A blizzard of grammatical errors

A few items I’ve thought about this week — actually for quite a bit longer than that:

Whenever we get a snowfall like this past weekend’s, I realize how much sedentary folks like me owe to those who get out in all kinds of weather to keep Greene County open and in touch with the world.

There are the road warriors, who brave bitter cold, driven snow, glazed ice and/or howling winds to clear roads and streets so we can get around. The same for the shovelers who make it possible for us to leave our homes on foot when warranted.

There are the power company troubleshooters, who get out in brutal weather to reconnect downed power lines.

There are the mail carriers, who trek through whatever weather gives them to bring us our mail, regardless of whether it’s essential stuff or not. 

There are the police, fire, health care and other public sector workers who make sure that essential services remain accessible when they’re needed. 

There are the service specialists, like the plumbers who get out to fix frozen pipes and balky furnaces, or the towing operators who pull vehicles out of snowy ditches.

There are the truckers who shepherd 18-wheelers down icy and windy highways to keep the economy, and its consumers, purring.

I know I’m not mentioning all the folks who deserve thanks for what they do in bad weather. No matter how long my list, I know I’d leave somebody out. That’s the curse of lists.

I write this column sitting on my comfortable couch in my comfortable home, sipping a comfortable cup of coffee, and feeling both guilty and grateful that so many others are doing their thing so I can do mine.


And while I’m on things for which I’m grateful in winter:

One special group that comes to mind is those farmers who choose to sign up for the program that provides an incentive to leave a few rows of corn on the windward side of roads and highways as a snow windbreak. 

I don’t know how much remuneration they get — it’s likely not as much as the corn would sell for. I don’t even know what level of government or what department makes it available. 

But a few rows make a significant difference when the north or west wind is blowing snow across the roadways. 


Now for an irritation:

For the 45 years of my journalism career, and for the many years of school prior to them, I corrected writing errors, my own and those of others. I proofread news stories for decades, for spelling, punctuation, grammar, syntax and factual accuracy. 

The factual accuracy part is one thing. There are fact-checker organizations that make a living by grading the correctness of what’s said in a news story or feature. And every reader or viewer can decide whether the story is accurate.

But it grates on me when the English language gets carelessly abused by those who rely on it to spread their message.

The crawls at the bottom of TV shows, primarily news and sports, shouldn’t contain omissions, misspellings or other errors. Local stations and national networks alike have people who type those up, but apparently they don’t have editors who oversee the messages before they go live. It shouldn’t be hard to find someone to do that.

Newspapers and magazines are the same way. Not that we didn’t make cringeworthy mistakes when I edited the Jefferson papers. 

We used to have a “boneyard” where our particularly noteworthy goofs were posted.

We had some real prizewinners, like the local Navy sailor who was spending “a sex-month tour of duty in the South Pacific,” or the winter day when Jefferson received “six inches of snot.”

But those were typos. Those happen. 

What bugs me is stuff that my seventh grade English teacher Miss Fields would have red-penciled on her students’ homework.

National TV sports commentators provide a particularly rich source of jarring play-by-play reporting. Some, like Dizzy Dean, made a career of it: “He slud into third” is a probably mythical example of his syntax.

But I hope there will come a time when color commentators cease noting that an athlete “has went” somewhere. 

Print journalism publications, in order to husband precious dwindling resources, have taken to eliminating copy editors. I understand that, and why it is necessary. But someone, especially in the big papers with many staff people, should check over the copy before it gets into final print. 

Maybe retired English teachers could be persuaded to do that as a public service. 

It’s not as crucial as clearing a snow-packed road or fixing frozen water lines, but they could help prevent English language abuse.

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