Avoidable blunders in the English language - GulfToday

Avoidable blunders in the English language

Birjees Hussain

She has more than 10 years of experience in writing articles on a range of topics including health, beauty, lifestyle, finance, management and Quality Management.

Illustrative image. (Freepik)

Illustrative image. (Image: Freepik)

I left the UK back in 1995 to come to the United Arab Emirates. Ever since then I have been convinced that the education system in the UK has deteriorated to the point that many native speakers do not speak English correctly, nor do they spell correctly. But that being said, judging by some of the comments that I see posted on various social media platforms, it could be that native English speakers across the world have the same problem. Maybe the education system has deteriorated worldwide, certainly where English is concerned.

They make so many mistakes that it makes me cringe to either hear them speak or read what they’ve written. What stuns me even more is that those making these mistakes are not just everyday people but prominent journalists, prominent lawyers, prominent politicians and even teachers. The unfortunate thing is that it’s very likely that it is those very teachers teaching future generations the wrong English. It’s like the blind leading the blind.

Some typical examples of mistakes include using the incorrect ‘there’, ‘their’ and ‘they’re’ in a sentence. Another is using ‘you’re’ instead of ‘your’ and vice versa and getting the ‘you and I’ versus ‘you and me’ totally wrong. I was watching a programme on CNN a couple of years ago and the host of that programme, a lawyer, admitted that he often got confused as to whether it’s ‘you and I’ or ‘you and me’. I was flabbergasted that a prominent lawyer would make that admission publicly. The very basic requirement for any law student, and lawyer, is to have an indepth understanding of and the ability to express clearly and fluently their opinion in the language in which they intend to practise. That misuse of the ‘you and I’ terminology also makes me cringe.

Basically, I have three pet peeves when it comes to English being spoken and written correctly. You already know about the ‘you and I’ versus the ‘you and me’. The other is the misuse of ‘that’ and ‘who’. In fact, the word ‘who’ seems to have disappeared altogether. But to say, “Paul was the one that brought the cake” is wrong. The correct way of saying this is, “Paul was the one WHO brought the cake.”

‘That’ and ‘who’ are not interchangeable here. ‘Who’ is always used when the subject of the sentence is a person. ‘That’ is used when the subject of the sentence is an inanimate object, an animal, a company or a group of people, etc.

And my final pet peeve is, in fact, with regard to how people pronounce et cetera, abbreviated to ‘etc’. Most say ‘eksetera’ which, again, is very wrong. Even some of the most educated individuals make this ghastly mistake. The word is pronounced just as it is spelt: Et-cet-er-a.

But here is a rather hilarious, perhaps even sad, thing that was reported in a newspaper about a company called ‘Sports Direct’ who misspelt the word ‘stationery’ as ‘stationary’ on their ‘back to school’ stationery kits for children. In fact, the whole incident is so odd that if you were to browse through the items on display you’d see that the company had spelt the word correctly on some kits and incorrectly on others. It’s almost as if they were not sure which was the correct spelling so they decided to display both. However, some people think that the company realised that the spelling ‘stationary’ was incorrect on the first batch of kits they released but by then it was too costly and time consuming to correct those. But further kits produced had the correct spelling. Hence, some kits with the correct ‘stationery’. My question is this: did they not have a spell checker?

Sadly this reminds of the Dan Quayle mispelling incident in which he added an ‘e’ to a child’s spelling of potato. The poor fellow was never able to live it down and may always be remembered for this huge gaffe.

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