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Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Trilingual USA

I grew up in a bilingual country, Canada, but I attended college in the United States and moved to the U.S. on a permanent basis in 1960. Five years later I became an American citizen. I don’t remember when I dropped “eh” from my vocabulary. Now, I think I am living in a trilingual country in which our languages are English, Spanish, and slaughtered English.

Case in point: the editorial page of yesterday’s local newspaper features a column about the presidential race. The title in large boldfaced type announced, “Whomever wins the Oval Office faces daunting budget tasks.” This title employed neither English nor Spanish; it used slaughtered English.

It isn’t always easy to figure out our relatives, is it? “Who,” “whom,” “whoever,” and “whomever” are relative pronouns that trouble many speakers and writers; but try to remember “who” and “whoever” are subjects, whereas “whom” and “whomever” are objects. Is it asking too much of journalists to get it right?

“Where is it at?” is another example of slaughtered English. So is, “He was laying at the side of the road.” We don’t have to use “at” with “where,” and we should not use “lay” unless an object follows it. It’s is right to say, “After laying my book on the computer desk, I decided to lie down on the sofa.”

Preachers, too, may be guilty of using slaughtered language. It isn’t kosher to say, “This verse applies to you and I.” Nor is it appropriate to say, “Please move closer to the front of the church and fill the empty space between you and I.”

The English language has rules. Let’s try to follow them, eh?

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