Yesterday's column was critical of the United States Postal Service.
Today is newspaper day. It's our turn to be criticized.
George Landford of Harrisonburg, Pa. has sent me a front page from that City's Daily News-Record. The three-line headline on the top story was: Carter Ired/By Kennedy/Oil 'Baloney.'
George wants to know whether I accept this usage or am ired by it.
Neither. I just quietly disapprove.
"Ire" is a noun, not a verb. Nouns are somethings used as a verbs. When such a usage first appears, it sounds wrong and is rejected by most people. But if the usage persists, it begins to find acceptance. Eventually even authorities on usage accept the change.
I am reluctant to criticize headling writers because it is extremely difficult to give the essence of a news story accurately in a severely limited number of letters, and to do it on deadline. In this instance, however, the top line of the headline was the shortest of the lot. "Irked" would have been a better fit and would have been avoided the need to use a noun as verb.
The tendency of experts to accept bad usage of long standing is brought out in a point raised by A.E. McKinney, who sent me two Washington Post clippings in which the words "try and" were circled: "Shavelson refuses to try and answer." And this by Rebecca West, no less, "He is apt to try and give himself confidence."
Context and logic both indicate that "try to" would have been better in each instance, but logic has little to do with the way languages grow and change. After Roy H. Copperud research "try and" for his useful book, "American Usage. The Consensus," he filed this report:
"As severe a critic as Fowler in the original described 'try and' (displacing 'try to') as an idiom that should not be disapproved when it comes naturally; he regarded it as meeting the standard of literary dignity. Bryant find the phrase to informal standard English; it is considered standard by Copperud, Evans and Follett. Bernstein grudgingly allows that it has its uses in certain contexts, but remains suspicious of it on the whole. American Heritage rejects it."
So do I, not that it matters much. "Try and" strikes my ear as something that is said because it is easier to pronounce than the two consecutive T sounds in "try on," but when it is reduced to writing it jars me. I have known people who said "I should uh" (instead of "I should have") so frequently that they began writing it as "I should a." No doubt "should uh" will also be accepted some day.
In a recent story about the Maryland crackdown on speeders, The Post said that if all else fails the troopers will create a rolling roadblock "by driving two or more police cars in tandem at the head of traffic at 55 miles in hour."
Ellen Aaron of Arlinton asked whether we meant in tandem or side by side. We meant side by side.
"Tandem" means one behind the other; in single file. True, the word can also be used to described a mutual relationship between two people who "work in tandem," but the single file connotation is much stronger, and the word was therefore not appropriate in this context.
The power of Madison Avenue's deliberately illiterate advertising jargon was demonstrated in a recent news story in which a man was identified as having invented a substance that is "ten times cheaper" than the substance it replaced.
Sylvia Wubnig of Silver Spring blew the whistle on that one. She called it an "asinine construction," and I must agree with her.
I can understand what is meant by a statement that one substance costs one-tenth as much as another, or costs 90 percent less. "Ten times cheaper" defies understanding, but perhaps that is why such statements are so often used in commericals. The music creates an impression, even if the words don't stand the test of logic.
Do we have space for one more? John B. Burkel of Falls Church wants to know whether "chaise lounge" is now accepted as the American version of chaise longue." The best response I can make is, "Accpeted by whom?" Most American, and almost all advertising copywriters, use "lounge," but the experts are divided. Chaise longue is French for "long chair." Some experts are willing to settle for the Americanized version, some are not. Inasmuch as words have been changing for thousands of years as they have moved from one languages to anothers, I suspect that "lounge" is here to stay.