Like most journalists, I love to see mis-spellings and grammatical aberrations in the public domain: it gives us the chance to get all high and mighty about the state of education today and use the immortal phrase “don’t they teach them anything?”
For this reason I’ve been enjoying a current thread in a writers’ forum on LinkedIn, where easily enraged journos like me exchange irrascible remarks about stuff like how rein/reign and alternate/alternative are mis-used, and about whether the “ess” suffix (waitress, sculptress etc) are disrespectful to women.
For some reason I can’t remember – other than that I was a willing participant – the thread strayed off into discussing circumcision (the practice rather than the spelling thereof), prompting a moderator to pop up and tell us to stay on-topic.
One of the contributors to the original debate commented that actually, wandering off into irrelevancies was part of the fun of the forum – provided the remarks were not “ad hominem”. I admit it, I had to look it up. Basically it means attacking the messenger, not the message. A lovely phrase, and one that could come in mighty useful in debates down the pub.
The forum had already added to my vocabulary in other ways, notably with the wonderful “the toothpaste’s out of the tube on this one” and its partner, “trying to put the toothpaste back in the tube”; and the simile “it’s like herding cats”, which oddly enough I heard for the first time only last weekend and jotted down for future use.
Someone on the forum has also explained to my satisfaction the correct usage of “begging the question” – a phrase I’ve always avoided using since, while I didn’t know what it meant, I did know what it didn’t mean. I need to start a debate about the correct meaning of “playing devil’s advocate”, another phrase I steer clear of using because I know it doesn’t mean what everyone, including me, thinks it does.
Anyhow, today, I was able to contribute a memorable quote from another forum which was astonishing not for its racism but more for its lack of literacy.
Someone who appeared to have had other commitments when English was being taught at whatever school he failed to attend had the effrontery to suggest (I paraphrase) that there were too many bloody foreigners coming over here and taking all our jobs.
This is what he said. “Were [sic] opressed [sic] by are [sic] goverment [sic] muslims imergrants [sic] are given the right to live in are [sic] country and treated eaqully [sic] even though there [sic] from Pakistan…”
I kid you not. Imergrants. Yes. The irony of attacking bloody foreigners while quite lacking in fluency in his own native language was probably lost on him – though I did take pains to point it out in a reply to the forum. I got equal numbers of “thumbs ups” and “thumbs downs” for my remark, so am not at all sure whether my brand of pedantry has popular appeal.