Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Changing English usages

English usage is changing. Some of it is because of ignorance of grammar and some convenience.  Many usages that were severely frowned upon before are perfectly acceptable today.  It is perfectly all right to say reference (noun) when you actually mean refer (verb). Similarly, or equally quizzically, in corporate parlance, value add has replaced value addition.

However, the wrong usages I see most often, made even by people with reasonably good English, are those related to apostrophe and capitalization. In fact, they have become so common (found in office mails, hoardings, banners etc) that I fear the correct usages will be soon forgotten and lost to posterity.

Many now use the apostrophe as a means to pluralize a word.  So the plural form of ball becomes ball’s. This owes itself to  the practice of pluralizing abbreviations by using an apostrophe, to set the ‘s’ apart from the rest of the letters, like URL’s as opposed to URLs; which is all right because one of the legitimate roles of apostrophe is to be used to pluralize a word not established in English orthography. But ball’s as a plural form is certainly inexcusable.

Another grammatical error which has become very commonplace is wrong capitalization. People seem to spare very little thought for what’s a name (a perfect noun) and what’s not. Important words in a sentence are capitalized. A generic noun following a perfect noun is capitalized – The Bluestar Hotel instead of The Bluestar hotel. If the name of the hotel is Bluestar Hotel then it’s all right to capitalize the first letter of hotel, but not when the name of the hotel is only Bluestar and ‘hotel’ is just a modifier.

Honestly, these usages, however widely available, have not made their way into print or television media. Alas, ‘corporate’ the adjective form of ‘corporation’ has. When you use corporate it should be followed by a word for which it would act as an adjective – corporate style, corporate India etc. When used without the following qualifier it should be corporation. 

I find this mistake in The Times of India regularly; maybe it’s the style they consciously follow now, but The Hindu (and its other publications) still uses corporation where corporation should be used and otherwise. Similarly, the semi colon is another chip off the old block which is on its way out; it has been replaced by the comma. 

The list is very long and getting longer all the time.

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