Tuesday, May 8, 2012

On Language

by Pa Rock
Cantankerous Critic

Language evolves.  I understand that, though I may not always agree with the notion that the words we speak and the patterns we speak them in are subject to change over time.   But I get it, and I am adaptable - to a point.   That said, there are some things in the constant evolution of American grammar that just bug the bejeezus out of me - such as the phrase "on accident."

I first heard that particular grammatical vulgarism more than thirty years ago.  An elementary school teacher used it in her retelling of a playground incident.  After she finished her tirade about which child should be canonized and which should be sent off to the gulag, I inserted myself into her manner of speaking - in a manner of speaking.  Something, I told her, may happen "accidentally" or "by accident" or "as the result of an accident," but nothing happens "on accident," and would she please quit talking like a hillbilly.  Of course, we were in extreme southwest Missouri and I was soon to learn that in the few years that I had been away from the area, "on accident" had wormed its way permanently into the local vernacular.

But I clung fast to my standards and refused to use the phrase.  My efforts to change new local idiom were about as effective as "pissing up a rope," another clever use of words that probably also has Ozark origins.

I was at a meeting recently when the subject of expanding one's vocabulary came up.  One participant said that he enjoys reading the dictionary looking for interesting words that he can incorporate into his vocabulary. There was also discussion about the various vocabulary word sites that will email subscribers a new word every day along with definition and an example of proper usage.  Yet another person (okay, it was me) said that reading good books will aid in expanding one's vocabulary.

Reading decent literature can also be a key to absorbing some good grammatical habits.  I am currently reading The Moonlit Earth by Christopher Rice, one of my favorite authors of the thriller genre.  Although only thirty-four-years-old, Mr. Rice, the son of novelist Anne Rice and the late poet Stan Rice, is one hell of a fine plotter and wordsmith.  He obviously grew up around people who understood proper English usage, and one would expect that even without the fine editors at  Simon and Schuster, Mr. Rice would have no problem expressing himself properly in the English language.

And he does not disappoint!

Last night I came upon this little jewel of a sentence, and it set me off on the tirade that I have just concluded:

"And in an instant, his vision was so blurred he would not keep running lest he dart in front of a motor scooter by accident."

Bravo, Mr. Rice!  Bravo!  Half of America may not understand the phrase "by accident," but perhaps they can buy a clue from Vanna!  I'm sure that you used it "on purpose!"

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