Thursday, August 17, 2006

More Discoveries While Reading English

“I want to thank you for the importance that you've shown for education and literacy.”President George W. Bush in Washington, D.C.; April 13, 2005

“Part of the facts is understanding we have a problem, and part of the facts is what you're going to do about it.” President Bush in Kirtland, Ohio; April 15, 2005

“We expect the states to show us whether or not we're achieving simple objectives – like literacy, literacy in math, the ability to read and write.”President Bush on federal education requirements, Washington, D.C.; April 28, 2005

It is well-documented that the media is quick to latch onto any orally-transmitted mistakes made by the American President, and that anti-Bushites in their ivory towers all over the world use these mistakes as ammo against the 43rd President of the United States when making their arguments.

However, the president is hardly the only one guilty of making grammatical mistakes, big or small, when it comes to English. Usually, when he misspeaks like he did in the above quotes, anti-Bush commentators laugh all the way to the bank. We know such sayings as “Bushisms”.

FYI, you can find “The Complete Bushisms” at

Sadly, or perhaps comfortingly, POTUS might be a rich and privileged “everyman”, but he is like so many of his fellow citizens…at least when it comes to language skills.

Looking over the website of the ABC 7 News in Chicago this morning, I came across this sentence in an article by Sylvia Perez:

He says, in most situations, patients are compromising their care and settling for less when they see someone other then a doctor.

Did you catch the mistake? Did you see it? Can you point it out to me?

If your first language is English, and you cannot find it on repeat viewing, then…well, I don’t know what to say, other than maybe it’s time to pick up a copy of William Strunk’s book “The Elements of Style”. Actually, you know what? I’ll be so kind as to provide a link to a version of the book online:

I see the “other then” mistake all the time. Other than the mistakes I mentioned in the previous blog post “Discoveries While Reading English”, I see “other then” the most often. I see it (“other then”) and it makes me cringe. Do people not know the difference between “then” and “than”? Or “other”?

Let me give you an example of proper usage, modifying the above offending sentence:

He says, in most situations, patients are compromising their care and settling for less when they see someone other than a doctor.

If “then” is to appear after an “other”, then it should appear as such in a sentence structured like this:

If we are nice to each other, then we’ll get along fine.

It isn’t just web articles I see “other then” in. Look in your local newspaper, because you’re bound to see it more often than you should.

Too, everyday opinions written on the World Wide Web demonstrate that this mistaken usage is far more prevalent in everyday communications than is healthy for English-speaking society. Looking at the website for the San Diego Padres baseball team, in the article Barfield chats about first year in the bigs, one can see another everyday example of this mistake. Josh Barfield, the team’s second baseman, was asked during an interviewDo you speak any other languages other then English?”

“…other then English.”

Oy. Not encouraging. At all.

There is hope, though.

When I did a random search for “other then” on Google, there was no usual suggestion of a correction (as in, “Did you mean ‘other than’?”). I often get such hints using Google when I misspell a word or am not sure about a search term’s spelling in the first place.

But, when I did a random search for “other then” on Yahoo!, this is what I was greeted with in response above all of the search results:

“Did you mean: other than

Yes, Yahoo!, yes! I did mean “other than”! Thank you!

Now look, I make innocent typos too. Making the typos isn’t the problem. The problem is not being able to catch the typo after you’ve made it. Look, I know it happens. I’m not innocent of this mistake. But when I see typos, or misspellings, or have them pointed out to me…I want to kick myself. When such mistakes are caught, I think Damn it, I should have caught that!

I’d hope that many other writers think the same way as I do, or at least copy editors, but having read a ridiculously written novelization of Superman Returns when I was back in the States this past spring, I’m disinclined to do so. The novel of the latest Superman movie was so bad I wrote a lengthy email to the author and the publisher, relaying to both the traumatic experience I’d had.

To Marv Wolfman, the author, I wrote:

I came away from reading your novelization of "Superman Returns" feeling somewhat damaged (praying the bad writing wouldn't infect me like a disease), and also a bit robbed. I spent more time finding mistakes of grammar and punctuation (without even purposely looking for them) than enjoying the story.

You wouldn’t know it, but I only discovered today that I’d misspelled a certain word when I typed the original message the above excerpt is from. I’ve changed it for this entry, but Damn it, I should have caught that! If I look over the whole message some more, there might be further embarrasing typos.

To Warner Books, the publisher, I wrote:

I could point out several disturbing examples in the book itself, or I could just urge whoever gets this to read the book and see for himself or herself why I am concerned (in the hopes that, God willing, they would be able to see what I'm talking about).

Now, back to “other then” for a moment…

Shall we blame the education system? Yes, we can. We can ascribe to the education system a significant portion of the blame.

However, as blame-worthy as the education system is for this situation, Bill Gates hasn’t helped either. After all, when typing in Microsoft Word, it is often the case that “other then” slips under the radar of the grammar checking capabilities of the program. I wonder…just how many people use Microsoft Word for typing?

How funny – and sad – would it be if the same commentators in the main stream media who mock President Bush whenever he flubs up his English are making similar mistakes while venting their spleens at him in their writing? I didn’t perform a search for “Maureen Dowd mistakes”, or any other mistakes within the commentaries of Bush-hater authors. But I’m sure they are there.

If such commentators are so worried about America’s future, they might start worrying more about the future of America’s dominant language. It is easy to quote one of then-Governor Bush’s most famous Bushisms, made on January 11, 2000 in Florence, South Carolina and lament Dubya’s grammar. We can read "Rarely is the question asked: Is our children learning?" and say the president is a dunce.

Or, only laughing a little bit, we can consider the question seriously in our own time…

Is our children learning?

No, apparently, they aren’t, Mr. President. At least not proper English.

“I tell people, let's don't fear the future, let's shape it.”President Bush, Omaha, Nebraska; June 7, 2006

Respect, Mr. President. Respect.

No comments: