I have a problem. Actually, I have many, but I have no intention of sharing them all here. The problem in question is sloppy speech, or–to put it another way–inelegant and ungrammatical speech. It’s not that I don’t appreciate elegance and grammar. I do. I love to read something striking because of its beauty or power–words used well. And (dangerous as it is to admit when I am writing something myself) I do have an eye for grammatical mistakes. (For the record, I have no problem starting a sentence with “and”.) In fact, I often see mistakes when I’m not even looking. They will jump at me from off the page, wearing high-vis jackets and screeching, “Look at me!” That being the case, what can I do but look? Particularly glaring is the misused (or unused) possessive apostrophe. “Childrens fair”, the sign might proclaim, and unbidden, a little voice inside me can’t resist saying, no doubt smugly, “Whose fair?” The little voice doesn’t even need to be answered. The children’s fair, of course. Possessive. Apostrophe needed.
While I can recognise such things, and while I can, if I wish, make an effort when I write to choose my words carefully and to keep an eye on my grammar and punctuation, it’s a different matter when I speak. Just. Kind of. Sort of. Stuff. Yeah. I guess. Like. That “like”! It has perfectly legitimate uses, my dictionary tells me (preposition and verb being two of them) but why will I–and I know I am not the only one–use it as a filler, or even use it in the place of a perfectly appropriate word such as “said”? It’s a bad habit, I know.
I read Pride and Prejudice last month. Imagine this with me. (Austen will have to forgive my massacring her text.)
“It, well, taught me to, like, hope,” said Darcy, “as I had kind of scarcely ever allowed myself to hope before. I was like ‘I know enough of Miss Bennett’s disposition to be certain that, had she been absolutely, and, well, irrevocably decided against me, she would have acknowledged all that stuff to Lady Catherine, frankly and openly.’”
Elizabeth coloured and laughed as she replied, “Yeah, you know enough of my, like, frankness, to believe me capable of that. After sort of abusing you so abominably to your face, I guess I could have no scruple in abusing you to, like, all your relations.”
Somehow I don’t think that’s an improvement on the original!
But like it or not, I am often guilt of sloppy speech myself.
I’m going to try to change that. I’ll try eliminating one word and then decide whether or not to attack another! “Like”, I have my eye on you. You will be used correctly, or not at all.
I’ll let you know how it goes!