Sunday, June 14, 2015

Why We Get Words Wrong, Part 2: Popular Culture

In this ten-part series, we look at why some of us have so much trouble with getting words right in English. Part 1 mentioned the schwa, a vowel in an unaccented syllable which sounds unlike its short or long sounds. We mess up for many other reasons, one of them being popular culture. Here are three examples.

Bring vs. Take - The rule says you bring to a point and you take from a point, meaning you should take your laptop from work and bring it home. Yet we hear the popular fighting challenge, "You wanna take it outside?" Think about it: If Buddy issues that statement to Guy in a bar, he is taking the fight from inside the bar and bringing it outside the bar. The same holds true with the Doobie Brothers' song "Taking It to the Streets"; once again, they are taking it from wherever they are and bringing it to the streets. If everyone else is saying it that way, who are we to change it?

Alright vs. All Right - How many songs in your music collection spell all right as alright? Some might include "It's Gonna Be Alright" by the Gerry and the Pacemakers, the same-title-different-song later by the Ramones, "Well Alright" by Blind Faith, and the triple threat "Alright Alright Alright" by Mungo Jerry. True, Bob Dylan got it right with "Don't Think Twice, It's All Right" as did the film The Kids Are All Right. But the other evidence remains powerful, so many people are amazed when they learn that alright is not Standard English.

Fewer vs. Less
- The sign in the supermarket usually says, "This aisle is for 10 items or less," although the rule tells us to use fewer with plurals. For this reason, we might understandably but incorrectly say, "I made less mistakes."

Again, how will we get these words right? Not by speaking more but by reading more.