Sunday, August 8, 2010

Prepositional Misdemeanor

The English language is a peculiar creature. I say creature, because it is most definitely alive and evolving. For well over a thousand years, it has demonstrated its resilience and ability to adapt to the needs of its users. Formed largely through a union of German and French dialects, it has also absorbed elements of Scot, Spanish, Italian, Frisian, and of course, classical Greek and Latin.

People who learn English as their second language often complain of its irregularity, particularly in its verb forms. Having studied French, Spanish and Latin, I definitely agree—compared to most languages, ours is incredibly unstructured. Considering how few standards there are, I wouldn’t expect them to be so difficult to follow. I am referring specifically to the prepositional phrase.

Prepositions are essential elements of language since they provide a relationship of action between verbs and nouns. An easy way to identify a preposition is to insert it into the phrase “the cow jumped ____ the moon.” Over, under, by, through, towards, and at are all prime examples of English participles. Unfortunately, these important terms are often casually disregarded and tossed anywhere in a sentence.

Proper placement of a preposition is where it provides the most impact, i.e. immediately in between the verb and its object. Prepositions should never be left hanging at the end of a phrase as a mere afterthought. Forgetting to attach the rest of the thought to a preposition is also inexcusable. The disintegration of everyday language is yet another example of modern indolence.

Perosnally, I blame a large portion of our linguistic deterioration on social networking. Facebook statuses and Tweets routinely make me cringe in horror. One would assume that official legal documents would be safe, but even permanent records have fallen victim to grammatical slaughter. Apparently, over 20 years of education is still insufficient for some people grasp that English is flexible only to a certain point.

While reading some legal correspondence yesterday, I discovered a single, little “to” left all by itself at the end of a sentence. To whit, not only was it at the end of a sentence, but it was how this particular lawyer chose to finish an entire paragraph! Even allowing for the severe content of the paragraph, it was impossible to take anything he said seriously. I couldn’t help but laugh at all his bluster.

The strength of a concept lies largely in its communication. You can have a plan to end world hunger, but nobody’s going to care if your presentation is criminally sloppy. So please, take your own thoughts seriously enough to put some effort into properly conveying them. It’s difficult to respect your dangling participles and I might not always be able to resist splitting your infinitive… if you know what I mean.

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