Teenager to friend: "Then this car ran into my bumper and I'm like, 'Hey dude, watch where you're going.' And he's all, 'Why were you stopped there anyway?' So I go, 'None of you're business!' And then he went, 'I'm calling the cops'." etc. etc. etc.----- That's what I'm talking about.
When our middle child, a girl, was in this stage of development and she slipped into the above mentioned manner of speech, I used to rag on her and her friends by saying something like, "Hey Kids, I'm about to SAY to the grocery store, even though I SAID there yesterday. Do any of you want to SAY with me?" It really irritated her, which, after all, was the whole point in the first place. It was almost as much fun as mocking her and her contemporaries for using the term "on accident" as being the opposite of doing something on purpose. In these cases, when she said, "I broke the glass, but it was ON ACCIDENT." I would (cleverly) rejoinder, "It wouldn't have dropped if you had been holding it properly BY PURPOSE."
Coincidentally, as I was taking a break from writing this blog, my daily update from "The Week" arrived in my computer inbox. This issue contained an article by Ben Yagoda on grammar errors that Ben says are "bogus" and we should continue to use them. Then, Mr. Yagoda goes on to list a whole group of words and expressions, that have been considered incorrect in the past but are, he says, acceptable nowadays. Among these is Ben's assertion that using "decimate" to mean killing or eliminating a large portion of something correct usage. NO IT ISN'T!!! Decimate means to kill one in ten. That is, eliminating 10% of the whole and it should be used that way. Similarly, Ben says it's now OK to say "I could care less" in lieu of "I couldn't care less" to indicate a total lack of interest. Again, NO IT ISN"T!!!! The two phrases are exact opposites. Just because ignorant people use a term incorrectly is no reason to lower the standards of acceptability to their level. Next, I suppose Ben will tell us that "irregardless" is a proper word just because lots of people use the term and, it is, therefore, OK. This is putting the monkeys in charge of the zoo!
Anyway, I took the occasion of Ben's article to vent to him about one of my grammatical pet peeves (by the way, I do not expect an answer). The construct with which I have a problem is not a "younger generation" language issue. Rather, it is, in my view, an egregious departure from proper English which is used virtually every day by educated people including the President, members of Congress, print and broadcast journalists and even professional educators. Let me explain. My "New Webster's Grammer Guide" dated 1987 (which is very much the same as the one I used in grammar school---where, oddly, they taught GRAMMAR) explains that when an indefinite pronoun like "everyone" is used in a sentence as the antecedent for another pronoun, and although "everyone" includes persons of both genders, the accepted practice is to use the masculine gender for the pronoun to which the indefinite pronoun refers. Thus, the sentence (#1)"Everyone received his tax form." is the correct usage. However, for the sake of appeasing feminists, or the National Organization of Women (NOW), or the ACLU or some other bunch of raving loons with not enough to do, and who are way too easy to offend, we are now forced to say, (#2)"Everyone received THEIR tax form." which is, according to the grammar guide rule noted above, incorrect. In addition, this sentence is incorrect from a non-gender based point of view as well. There are certain indefinite pronouns that are always singular. Among these are: everyone, everybody, and anybody. Now, according to Webster, "A pronoun that is used in place of one of these indefinite pronouns must also be singular." In the case under consideration, since the indefinite pronoun "everyone" is singular, and the pronoun "their" is plural, clearly sentence #2 (above) may be politically correct but it is certainly grammatically incorrect!
In the above discussion, I made some snide references to NOW and the ACLU, but it occurs to me that, to be fair, I should at least give a nod to the person who probably gave those organizations a goodly amount of grist for their busy little mills. This person is Kate Swift who died back in 2011, but whose influence is still being felt through the use of language contructions such as the one cited above. Ms. Swift was one of the early crusaders to get what she and her colleagues perceived to be rampant sexism out of our language. To that end, she authored what has been described as her "groundbreaking" article "De-sexing the English Language" for "Ms. Magazine"in 1972 and co-authored, with Casey Miller, a style guide called "The Handbook of Nonsexist Writing" published in 1981. I have been unable to obtain a copy of the article, but I have the handbook in front of me as I write this. Sure enough, there is a chapter entitled "The Pronoun Problem" which addresses the issue I discussed above, and which, at one point (page 47 and following) ACTUALLY ARGUES that "they" can be properly used as a singular! It's amazing to me how convoluted an argument is sometimes made by someone willing to go to any lengths to support HIS cause celebre. Additionally, there are, cited in the handbook, several language options for authors to use which avoid unnecessary gender exclusive references. These include such substitution words as "skillful" in lieu of "workman like" or "yeoman service", and I agree with their optional use buy authors but draw the line at "they", "them" or "their" being singular! By the way, in the handbook's discussion of using "they" as a singular, the authors, in order to bolster the legitimacy of their argument, cite famous people who have used that very construction and gotten away with it. One writer so cited is George Bernard Shaw. I was struck by the irony of citing Shaw (irony that was, apparently, lost on the authors) since the plots of both his most famous work, "Pygmalion", and the musical based on it, "My Fair Lady", revolve entirely around the proper use of the English language! Now, that's irony for you!!
But, the authors must be forgiven for not seeing it. After all, zealotry requires singlemindedness and taking one's self and one's cause very seriously.
This explains why zealots of any stripe make boring cocktail party guests.
PS---You may see more on this topic in the future.