TANSTAAFL

Our weekend posts enjoyed some reactions. We shall have to see what I devise for weekends ahead. For now, I find myself troubled by grammatical usage. Carelessness: is it thoughtlessness? I think I think so.

I survived the weekend without even thinking much about this blog. I like that autopost or scheduling feature that WordPress offers, having created both weekend posts on Friday. I did get antsy about the number of hits (I know: I’m vain) both Saturday and Sunday evenings and thus responded to some comments somewhat promptly. But overall the weekend was for and about Janet and me. [And that is “Janet and me” in that context: we are the objects of the prepositions “for” and “about,” and “I” is only used when it’s the subject of the sentence somehow. Sorry, I think today’s post or ones later this week might evolve into The (Former) English Teacher Rants. Wait and see. —Oh, if the Wikipedia article was too heavy (and it is pretty dense stuff there), try this link for “preposition” from a source once beloved of my brother David.]

It was a varied weekend. On Saturday morning, after too long a night “celebrating” our first Friday rehearsal for One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest at the Decker House’s Buffalo Room, both Janet and I had to drag our weary bodies out of bed early to take her car for a check-up and oil change―both of us because I had to drive her home in the -15° winter morning. I went back to bed, but she pottered about until I finally determined it was indeed Saturday morning and joined her to face the actual day. About noon, she figured her car was done, so I took her back down and she went from there by herself to shop for groceries (I was decidedly “under the weather” all day―thanks to the night before). I lost much of the day to weariness and disorientation, but we really enjoyed a third of her favorite dishes for dinner, Greek casserole (recipe soon), as we watched two episodes from Season Four of Jeeves and Wooster.

Stephen Fry as Jeeves and Hugh Laurie as Bertie Wooster

Being not a youngster, I was amazed over the summer to discover that many fans of the Fox series House were unaware that Hugh Laurie is British (his American accent for the show is acting) or that he had a career before becoming the curmudgeonly genius doctor. Furthermore, some cannot even believe that their dour Dr. House could have anything whatsoever to do with vapid Bertie Wooster. Stephen Fry (Jeeves) hasn’t enjoyed quite the same American success (although some people recognize him from Bones, which I have never seen*), but he’s done very well. Anyway, the Jeeves and Wooster TV series is a delight if you have never seen an episode, and those two actors are a joy together. Janet and I are dragging out watching the entire eight DVDs so we can start all over again, having pretty well forgotten enough details to enjoy the old ones all over again (we accomplished the same feat between the actual run of the series on PBS and buying the DVD set).

Sunday was more productive. First, I made her my waffles, which turned out well for a second time, although I remain vague as to just the right amount of milk to add; it’s definitely more than just two cups. I also made fourteen waffles, definitely this time. Regardless, we had an enjoyable but heavy breakfast as laundry churned.

After weekly chores in the morning, we decided to head Quad-Cities-ward for a little shopping. I had nothing I wanted, but Janet had a definite list. She never found a tall, narrow container for wrapping paper or a plastic container for her contacts as they are treated with the tablet (only available now with fluids or tablets); but she did acquire a new humidifier, some birthday cards, and a new purse (which she has sought for a long time now; I just hope she likes the purse she purchased).

And now it’s Monday, and I am back at the keyboard trying to figure out what to amuse you with this week. I have actually taken to creating lists of possible topics, even though so far some subject just takes over my thoughts as I actually whack away at the keys. For today, I think it’s going to be grammar and usage. English teachers are actually picky not about grammar, the practices that describe how our language works, but usage, the choices we make in writing or speaking. Grammar is the logic of a language, while usage is the picky details of making your expressions logical (or otherwise “correct”).

On the grammatical/usage front, last night Channel 6 news ran an opening story on the reduced number of Iowa State Troopers on the roads thanks to the state’s budget woes―the lowest number since 1964, with the population noticeably higher than 46 years ago. [Governor Chet and the boys in Des Moines are going to have to admit we need something a lot more useful and painful than continuing across-the-board budget cuts: California’s been proving for years the disastrous places you end up if the no-tax bozos have their way. There’s no such thing as a free lunch.]

However, my actual issue was with the news story. Our weekend anchor, Elizabeth Goodsitt, is evidently an intelligent woman, who reported about “fewer troopers” even as the less educated produced a graphic behind her identifying “less troopers.” You can’t have “less” of many things (with commercial advertising, which seeks to not make sense in order to confuse us and avoid responsibility, to the incorrect contrary―“less calories” is nonsense). You may only have less of a unit: “less money” but “fewer dollars.” The actual reporter only added to the issue when she discussed the “fewer number of troopers.” Wrong again: “number” is a unit, so its adjective should not be “fewer” but “less.” She was blinded by the upcoming “troopers,” I think, but that word isn’t actually being modified directly by “fewer/less.” It’s a tiny issue but pervasive, not just in the media. There is a difference, and to avoid it renders our language senseless.

I know heavy powers in our society would like to strip our language of cogent meaning, thus easing their intention of reducing us to robotic consumers or inactive and therefore slavelike citizens, and other influences are just ill-informed (the news media). However, language, our use of words and sentences, is the only means we have to communicate. To reduce our English to empty pat phrases (as in contemporary politics and advertising) and illogical―therefore meaningless―constructions deprives us of our only genuine means to actually share with each other. I for one refuse to be stranded in linguistic isolation.

* I guess there’s a a price to be paid for Fox News. (I was gladdened to realize, on the news this morning, that the Murdoch heirs find Roger Ailes’s narrow-minded, partisan propagandizing not to be journalism, which it isn’t.)

Oh, just in case it’s gotten out of date, the title is the acronym, popular at one time among engineers and scientific types, for “There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch.” As true in communication as it is in thermodynamics or economics.

©2010 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.