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. I often hear “for all intensive purposes” instead of “for all intents and purposes”? I suppose a purpose could be intensive but I’m reasonably sure that is not what people are trying to say.

    Or worse, “supposably” instead of “supposedly”.

    “I could care less.” Really? I couldn’t possibly care less.

    “Give it to Bob or myself” is the worst one for me. I was ranting about it to a colleague who enthusiastically agreed and then complained about people “dropping the gerund” in this area of the country. Admittedly I was lost so I excused myself by explaining that my car needed washed.

    Several of my German colleagues seem to consistently use “anywhere” instead of “somewhere”. I find it somewhat entertaining.

    And here is one that I may get a lot of disagreement on – er, on which I may— oh whatever. “The team are doing something.” Are?! How many teams are doing it? One team. SINGULAR! The team IS doing it. The Army IS. The fighters ARE; but the squadron IS. The members of the team ARE; but the team IS.

    I feel much better now.

  2. I have a friend who stumbles over grammar a lot.

    A recent example:

    “My mom teached me that.”

    Inwardly, I cringe, and if she keeps doing it, I want to scream.
    But, since she’s my BFF I just correct her, and hope she remembers it.

    She’s getting better, but she still needs to be corrected frm time to time. (But don’t we all?)

    Finally, I find people who agree with me!

  3. David (2007-12-23), mind your grammar when you use ‘using’. Consider these:
    A. the girl using the phone
    B. I’m calling the girl using the phone
    C. I’m calling the girl by using the phone
    D. I’m calling the girl using the phone by using a phone

    In A, the girl is the one using the phone.
    In B, the girl is still the one using the phone.
    In C, the one using the phone is me.
    In D, the girl and I are the ones using the phones.

    So, your sentences with ‘using’ in them could be written as such:
    Two of my favourites are the use of “need” …
    Another is the use of “like” …

    Dan (2007-12-23), you’re an English teacher, so, ‘quite different’, coming from you, is unacceptable. There are no extents of a difference; you are either different, or you are not.

  4. Dan, when you say you are an English teacher, are you English and you teach, or are you a teacher of English?

  5. Added to many above:

    “Not a” instead of “nada.” For instance, I’ll ask someone via email what’s going on in their lives and the response is “not a.”

    Also, “rediculous” instead of “ridiculous.”

    I take the Standard Written English approach and am never really offended by the inaccuracies of the spoken word. But, oh the butchering that the written language takes hurts my soul.

  6. “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.”
    Brittany, that sounds exactly like me, right down to the age.

    My blackboard moment is when people write like “hay how r u?” when they’re not texting, in which case it saves money. Actually, “hay how r u?” is an exaggeration; I left some vowels in. I especially hate reading stories written out like that.

    Other blackboard moments:
    Febuary instead of February
    Confusion of there, their, and they’re
    Stories that alternate prose and script
    Supposively instead of supposedly
    i instead of I

    And, last but not least….

    Whenever instead of when. One of my friends retold the story of how, whenever she was 12, she was hit by a car. Sympathetic though I was, I bit my tongue to prevent myself from saying, “I guess you stood in the middle of the road a lot?”

  7. Brittany, I can’t belive that kids in your school actually use “2” instead of “to”. That’s really scary! I thought the issues with text speak was all media hype!

    I can’t stand “could of” or “should of” – I even read a novel the other day with this in it (ouch!).

    I also hate it when a friend orders a meal in a restaurant and says “Can I get the fish?” (it should be “Can I have…?” or “May I have…?”).

    Everytime I hear it I feel like saying “Of course you can, just pop into the kitchen and you can get it for yourself!”

    Oh and Rita as much as you hate the glottal stops in butter, letter etc I have to defend them. I’m Scottish and without the glottal stop I don’t think we could say anything at all. 🙂

  8. Using plural pronouns and verbs with singular subjects, as in:

    Everyone likes their children. (Everyone likes his or her children.)
    Each of us are happy. (Each of us is happy.)

    For more information on this, see our article “Everyone Is Single.”

  9. When I reread these grammatical and usage fox passes (snicker) I think of my grandfather who was born in the early 1900s. He had an eighth grade education, nothing more, and became the (very successful) president of a law book publishing firm.

    Hmmmm….anyone think it’s the educational system? I do. I hear perfectly well educated, degreed people who can’t speak or write half decently. But I still say it all starts in the home, and children who are read to and spoken to with a modicum of decent English can grow up to speak and write well – even without further education.


  10. I hate it when people exchange “borrow” and “lend”as in “He borrowed me a book”. Hickville here we come!

  11. I’m sorry. But Hickville? I haven’t felt insulted like that in a very long time. Thanks.

    “Borrow” comes from the same root as “lend” thankyouverymuch.

    [Origin: bef. 900; ME borowen, OE borgian to borrow, lend, deriv. of borg a pledge; akin to D borg a pledge, borgen to charge, give credit, G Borg credit, borgen to take on credit] [[dictionary.com]]

  12. lay vs lie, down
    Where have all the, “LYs,” gone?
    Where they at?
    old timer’s disease

    I don’t “believe” in, divorce. Do you mean you do not think divorce does not exist, that there is no such thing?

    Oy vey!


  13. pronouncing the word pecan with a long e and a short a
    The first pronunciation listed in the OED.

    less items (fewer items)
    FWIW, “less” was considered perfectly good English until very recently (i.e., from Anglo-Saxon times to…well, it’s not even marked non-standard in the OED from the 1930s, though it is in more recent editions)

    My pet hate: the use of “lay” for “lie”

  14. Peter,
    I counter your OED, Sir, with my Webster’s Unabridged! The first pronunciation here gives a schwa sound for the e and ah for the a.

    In any case, pecan originated as an American Indian word that we’re both saying wrong.

  15. What really annoys me?

    “Per say” instead of “Per se”

    Have a friend who fancies herself a writer – and isn’t half bad, to be honest – but whenever she commits mistakes like the above mentioned, my brain implodes.

  16. I love the term ‘blackboard moment’! I have many but these come to mind:

    1. Someone mentioned: ‘I seen it’ instead of ‘I saw it’, also ‘I done it’, ‘I knowed it’.

    2. When answering the phone: ‘This is her’ instead of ‘This is she’.

    3. Leaving off the the ‘g’ sound when saying ‘ing’ so that it sounds like ‘een’. ‘Bloween in the wind’, ‘windeen road’, ‘runneen fast’.

    I agree with Sally that a lot of the problem is our current educational system but it begins and ends in the home. Kids will speak the way they hear their parents speak. I will my call my kids on blatant misuse of the language. Meaning that I want them to know when to use proper language and when to speak colloquially. I’m from the South (USA) and a lot of parents don’t care if little Johnny and Suzy perpetuate the ‘dumb hick’ image. It’s sad really. I know that of a lot this about dialect and regional accents but to me it shows lack of character. It sounds shamefully elitist, I know!

  17. as much as it contends the original intent of this post, the phrase “bob and I” is only used in the nominative form but not objective. for example:
    bob and I went to the store.
    OR bob and I saw sally and moe at the store.
    sally and moe called bob and me.
    OR, the puppy bit bob and me.

    another peeve of mine–using an adjective to describe a verb in place of an adverb. I hear this on the radio and I read it regularly in ads.
    as an example: (of course it is difficult to think of one now…)

  18. May be later (maybe later)

    See ya (see you later)

    x-cellent (excellent)

    me and my friend (my friend and I)

    he lefts the room (he left the room)

    she will jumped (she will jump or she has jumped)

    You have to hate these…..

  19. Hey lookie here I got some more…
    1) “He laid down.” *snicker*
    2) “He runned out.”
    3) “She brung it for me.”
    And, the one I totally hate the most,
    4) When people refer to me as “Midnight Muh-row-dur.” It boils my blood, so pronounce it “Muh-raw-dur”, unless you want a visit from me.

  20. I would agree with you on this if you only meant on a writer’s standpoint- after all, if someone writes a book in English, they better know the language!

    Yet I’ve noticed that much of it is pronunciation. There are 20 different dialects of English in the US alone. Besides, English is the most difficult language in the world, and no matter how much you study it, you will never master it.

    I just draw the line at very obvious mistakes.

  21. One of my favorite pets in this category is “flesh it out” vs “flush it out.” As in, “we’ve got the strawman and now we just have to flush it out.”

    Well you flush out a covey of quail, but you flesh out a strawman. Period.

  22. Some things I will let slide, like the proper positioning of I within a sentence like “Kathy and I went to the shop”
    but my real blackboard moments are what I think to be the simplest of mistakes!




    That drives me crazy.

  23. (We probably have a post on here somewhere already, but since this page has more than a year’s worth of comments and I’m too lazy to hit CRTL-F at the moment, I’ll add this one and hope that it’s our first.)

    Considering what we do, we see about every type of mistake. That’s fine. None bother me. After all, we’re here to help folks write well.

    On the other hand . . .

    I took a brush-up writing course a couple of years ago and had a daily blackboard moment with the professor–the “expert writing instructor.” One of his favorite instructions was to “scan this quickly and see if your eyes notice anything unusual.”

    He used “scan,” which has the opposite meaning of the word he should have used: “skim.” Fingers on the blackboard. I could have, and since have, taught that course. And I never asked participants to scan anything but their own work prior to submission.

    One more. This is akin to a joke inasmuch as it amuses me. Here is an example of a situation I have been in several times.

    I stand at the counter in the ice cream counter and say, “I would like a couple scoops of chocolate, please.”
    “Sure,” is the common reply. “How many would you like?”

  24. I almost don’t want to post this because it sounds so annoyingly picky, but here goes! You’re hoist by your own petard, DWT, because I’ve always been irritated by “for free”, as in:

    “You can receive our articles for free on your email inbox, …”

    which is far better rendered as “You can receive our articles free in your email, …” or if you have a passion for the word ‘for’ why not try “You can receive our articles for nothing in your email, …”.

    As you can see, I also think boxes are containers before they are pedestals, and I know where received email ends up, thank you.

    Finally, PreciseEdit, (and really going for the fur-lined pedantry prize here) perhaps you’d get your two scoops if you asked for a couple OF them?

  25. I have seen reference within this blackboard to ‘shone’ (vs. ‘shown’) and I guess I have maintained my own pronunciation (‘shawn’) since this is how I learned to pronounce what the sun did all day – it shone (‘shawn’). Growing up in Canada in the ’40s/’50s, moving to America in 1954, this is one pronunciation I simply ‘hung on’ to.

    But there is another similar word (for me): wrath. I grew up (again, Canadian childhood) pronouncing this word as ‘rawth’, while in America Steinbeck’s “Grapes of Wrath’ is always pronounced ‘rath’ (silent ‘w’).

    I don’t share with anyone that I’m having a ‘blackboard moment’ when I hear either word pronounced other than the way I choose to speak it. After all, I know the intended use and that’s what language is all about, after all: the communication of meaning. But in reading other comments here, I suddenly realize I am not alone, that others share my feelings and preferences for word pronunciation.

    Not everyone agrees with my choice of pronunciation, obviously, so it is satisfying to find that I’m not so unique. Your blackboard analogy has provided a clear way to illustrate the level of annoyance I experience when I hear these two words (‘shown’, ‘rath’), and feel that familiar ‘blackboard cringe’.

  26. I agree with nearly everything I’ve read, and I’ll add a few more.

    In speaking:
    “Where you at?” (whairyat)
    “Me and…”
    “Him and…”
    “Her and…”
    “…dishes need washed…”; “floor needs swept…” (to heck with that bothersome to be verb)
    “I can’t phantom such a thing.” (Yup, I worked with a woman who said that on occasion.)
    “End result” (as opposed to the beginning result)
    “Less calories” (advertising folks, package designers, marketers ought to learn the language)

    “YOU GUYS” and “YOUR GUYSES” Oh, dear Lord, when did the plural “you” and “your” disappear? I know we all say “you guys” occasionally, but “you guys” has become as much a part of our language as “like.” “Wheresyur guyses car at?”

    In writing:

    In the USA, commas and periods go inside quotation marks. No exceptions.
    The abbreviations “i.e.” and “e.g.” are not interchangeable; they mean “that is” and “for example” respectively.

    In general:

    Pride in one’s work
    Willingness to look up, find out, or research when the spelling, meaning, usage, etc. is unknown

  27. I shudder when people use “couple” as if it were the same in meaning as “two.” As in the example, and then the fix, above: “A couple scoops of ice cream”.
    “Weird Al” Yankovic has used this construction on his blog at MySpace and it drives me batty. It should clearly be “a couple OF ___.” It seems to be getting more and more common as I surf the Internet. . .

  28. Also, as I just saw in someone’s comments on Tesla coils, the (to me) horrific spelling “Imma” as a substitute for “I’m gonna” which is a substitute for “I’m going to” which. . ..well you know.
    If people want to speak that way I guess they can, but for me that spelling should only be used by novelists trying to express a character’s poor pronunciation or its dialect. I guess if someone is writing a comment and wants to give the impression he or she is speaking very informally, it would be suitable, but I don’t recommend getting into such a habit.
    I apologize if my view offends anyone; some people take pride in their favored pronunciation.

    This reminds me of a movie where a white man, perhaps a police officer, is talking to a black crime suspect, mocked the man’s speaking style by proposing some plan of action, and then asked him, “Ahh-aight?” [All right?] That was very offensive because of his rude mockery of his dialect, although I myself find that pronunciation offensive from the view of ‘standard’ English. As an English teacher I try to stay ‘standard’ for the benefit of my EFL students.

  29. I’m really surprised no-one else has the blackboard moment when they hear the misuse of the word leverage.
    (and other management-ese crap that’s evolved over the last few years)

    “I couldn’t move the rock because the mud was slippery and I couldn’t get any leverage”… good…
    “We must leverage the product”… AAAAAARGH!

    I hate it when they verbify nouns and nounify verbs like that when there’re perfectly respectible words available.
    But then, management types never use a short word like “push” where a long word will do.

  30. quoting Wendy:
    “In writing:

    In the USA, commas and periods go inside quotation marks. No exceptions.:

    Actually this is not true. Periods remain outside quotation marks when quoting a written work within another written work using ABA format. For example,
    Fox and colleagues point out that an “FBA is a complex process that seeks to identify classroom events that may trigger and maintain behavioral episodes” (2000, p. 152).

    Using ABA format, the period resides after the parentheses which are always outside the quotation marks.

  31. 1. CourtTV on air reporters make this mistake daily.

    “He WAS a former D.A. of…”
    or,” She WAS the former Mayor of…

    When what they mean is, “He or she IS the former…”

    2. “liberry.”

    3. “Literally,” replacing the word, “very,” in a sentence.
    –I know someone who says, ,”literally several times in a row, when she wants to emphasize how, “Very,” something is.
    One day I will have to shoot her. lol

  32. 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?

  33. 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.

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

  35. I hate when others misuse “everyday.”
    One goes to work every day.
    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.

  36. 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.

  37. 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.

  38. 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.

  39. 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.

  40. 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!

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