I’ve recently noticed a disturbing trend that seems to be affecting people from all walks of life. From politicians to newscasters there’s many people making this annoying and slightly baffling grammatical mistake.
Did you catch it? Please tell me you did.
In the previous sentence, I used a singular contraction (there’s = there is) with a plural adjective (many). I should have used the plural contraction (there’re = there are) since I was referring to a group of people rather than an individual. Most ten year-olds could have told you this.
It is such an obviously incorrect usage of everyday English grammar that you think it would be lit up with glaring red lights in most people’s minds. But this particular form of sloppy language seems to be spreading like an out of control virus. At what point did mixing singular and plural tenses within the same sentence become the norm? Moreover, how? Just writing it felt wrong.
The other day I heard Hillary Clinton do it while speaking about the many primaries still to come in the presidential contest. That gave birth to sticky little thought in the back of my mind – Senator Clinton says she is ready to answer the hot line at 3:00 a.m., but apparently she’s not ready to string together a coherent sentence once on the phone.
And just yesterday I heard her current nemesis, Barack Obama, make virtually the same grammatical lapse. I’m bipartisan here; had it been John McCain, I would have had the same irritated reaction. Of all the people I expect to speak in reasonably assembled sentences, those who would run the world top my list. Yes, I know what you just said to yourself; I am speaking here of the next president.
This is in no way confined to politicians, however. With increasing frequency, it seems that all sorts of otherwise well educated people were never taught how to construct a simple sentence. What gives?
In so many day to day situations, the way in which you interact with those around you holds the same social weight as that nice Oxford suit you’ve got on. Yet it seems that these days it’s getting easier and easier to just not use your brain; to avoid thinking creatively and instead treat the usage of language like a task instead of an art form.
Without wanting to sound too much like my parents, I think people are getting lazy about how they communicate. I guess “there’s” is easier to spit out than “there’re”.
Think about it. We have amazing tools like automated spelling and grammar checks that correct mistakes without even needing our conscious involvement. Many of us regularly instant message and text our friends – barely writing out a real sentence all day. While the ability to do all this makes life easier, it also dulls us to the finer points of language. Shortcuts become the rule rather than the exception and many are unable to state their own cases with eloquence let alone basic functionality.
As you might guess, I still like to write stuff down. Part of the attraction is using a favored pen and the heavy monogrammed stationary given to me by my wife. The other part is being able to actually craft what I’m trying to say – to work it though in real time and arrive at a message that encompasses everything I want to get across. Of course I can do this on a computer as well (as I am now doing), but the act of physically working out one’s language by hand is different. It changes the way you speak; it makes you more aware of how to best assemble your thoughts, or even just a sentence.
An excellent example of this philosophy in action is Clinton’s rival for the Democratic nomination, Senator Obama. Leaving aside partisan considerations, he is viewed as one of the best orators in politics today and rightly so. Obama has a rare gift; he can deliver wonderfully rich and inspiring speeches that never quite reach the level of hyperbole or pandering. His dialogue is thoughtful and his demeanor natural. His words come across as comfortably original and, this is important, genuine.
He is so good and drafting (he does much of his own writing) and delivering interesting and poignant speeches that some critics say all he can do is just deliver a good speech – words but no substance. I will leave any thoughts on this particular view to you, but let me point out that many of those now inspired to participate in this year’s election cite those very words as motivation.
My goal here is to illustrate the powers of detail and awareness when it comes to communicating. You might think that a presidential candidate is a slightly oversized hurdle against which to compare yourself. But by the same token, it never hurts to find a role model or other motivating factor that pushes you to be a better person, a better communicator or to better express your thoughts.
Being able to engage in repartee and debate are key indicators that you are not only comfortable in your own skin, but that you know your own mind as well. Sloppy grammar and disjointed communications are often the first steps down a road of failed opportunities to shine when the spotlight comes your way.