Usage That Provokes “Blackboard Moments”

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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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107 thoughts on “Usage That Provokes “Blackboard Moments””

  1. prolly (probably)
    less items (fewer items)
    amount of people (number of people)
    he was sat (he was sitting)
    she was stood (she was standing)

    Gasp! (Going downstairs for a stiff drink – coffee!)

  2. That sweater needs mended. (needs to be mended)

    Mom gave me a boughten sweater for Christmas. (you know… not one made by hand!)

  3. For me (especially galling when detected in my own writing immediately AFTER pushing the PUBLISH button!) it’s two things: misspelled words, and when a simple word, like “I” or “is” inadvertently got left out because my fingers ran ahead of my brain on the keyboard.

    Definitely “blackboard” moments! :-\

  4. Hm, I noticed that your pet peeve list included pronunciation issues, such as pecan (pee-can for us Canadians) and Bill Clinton (yep, that t is distinctly there when we speak aloud.)

    Keep in mind that people have different accents that affect how they verbalize words. I don’t go around telling people that it’s not “abaowt” but rather “about” and it’s not “caaah” but “car”. Who am I to tell people to ditch their accents in favor of mine?

    So pee-can and clinTon it is for me. Sorry.

  5. James,
    I meant to limit my censure to newscasters, the ones who make a big deal of pronouncing names the way their possessors pronounce them.

    When Colin Powell hit the news, the non-standard pronunciation of his name caused a few bobbles and guffaws on NPR until they found out that was the way the General pronounces it. And when people write in, the commentator always ends the segment by saying “and be sure to tell us how to pronounce your name.”

    The only time the pronunciation bothers me is when these announcers use it for Bill Clinton’s name.

  6. As Dr. Johnson said when a woman asked him why he’d defined “pastern” as “the knee of a horse”–

    “Ignorance, Madame, sheer ignorance!”

    There is no other reason for an American to write “shown” for “shone.”

    Second thought: The past form “shone” is probably dropping out of American usage anyway, being replaced with “shined.”

  7. Thanks for a great site! I’ve always wanted to get these off my chest:
    a. loose weight (instead of “lose”, although I guess we’d all like to set it free!)
    b. Nu-cu-lur instead of nuclear
    c. athaletic and divorace (maybe these are really matters of accent?)


  8. A pet peeve of mine is the word “nuclear”, pronounced “nucular”. Former president “Jimme Cawtah”, with a degree in physics, does this. That pronunciation may be a Southernism, but it sounds ignorant to me!

  9. What a terrific post today. I was going to write about the dreadful pecan problem, but now I feel intimidated—being shown up about shone.

    But tonight I am fixing (baking or making for those of you not in Texas) two puhkhan pies for Christmas.

  10. Two of my “favorites” are using “need” to refer to one’s wishes about other people’s behavior, as in, “Those kids need to stop throwing snowballs!” (No, that’s not what those kids need for themselves, it’s what you want them to do.)

    Another is using “like” instead of “such as” when talking about, for example, unique cities. “I plan to visit some European cities next year, like London, Paris and Rome.” To me, there are no cities like these.

    A minor blackboard moment comes when I hear weathercasters refer to the “Golf” of Mexico, but maybe that’s only in my ear.

  11. One word I notice being used incorrectly is shown. Ex: “The moon shown brightly on the snow.” It should be shone. I suspect it may be a pronunciation thing, since I see it in manuscripts written by Americans, never Canadians.

    If anyone has a different theory on this, I’d love to know. πŸ™‚

  12. The less/fewer distinction does it for me. I have to bite my tongue not to say anything when someone says: “there’s less people here tonight.”

  13. I don’t want to loose my way. (I don’t want to lose my way.)

    How simple is that? How do people screw that up?

    Wouldn’t/Couldn’t of… (Wouldn’t/Couldn’t have…)

    It makes the little voice inside my head scream.

    There was another, but apparently, it wasn’t that important, because I forgot it as soon as I thought about it. All that’s left now is the nagging feeling that I’m forgetting something.

  14. GrimeTime – “boughten” isn’t wrong; it’s archaic. Big difference.

    My peeve? People who spell congratulations with a d. Of course, I have a ton more, but if I listed them all, I may as well write a blog entry of my own. πŸ˜‰

  15. Xcb
    The word its is a possessive adjective:
    Look at the dog; its tail is wagging.

    The word its belongs to the same category of words as my, your, our, and their. These words always come before a noun and indicate who or what owns the noun that follows:
    my house your car its tail our house your farm their farm.

    It’s is the contraction of it is. The apostrophe represents the missing i in the word is:
    It’s raining. It’s too bad that happened.

    TIP: Always write out the words it is. Then you will NEVER have occasion to write it’s.

  16. There is indeed a reason for Americans to make that error…

    In the US, “shone” and “shown” sound the same.

  17. I’m an English teacher, so I’m used to dealing with the typical their/they’re situation, but the one I find baffling is defiantly/definitely. The tricky thing about it is that, although the words have quite different meanings, there are many situations in which one can be substituted for the other and still make passable sense. For example, “She defiantly wouldn’t do what her mother told her to.” If a student wrote that, I’d be certain that she meant “definitely”, but it’s just possible that she might have meant “defiantly” instead, and just mucked up the usage a little.

    Actually, now that I think about it, it doesn’t annoy me that much.

  18. As I ‘m not a native English speaker and I’ve started to learn English lately , I am a producer of black moments !! But marketing shows that nobody wants to buy my products !! LoLLL

  19. quoting M from on December 20th, 2007 7:28 pm who said:

    “The less/fewer distinction does it for me. I have to bite my tongue not to say anything when someone says: β€œthere’s less people here tonight.””

    I think what’s far worse is that it should be ‘there ARE fewer people’ not ‘there’s fewer people’.

    I hear this far too often on both radio and TV..aren’t they supposed to have a handle on grammar?

  20. Sally,
    Yes, radio and TV announcers–and journalists–are supposed to have a handle on grammar, but they still spread error among their listeners and readers.

    The teaching of English in American schools is at a very low ebb. Many of the younger teachers themselves have a shaky grasp of the language.

    I share your aversion to beginning sentences that have a plural delayed subject with “there’s,” but the practice seems to be proliferating at a rapid rate.

    You might like to read one of my posts on the attitude that correct grammar and spelling are the preserve of specialists.

  21. I see this all the time in work emails:

    “do you have advise on this?” (“do you have advice on this?” or “can you advise me on this?”)

    I think it irks me because “advice” is a noun, and “advise” is a verb. So I read a verb that is used as a noun, and my train of thought is broken. I usually have to reread the sentence to make sense of it.

  22. One of my pet peeves is the afore-mentioned nu-cu-lar for nuclear. The chief public practitioner of this gaff is our own G.W. Bush. I’ve wondered more than once why the speech writers don’t just substitute other words — “fission” weapons, perhaps. Surely he knows about fission? That’s what you do down at the lake in Crawford.

  23. Some years ago a colleague believed she had been watching the excellent drama serial ‘Bridesmaids Revisited’ intead of ‘Brideshead Revisited’.

  24. I detest the way some people lose the sound of the letter ‘t’ or ‘tt’, as in bu-er, lee-er, cha-er,ghos-, minu-, por-, and so on and so forth.

  25. Rita,
    “Bridesmaids Revisited” is a wonderful example of a mondegreen. See Sharon’s entertaining post.

    As for b-r, the lost ts are replaced by glottal stops. Dr. Higgins worked hard to eliminate them in the speech of Eliza Doolittle.

    It’s a dialect thing.

  26. Being a fourteen year old girl, one of my greatest blackboard moments is the intrepid “chat speak” that people use to send me comments and messages all the time.

    The greater blackboard moment is when an English teachers has us edit each other’s papers and I see a 2 instead of to… I shudder. And die a little on the inside.

    Oh, and this is more silly, but whenever people mispell {I probably spelled that wrong} my name, I cringe. I’ve gotten Britney, Brittney, Britnay, I thinkg even Britni… it looks… odd to me.

  27. The people who design the signs and bumper stickers out here in Hawaii need to be fired. Here are three prime examples why:

    -Honolulu Boy Choir (On a bumper sticker. I thought a choir consisted of more than one person, but apparently Honolulu Boy can do it all by himself.)

    -The use of seatbelts are required aboard Camp H.M. Smith. (On a sign outside one of the bases. How about a little subject/verb agreement, moron?

    -No can smoke! (The state’s ad campaign to promote the new anti-smoking laws, written in the common dialect so the average person out here can understand it. Seeing that one would make me clench my fists every time.)

    Thanks for letting me vent!

  28. I go nuts when I hear these:

    “He said me that…”
    “She tell to me..”
    “On the screen press the link”
    “We are in the same cell of the spreadsheet.”
    ” the land of Austrailia”

    I could go on and on…sigh…

  29. Ever heard these ones:-
    “I retched it” (the person was TRYING to say reached but…………)
    “Where have you putten/kepten it?”
    “I finded it”
    “What did you did?”
    “What you did?”
    “I tolded you”
    “She speaked very loud”
    “Dread at Disco” (was the title of a short suspense/horror story my classmate submitted for one of our tests at school)

  30. Mine in writing is “ensure/insure.” You cannot insure that the package is empty. I know of no company that will sell you such a policy!
    While they may sound the same, they are different words with different meanings.

  31. Not too many lately. Most of them just roll off my back these days.

    There are a few, though, that people who ought to know better do:

    “I wish I wouldn’t have done that,” for example. My friends who do this do it because they simply don’t know (and would say that they don’t have the time to figure out) how it should be said.

    ‘Bob and myself’ instead of ‘Bob and me’ is a result of people thinking that saying ‘me’ makes them sound unedjumacated. They have no problem saying ‘It’s me!,’ though, when they call you on the phone. I suppose saying ‘it is I’ makes them sound edjumacated.

  32. A blackboard moment:

    Many people misuse the word nothing. They write and say, “I don’t want nothing.” They should say, “I don’t want anything.”

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