Usage That Provokes “Blackboard Moments”

By Maeve Maddox

The comments on my post about writing dates with or without terminals got me thinking about the way everyone who speaks English reacts strongly to at least one word or point of usage.

The different ways that people write a date seem to excite curiosity without making anyone angry, but sometimes words or expressions evoke annoyance so intense as to constitute rabid aversion. (I’m thinking of the responses provoked by my article on couldn’t care less.)

By a “blackboard moment” I mean a physical reaction similar to what we feel when the teacher’s hand slips and we hear a fingernail scrape against the board.

Here are some of the words, pronunciations, spellings and expressions that produce blackboard moments of various intensities in me. (The preferred form is in parentheses.)

standing on line (standing in line)
light something on fire (set something on fire)
Me and my friends swim. (My friends and I swim.)
in hopes of (in the hope of)
pronouncing the word pecan with a long e and a short a: /pee can/ (instead of with a schwa and the a of father: /pe kahn/)
pronouncing the t in Bill Clinton (he pronounces his name with a glottal stop: /klin?n.)
seperate (separate)
dalmatien (dalmatian)
shepard dog (shepherd dog)
cemetary (cemetery)
it’s tail (its tail)
In that incidence he was right. (In that instance he was right.)
Do you want some sandwich? (Do you want part of a sandwich?)

How about you, Gentle Reader?
What in the speaking or writing of English produces a blackboard moment for you?

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105 Responses to “Usage That Provokes “Blackboard Moments””

  • Lyn

    would of, could of, should of (would have, could have, should have)

  • venqax

    Agree with most on here. Some that cause a physical reaction in me that I haven’t seen (so not necessarily according to severity of spasm:

    SpeSSies instead of speSHies (species). So common, even among those who should know better that the proper SH sound is rarely heard. There is a rule here (at least in American): C’s before i or e-led vowel combinations are almost always pronounced as sh. That might sound complex, but it is not. E.g. no one would not say O-SUN (for ocean) no one says SPESS-EE-AL for special. You will hear, however, negoSeate and contraverSeal instead of negoSHeate or controverSHal (four syllables, not fi-ive) from overly-miseducated types who think that they are being somehow “refined”. Similarly, no one says soSEEal for social, but the supposedly edumacated will say soSEEology all day long.

    Also, my nominee for most “Misspelled and Never-Corrected” word in English, is the noun “marshal”, as in field marshal, fire marshal, parade grand marshal, US Marshal, etc. The misspelling of a doubled L on the end is this common– out of 5 academic-press books on my shelf right now on the subject of law and law enforcement it is spelled wrong in 3. Likewise I regularly encounter military literature populated with Field Marshalls (not the German kind). This is not a US-UK thing. I have the program for commencement from a well-regarded university with the Grand Marshall of the ceremony grandly announced on Page Three (or threee). The surname Marshall is almost always spelled so. That, probably, is a source of the confusion. But it’s no excuse. We don’t see mens’ taylor shops very often.

  • Louise

    ‘Youse’ as a plural of you.

  • Alice

    I have a friend who says “I’m too Bothered to do something” rather than “I can’t be bothered”
    It drives me insane but she can’t see how incorrect it is

  • Cassie Tuttle

    Without a doubt, my biggest blackboard moment is when people use bring instead of take (and vice versa).

  • Evelyn

    I have to laugh! I followed the link to this post from the most recent post about, “Literally the Worst Mistake…” so I thought this comment was going to be old. Obviously I’m not the only person who has not been able to resist leaving a comment!

    We have an expression when the weather and other things go wrong with the rest of the country; we say, “Lucky we live Hawaii.” As I was reading through the post and the comments I just need to say, “Lucky you don’t!” It is my home and I love it dearly — even its quirkiness.

    It is only recently that I’ve discoverd that what my mother used to call the “slaughter of the king’s English,” is actually the slaughter of the Hawaiian language. There are so many words (used every day by the majority of Hawaii residents — those of us born and raised here) that have crossed the lines of proper usage for both languages. There’s a history and many reasons for this odd usage but this is not the time or the place. It will be worth a link back to this article though.

    Anyway, here are a few of the horrors that fry my brain:

    Requeses (requests)
    Ghoses (ghosts)
    That’s mines or that’s mines one (that’s mine)
    Taken cared of (taken care of)

    There are others but those are the ones that are fresh in my mind and get on my nerves the most! These are not language errors, they are stupidity!

    I love this blog! Great post, Maeve, and definitely food for thought!

  • Dara-Agnes Attah

    different than (different from)
    has the bus went past? (has the bus gone past?)

  • Stephen Thorn

    For me, it’s foolish reduncancies such as “hot water heater” (why do you need to heat hot water, anyway?) that make me cringe. Additionally, when I read books, articles, etc., that have been sold and published (as opposed to something scrawled on a page, such as a grocery list, or self-published without benefit of proper editing/proofreading) with errors that should have been caught before printing it makes me grind my teeth. I just finished reading a novel from an award-winning writer and I counted probably 20 errors (homophone errors, incorrect usages, etc.) in the book. Now that dude got paid for the book, and who knows how many people at the publishers were paid to read/review/proof the manuscript, and it took some dumb schmuck like me to spot these gaffes? Sheesh. Note to all would-be authors out there: Spell-checker is not perfect, nor is it really your friend.

  • Sally

    April hit my hot button – incorrect tense.

    I hear it frequently on tv, but it’s especially annoying (and disheartening) to hear it from newscasters who see nothing wrong with structures such as ‘There’s a lot of people standing in line.’

    Makes me wonder if they would say ‘There is a lot of people standing in line’. Unfortunately, the answer is probably yes.

    And as for no excuse to not use spell check, I say there’s no excuse for not checking one’s own work before publication or having it reviewed by someone else. I recently saw a headline that included the word ‘fair’ but ‘fare’ would have been the correct word to use.

  • April

    What really gets to me is when someone use the following: The wrong tense, a singular word where a plural is needed or vice-versa, or when they make it evident they didn’t even bother to press the spell check button in whatever word processor they have.

    There is no excuse for not using spell check anymore. OpenOffice is a free Word-Processing Program that includes spell check and even Internet Browsers now have a Spell-Checker as well. I know I love Firefox for it because I know there are some words I constantly misspell, and due to being in need of a more expensive, well made keyboard with better keystroke response, it has become my favorite feature.

    Oh and another thing that irritates me is when someone uses Text-Speak in a non-chatroom or txt scenario. I try not to use it even though I have a mobile phone that does not have a QWERTY mini-keyboard. It takes a long time for me to send texts.

  • Wendy

    Response to Jenn:

    Would you believe that there really is an ABA (American Bar Association) style? I’m sure there are many style manuals out there that are so specialized that only a very few would know about them. I’m going to stick with Chicago and keep all periods and commas inside quotation marks.

  • Lotte

    I hate when others misuse “everyday.”
    One goes to work every day.
    -but-
    That is his “everyday” outfit.

    It frustrates me; I see it in books all the time. It makes me feel like a jerk when teachers make us do the “trade-n-grade” thing, because I have to mark up my friends’ papers when their writing isn’t bad.

    Also, if you’re a senior in high school and you spell “doesn’t” as “dosen’t” and “does” as “dose,” then you should die. Slowly. I don’t even care if that’s a fragment, because the emphasis is necessary.

  • Jenn T

    I mistyped the writing style; it should read APA. APA is used by teachers, psychologists, counselors and some others.

  • Wendy

    To Jenn:

    Thanks for the heads up on ABA style. Other than those who write within the confines of the justice system, who uses ABA style?

    To Sally:

    LOL about your comment! I love that you recognize the part of the country where “to be” is “too gone.” You were close…I lived in Pittsburgh for several years. As a born and raised Arizonan, I had never heard such an amazing dialect. I studied linguistics in college and I earned a degree in speech and language pathology…but Pittburghese was not examined. (Perhaps because it would take a semester to decipher it.) A conversation in Pittsburgh might go like this: “Yuns wanna go dahntahn to a Stillers game? They’re playin’ on the new fild [short i] an’ ‘at.” “Sure, but the dishes need done and we need to read’ up [clean up] the house an’ ‘at before we go.” I would love to share my “van pull” story, but it’s too long.

    And I agree with your comment about the deterioration of language on TV. Newscasters, who I think should know better, are destroying English. One night, I heard an on-the-scene reporter note the “uncomfortableness” of particular living situations.

    Another set of blackboard moments for me: making up words. It’s one thing to coin new words when new things and new actions demand it (“Google” is a perfect example), but new words that arise from ignorance make me want to cry: conversate, presentate, incentivize, and persuasional. Wow.

  • sally

    Oh Wendy…you either live in south-central Pennsylvania, in/near Philly or Baltimore…. OR (tell me it ain’t so) somewhere else where the language pattern you described has invaded.

    My favorite happened in a store – daughter and I were shopping and wanted to move through an aisle with our cart. A woman who was blocking the aisle said, “You want by?” Daughter and I had to think about what she really meant, and when we figured it out, finally said yes, please.

    My dad actually managed to get store management to change the wording on a sign from ‘Ten Items or Less’ to ‘Ten Items or Fewer’.

    I’ve noticed that the language on TV (from supposed professionals) has really deteriorated. WHAT are the higher-ups teaching in communications classes??? Or are young people stuck in speech patterns they learned at home, and there’s no hope of ever changing?

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