Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Fighting the Good Fight

by Mike Crawmer

Tacked to a wall in my work cubicle is this Calvin & Hobbes comic strip. It pretty much sums up the dilemma I face in my job.

Calvin: I like to verb words.

Hobbes: What?

Calvin: I take nouns and adjectives and use them as verbs. Remember when “access” was a thing. Now it’s something you do. It got verbed. Verbing weirds language.

Hobbes: Maybe we can eventually make language a complete impediment to understanding.

That strip appeared in the 1990s. If anything, understanding is harder to come by today than it was then.

In my job as an editor in the publications department of (ready for this?) an international human resources training and development consulting firm, every day I battle the forces of evil in an attempt to slow the sad decline of the English language. Some days I win, some days I don’t.

For one thing, my “axis of evil” won’t play by the rules (of good grammar or good common sense). The folks in Marketing seem duty-bound to manipulate and mangle English in their drive to persuade. The consultants—over-credentialed but amazing undereducated—treat words like annoying children they are happy to dump onto the nanny (me and the other editors). Then there are the clients, who live by the motto: “I want it yesterday, quality (that is, good grammar) be damned!”

Yet, the challenge of battling these forces can be invigorating and, yes, sometimes even fun. The keys to surviving and thriving are a sense of humor and taking the long view—I’m the first to admit that English is ever-evolving, but there’s also this: Some day in the not-too-distant future I’ll retire and saving the language will be somebody else’s problem.

In the meantime I nit and pick at such delightfully clumsy constructions as “I’ll flip chart that” (as in “I’ll write that on a flip chart”) or “He was very planful.” (If “wasteful” and “dreadful” are legitimate words, why not “planful”? Yeah, right.)

These I could edit, but I can only do so much. I can’t edit what people say (that’s my 85-year-old mother’s job!). So, I put on my actor’s mask and barely blink when a co-worker blithely spits out “Let’s action that.” “Let’s action that”—I have to repeat it in print, like pinching my arm to make sure I’m not dreaming. I thought about sending the Calvin and Hobbes strip to the person who uttered that statement, but decided against it because (1) she probably wouldn’t get the point and (2) she’s the daughter of the owner of the company.

So, I look forward to the evening hours when I wallow in the utter delight of creating another world peopled by characters from my own imagination. Plugging away on my work-in-progress is the perfect therapy for the post-traumatic syndrome that comes from a day spent on the front lines fighting the good fight for the beauty and integrity of English, our (more or less) common tongue.


Nancy said...

Mike, I hope there's a character in your book who comes up with all these wonderful malapropisms. (Is that the right word in this case??) I especially love the flip chart comment. Surely that bossy guy at the town meeting can spew out some of the worst lines you hear!

Joyce said...

Yeah, Mike. I can see a couple of your characters "verbing." Maybe Orrin, because he wants to sound important, or Rose--unintentionally, of course. With her, it would just be darn cute!

For anyone who hasn't checked, Working Stiffs had 91 hits yesterday!

Pat said...

Well! As a former employee in the same enterprise as Mike, and a Marketing weenie taboot, all I have to say is--you're absolutely right. Perhaps that's why I flip-charted it off after a mere six months of text torturing toil.

Annette said...

Mike, thanks for the laughter (and the tears) this morning. I love the English language and admit, I do from time to time torture it for fun, but when you butcher it out of sheer stupidity...AGH!

Gotta love Calvin and Hobbes. Always my favorite.

Judith said...

Mike: You've hit on a very, very, very, did I say very big gripe I have with today's education or lack therin. Where are the grammar teachers?

Me and Jane....? Me and Bill.... ?ARGGGGG

Gee. I just got back from a mindful resort where I learned to ignore such iritations. Hmmm. Think I'll go meditate on me.

Kristine said...

Mike, I love this post. I'm also "fighting the good fight" with engineers who botch up the English language so much it's painful.

I have to admit that when I'm not working or "on the job," I tend to slack off in the grammar department. Perhaps it's because I'm braindead at that point.

It's a tough job, but somebody's gotta do it, right?

Kristine said...

91 hits yesterday!!!! That's AWESOME!

mike said...

Glad you all liked the post. Here's another one to add to our repertoire of grammar groans: Heard by a co-worker on the radio this morning in an add for Biondi Lincol-Mercury (I won't be buying a car from them anytime soon): "Web us." Huh?

91 plus hits by now! Great.

Tory Butterworth said...

My favorite was when I was doing research on an intensive care unit. One of the interns said a patient, "Needs dialyzed." Pittsburgh slang meets high tech. medicine, I love it!

I also love 91 hits. Hey, WE'RE a hit!

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Brenda Roger said...

Mike, My husband has many funny consultant stories. You two should swap. Very funny post.

Nancy said...

Well, we've made it, everyone. Not the number of hits---but the spam!!

Kristine said...

Yes Nancy, you know we've hit the big time when we start getting spam in our comments.


Cathy said...

I wanted to comment earlier, but I was too overcome by the Primanti's grease. Their food should be shipped to the Middle East as a weapon.

Lots of fun, Mike. When do we get to read your novel?

Rebecca Drake said...

Oh my god, Mike, this is hilarious! It's so true! My personal favorites in the verbing of America are "workshopped," as in "we workshopped that..." and "dialogued," as in "we dialogued about his fear of flying..."

Ugh, but hilarious!