MLP: Well don’t try and deny it

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Why, you may wonder, is your Mrs. Language Person such a fuss-budget? Language is only as useful as it is consistent. Without that consistency, without clear definitions and rules, language erodes and communication breaks down. From one Snitty Old Biddy’s perspective, it’s also very messy. Careless language begets (and sometimes, belies) careless thought.

So please, Dear Readers, take heed! But (artistic license there) not a listen.

“Take a listen.” As one reader stated, “Listen is a verb and should be treated as such.” Amen, Mr. Reader Person. That verb may take offense, treated as “a” mere noun (those verbs are a self-important bunch). One may be able to take a noun for a ride, but the verb is where the action is.

“Because” (why) or “since” (when)? Here’s another of MLP’s — admittedly many — pet peeves. “Since” refers to time; “because” precedes a reason. They are not interchangeable! Since (the moment when) Mrs. Language Person first appeared, readers continue to demand more of her. Because they are unrelenting (and she needs income), MLP cannot retreat to the solitary grotto she so desperately craves.

“Because” is correct in the previous sentence, as well as this one, because it precedes an explanation. “Since” would be incorrect, so don’t say, “since it precedes an explanation.” Time has nothing to do with it.

“Try and.” No, no, no. We “try to” do something; we do not “try and” do it. If two actions are meant to be separated by using “and,” that is, of course, acceptable; e.g., “Yes, I will try and I will let you know.” However, MLP can only “try to fight linguistic sin;” she cannot try and fight it. She either tries or she fights (or she fails altogether).

“Well” (and well). Readers often mention this irritant (and they don’t mean underground water). One asked why “well” (or the lately popular, “so”) so often introduces responses to questions. It serves no function; like MLP’s entreaties, this well is useless.

Well (sorry; couldn’t resist), perhaps not entirely useless. Ironically, well’s best use is often neglected in favor of “good,” as in “P.D. James writes well.” She can’t write good, because (not since!) “write” is a verb.

“Good” is an adjective; it does not modify a verb. “Well” functions as an adverb, which modified the verb “write.” Just to confuse things, note that unlike “good,” “well” also occasionally functions as an adjective, meaning “in satisfactory condition.” So (therefore) I am well and your job was well done.

While MLP agrees that “well” as an interjection or introduction is unnecessary, it has sadly devolved into acceptance in two cases: To express surprise or emotion (Well! There’s no need to be rude), and (shudder) to introduce a sentence or resume conversation (Well, MLP disagrees with that).

Oh, how disappointing when the incorrect becomes accepted from sheer overuse! Your MLP’s depression deepens.

Loath to disappoint her grammar-conscious readers, such inefficiencies certainly needn’t be employed, despite relative acceptance. Keep fighting the good fight, Dear Reader! Your MLP endured weeks of despair upon discovering that “for” is occasionally acceptable to introduce an independent clause, when a mere semicolon has long sufficed admirably. English is nearly impossible to learn as a second language; (for) its grammatical exceptions increasingly make the rules superfluous.

Sigh. Next time, yet another primer on pronouns. Why can’t they ever learn?

•••

Mrs. Language Person is an irritatingly irritable, grammar-obsessed columnist for the Hagadone News Network. Requests and corrections tolerated, laments welcomed at: sholeh@cdapress.com

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