I’m not a prescriptivist when it comes to language. That is, when a foreign-speaking missionary comes home from a mission correcting everyone’s grammar, people are correct (imo) to be turned off by it (this usually assumes, as prescriptivists have throughout time, that English should work like Latin, Greek, or some other language). This “correct” English itself would have been considered a bastardization not too terribly long ago. Split infinitives don’t bother me (though I try to really not use them), and I’m even okay with everyone bringing their books. You’ll hear me gleeflully postpositioning prepositions, at least when appropriate to the audience I’m speaking to, and I’ve certainly transitioned to verbing nouns.
But there are some things that I’d like to correct, for reasons other than to preserve grammar.*
Public enemy #1: “Processeez”: You’ll often hear professors, pundits, and politicians of varying stripes use the “eez” suffix to make a plural out of the word “process”. This has always struck me as silly. Why should this word have a special distinction when we don’t say “buseez” to indicate multiple pullmans?
I think it’s for the simple fact that it is an attempt to demonstrate an elite linguistic register. If you know how to make “thesis” plural, for example (thesises is also fine), and say “theses”, it ostensibly indicates a familiarity with Latinate endings and it sounds much more educated to say something in Latin, sine qua non? But the “correct” way to indicate more than one process was with a simple schwa plus “s”, just like any other noun ending in a sibilant. On the analogy, therefore, of “thesis-theses::process-x”, process-ease was born. The same goes for “bias” etc. So if you really want to sound intelligent, say processuz.
#2: Begging the question: One of the most common historically “incorrect” phrases that I come across on the blogs is when someone uses the phrase “to beg a question” etc. to mean “to raise a question”, or “to elicit a new avenue of inquiry”. Here’s what the OED says about the phrase:
It strikes me, then, that these, “original” uses of the phrase are more like the opposite of what they’re currently used to mean.
These two examples (and I could produce more) bother me for the same reasons that people correcting others’ grammar bothers me: it’s arrogant (ironic, I know, in a post telling people to speak differently). It’s an attempt to sound educated when the usage is based on “uneducated” foundations. Call me a hypocrite, but maybe that’s what pet peeves are, by nature.
What bothers you about current usage?
*I have the sense that I’m not the first to discuss this sort of thing in the ‘nacle, but I’m not sure where I’ve heard it discussed. Please link if you know of other discussions.