,” or “He is as fat as a pig.” If you are using a negative form, you must substitute “so”. “She was not so old as her friend.” “I am not so exasperated, as I once was.” Hmmmm.
Maybe this sounds pedantic, but it also sounds better.
Objective and subjective forms of pronouns: Wow! Doesn’t that sound terrifying? And yet, it’s not. But the mistakes here are some of the most common in our language, and also some of the ones which will make one sound the least educated. Here’s the rule: the verb “to be (ie. is, was, am, will be, etc., etc.) is intransitive, and thus it can not be followed by an object nor an objective form of anything. So you can’t say “This is her,” when you answer a person on the telephone. You just sound un-educated. In French, they have an exception here, and one does say, “C’est moi,” but we don’t in English. Slang has broken this barrier down a bit, so we often use a slightly tongue-in-cheek form when we answer something such as ,”That would be me,” but the correct form of the request, “May I please speak to Leta Foster,” is “This is she.” Equally stupid-sounding is the use of the subjective pronoun “I” when it should be the objective form, “me”. As in “Leta was taking Betsy and I to the movies!” Eek again! You have to say, “Leta was taking Betsy and me to the movies,” because the pronoun “me” is the object of the verb “was taking.” An easy way to do this is just to remove the “Betsy and”. You certainly wouldn’t say, “Leta was taking I to the movies.” These are all easy things, but boy! Are they important! No one should want to sound dumb. It’s not egalitarian; it’s just stupid.
“Thank you” and “You’re welcome”
Well, these should be obvious. Always use them. I don’t care—you just can’t over use them. They are free, and they make people feel better. What more could you ask for in the world? And honestly, it does make you feel a bit bad when you hold a door for someone or let a driver come out of a side street when they have been waiting, and neither shows any recognition of your gesture. Especially when either of them would have been free! Be nice—it doesn’t cost anything. Wars have been fought over less.
Since I started talking about these subjects to people, they have been giving me their pet peeves. Adorable Janie Armfield says she can’t stand it when people say“irregardless.” Obviously, it’s “regardless.” The “ir-“ makes it redundant and actually changes the meaning, since a double negative becomes a positive.
Another friend of mine says she can’t stand “very beautiful”. “ Beautiful” is already an ultimate—qualifying it makes it redundant. The same goes for“very best,” “very worst,” “extremely hideous,” and so on.
I think Americans are the friendliest and (ir)regardless (sic.) of what people say, some of the most educated people on earth. Let’s admire our country enough to takecare of its manners and its language. And please, send me your pet peeves too. I promise I will publish them, because I don’t want you, my loyal readers to think I’m just a crotchety old fogey—although I am.