Unique (from the French for “one”) — having no equal; unparalleled; one of a kind.
After receiving lots of positive feedback about last week’s column on misused and misspelled words, I believe a round two is in order. The word “unique” provides a launch pad. Although definitions such as “highly unusual,” “extraordinary,” and “rare” are becoming more acceptable for this word, language purists beg to differ. They submit that something is either one-of-a-kind or it isn’t, and that you should never use qualifiers such as “rather” or “very” before “unique.”
So enough about the letter “U”! Let’s proceed with some more examples of usage, spelling, and even pronunciation problems that annoy me and some of the readers of this column.
Several people mentioned “its” versus “it’s” to me. If you use the one with the apostrophe, then you are saying “it is” and can’t be showing possession. Incorrect: The committee submitted it’s report. “The committee submitted it is report” makes no sense.
Speaking of apostrophes, in most cases you should not use one to make something plural. Incorrect: The Smith’s have three dog’s. No apostrophes are needed in that sentence.
“Everyday,” as one word, is an adjective; it requires a noun in its vicinity. JCPenney’s current ad campaign frequently pains me when they use a little red square containing, for example, “$15 everyday.” There’s no noun in sight; therefore we should see “$15 every day.” Now if they want to say, “We are proud of our everyday low prices,” the noun “prices” makes it okay.
Here’s a tough one for many people: “lie” versus “lay.” I encourage you to try to get used to saying “I’m going to lie down” or “they are lying in the sun” and to tell your dog to “lie down.”
Let’s move on to some spelling and pronunciation irritants. The thing that goes with thunder is lightning, not lightening. Please extend congratulations (Congrats!) instead of congradulations. I don’t understand why so many people can’t pronounce the words “realtor” and “jewelry” just like they look. It’s reel-tor, not ree-la-tor, and jool-ree, not joo-la-ree. Likewise, I don’t get why lots of people think that the word “mischievous” should be pronounced mis-CHEE-vee-us when there is no “i” before the “ous.” It should be pronounced MIS-chih-vus.
I hope I don’t sound rabid; I realize that there are much worse problems in the world than grammar problems. But don’t you just hate it when a highly-paid news anchor says “between you and I” or when TV reporters always seem to pick the worst-spoken Southerners to interview on the air?
I believe that we should all do our parts to help stamp out ignorance instead of allowing ignorance to flourish. I gave my students bonus points if they brought in published errors for my bulletin board; it helped them learn and be more aware. As technology progressed, they began taking photos with their cell phones. They still send me, via Facebook or e-mail, photos of language errors. We call ourselves the grammar police, and we’ve been known to take a magic marker to an offending poster. Even my principals got in on the act; one gave me an envelope from the U.S. Department of Education addressed to the “principle” of the school. I’m still shaking my head. Please understand that I don’t consider myself, or at least I hope I’m not, obnoxious in my quest to help people improve their language skills. As a gracious Southern lady, I will never embarrass someone by correcting them in public or by taking a red pen or red font to their missives. And, goodness knows, I am not infallible, nor am I uptight about taking liberties. In writing, I have to be vigilant about placing the word “only” in the best place in a sentence and in trying not to put a preposition at the end of a sentence. I am guilty of not always catching my typos. (I would also give a student extra credit if he caught me in an error.) In casual company, I will say “ain’t” sometimes just for fun! But the important thing is to know what’s correct, to be correct when the situation demands it (school essay, public speaking, job interview, etc.), and to model good language skills so that, when our Southern friends and neighbors are interviewed on TV, they don’t reflect badly on the great state of Georgia.
Cathy Sargent is semi-retired after teaching English in Troup County for 29 years.