Grammatical Rant

This is why I really started this blog . . .

My graduate professor started this evening's class with an anecdote.  When he was writing his dissertation, his advisor redlined his use of the word "befriend."  It doesn't mean "to make friends with," the advisor explained, though it is often misused that way.  It means "to come to another's aid."  The connotation of friendship might be there in a latent way, but mostly it just means taking someone under your wing, showing them the ropes, and other assorted cliches.

My professor said that at the time, he'd paid lip service to his advisor, thinking privately that the advisor was probably wrong.  But later he looked it up, and "damned if he wasn't right . . . and I've heard someone misuse that same word just about every month in the 30 years since!"

Well, in honor of that advisor, here are my top three misused words:

1. Issues. "Issues" means "Subjects."  You may say, "We have many issues to discuss at this meeting."  There is absolutely no negative connotation to the word.  To say, "Boy, she needs a therapist -- girl's got major issues!" is wrooooong.  On the other hand, if you're an offender in this area, you're in good company: I've even heard English teachers misuse the word.  And yes, I've corrected them.  In front of other English teachers.  I am ruthless.

2. Ironic / Fitting. I might have stolen this from my BFF's DH, but until he gets his own teacher blog, here it is.  In literature, there are five types of irony: dramatic, situational, verbal, cosmic and romantic.  In life, people often say "ironic" when they mean "fitting."  Example: "It's so ironic that she was the one to pass the amendment in a dramatic tiebreaker vote, because she was the one who introduced it in the first place."  No, it's fitting that she was the one to pass the amendment.  Ironic would be if she turned around and vetoed it (situational.)  Or died the day it passed (cosmic.)

3. Phase / Faze. This one only matters if you're writing.  Phase is a noun, meaning "a stage of a process:" "She's going through that awkward phase."  Faze is a verb, meaning "to rattle" in the colloquial sense, and is usually used in the negative: "She was unfazed by the terrible news."  I have seen very intelligent people use the wrong homonym, so be vigilant!

My professor ended his speech by saying, "It's better to use a ten-cent word correctly than to misuse a five-dollar word."  What you don't realize is that you look foolish to grammarians everywhere, and some of us are undercover.  You never know who will be listening.