Killing The Language

I decided to start doing a “killing the language” series of posts.


Have you ever thought about how we kill the language everyday? Either through misuse of words, or using the incorrect word or just through bad phrasing and sloppy grammar. I will admit, I am guilty of all of the aforementioned crimes. Specially the sloppy grammar one, but I digress.

I don’t know what kind of frequency I will post these, but it’s something that I feel compelled to write about from time to time. I partake in the killing of the language as much as the next person. Like I said, I’m both an observer, and a participant.

Here’s an example:

The word “segue” meaning a smooth transition from one subject to another. Most people would not think twice about writing it “segway” which is the brand name for a personal motorized device.

Here’s another example:

I would love to know how you get a “three hand car wash.” Is it done by three people that are only using one hand each, or two people using a combination of hands or is it something else altogether?

Do any of y’all remember the three breasted lady from “Total Recall?” I would imagine that these “three hand car washes” could be done by a single martian mutant with three hands or something like that. I’d pay full price that kind of a car wash.


Rafael is an aviation geek, a consumer advocate, a dad, a multiple personality blogger, a photographer, politically opinionated, a videographer and many other things as well.

5 thoughts on “Killing The Language

  • April 15, 2012 at 8:52 pm

    Rafael sat down and brainstormed… “what series of posts could I write about that would virtually guarantee responses from Darren.” Well played, sir.

    Actually, the car wash example you gave is perfectly grammatically correct and properly punctuated to boot. You have an ordinal number (the number of washes), followed by two non-coordinate adjectives modifying the noun “washes.”

    Coordinate adjectives are those with equal importance; since they share equal importance, their order can be swapped at will. Coordinate adjectives must be separated by a comma. Thus, you can have a big, flimsy, important box; a flimsy, big, important box; an important, big, flimsy box; and so on.

    When some adjectives are more important than others, order becomes important (non-coordinate… not of the same order). Thus you can have a big cardboard box, but you can’t have a cardboard big box.

    In some cases multiple words form a single adjectival modifier and cannot be used on their own without breaking or changing the intended meaning. This is where you need a hyphen. You can have a five-year-old cat, but a five, year-old cat; a five-year, old cat; a five, year, old cat; and so on all have different or gibberish meanings.

    Unfortunately, there is a little bit of linguistic ambiguity that has arisen out of the series of non-coordinate adjectives in the example (you don’t usually see that many in a row). Our brain wants to throw hyphens in there. They aren’t “three-hand car washes” nor are they “three hand-car washes”. They are car washes. More specifically, they are hand car washes. Even more specifically, there are three hand car washes.

  • April 15, 2012 at 9:22 pm

    As a linguist, I’ll throw another observation at you. What you describe as “killing the language” is the EXACT OPPOSITE of killing a language.

    To kill a language, you remove its changing and growing and insure that it completely follows all prescribed rules to the letter all the time. Latin is an example that comes to mind. ALL living languages are constantly growing and changing in sound, grammer, vocabulary, and in their written form, too (if they have one). It is this constant state of flux and adaptation that makes a language ALIVE! Indeed, if you have living individuals speaking a language natively, IT WILL CHANGE! If it did not, then you wouldn’t be able to say that you are “Texting,” you wouldn’t be able to say that you have three “mouses” for one computer (and, yes, that is correct—so is mice, but that’s a whole other discussion), you wouldn’t be able to say you are “Surfing” the “net” or visiting a “website” (one word), and the list goes on and on and on.

    Having said that. It absolutely does frustrate me when people use this property of living language to try to justify blatant apathy, ignorance, and flat-out laziness when it comes to reading, writing, and speaking.

  • April 16, 2012 at 2:44 pm

    It just looked funny to me. Regardless of whether it’s accurate or not.

  • April 16, 2012 at 2:46 pm

    Yes, I know that language is a living thing that evolves over time. After all, we’re not all speaking Middle English, nodamene?

  • April 20, 2012 at 1:03 am

    Admittedly, I shamefully put “Segway” in a college paper. I’d like to think that I have progressed enough to write better, but I know that is not the case.

    The rules governing the English language are numerous and extensive. Too extensive for today’s world of Twitter and text messaging.

    I feel sorry for those who are English professors/teachers. The amount of papers they deal with containing, “wuz”, “iz”, “bcos/bcuz” and other text shorthand words has got to be mind-numbing.

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