A transformation in the English language is underway.
Well, two months ago, a transformation in the English language was under way. Now it’s underway, according to an April change in the Associated Press Stylebook. And that’s sort of my point, that the language is constantly changing.
It was probably a change that only grammar geeks would care about. Whether there’s a space between the R and W isn’t all that significant to most people. But to those who knew, it meant everything.
Before April, an underway, no spaces, was only used as an adjective in a nautical sense, such as an underway flotilla. In other words, it just didn’t come up that much.
The AP Stylebook is a magnificent, spiral-bound book, celebrating its 60th anniversary of telling people they’re wrong this year. The one on my desk is usually an arm’s length away, although it’s a little older than I might like. One of the editors here sends out regular updates when the AP makes changes.
AP style, of which The Lima News abides, tells us a number of things that send high school English teachers into a tizzy. A month doesn’t go by that I don’t receive some marked-up newspaper asking if our editors speak English as a second language. It’s AP’s fault we don’t put a comma before the “and” in a series of three or more items in a list, no matter what your teachers told you.
We make our share of mistakes, as we’re human too. The venerable New York Times had “protesers” on its front page Friday. The AP Stylebook account made a typo in a tweet earlier this week.
Many of us do care about the language. I abuse the language, as we all do, but it’s my goal to be understood clearly. Choosing the right word matters. That’s why underway versus under way mattered to me. The one time I wrote about a flotilla, I happily used the one-word variety because it was the right word.
One of my pet peeves is the word “like.” It seems to come into favor for inappropriate uses every 20 years or so. At one point, “like” was the “umm” of the valley girl generation. Now, clicking it on Facebook means you’re showing support. I felt icky the day that I “liked” a college classmate’s post telling his friends he had cancer. There’s nothing to like there, but clicking “like” was the appropriate thing to do culturally.
I head off in another tangent altogether when people use “like” when they mean “such as.” Like means similar to something, but not including that something. I enjoy Keith Urban’s lyric, “I wanna love somebody, love somebody like you.” Never mind using “somebody” instead of “someone.” It’s heartbreaking that he can’t love the woman he’s singing to, I suppose, because she wouldn’t be included in that statement. Then again, “Someone Such as You” isn’t catchy as a song title.
The Internet shows that there are still people who care about using the language correctly.
The AP Stylebook has a website and Twitter account. This week its tweets reminded us it’s “hordes of tourists” and not “hoards of tourists.” You re-create history in a museum, not recreate it.
There are several Facebook pages devoted to catching people’s mistakes. I enjoy “Captain Grammar Pants,” which shares pictures of English failings and grammar tips. I enjoyed a recent photo of a counter selling “Ho-Made Pies” and another from a church saying “Don’t let worries kill you. Let the church help.”
Mistakes are bad, no doubt. We all make them, particularly when we’re put under extraordinary stress and pressure. My primary job at The Lima News doesn’t involve “line-editing,” or going line by line through a story to make sure it’s clear, concise and free of errors. I perform those duties often enough to have a great deal of respect for those who do it and do it well.
You must admit it gets harder when the language and the abuses of it keep changing.
As the AP Stylebook Twitter account posted after acknowledging its typo earlier this week, “Everyone benefits from a good copy editor, including us.”