Sgt. Chris McCann
2nd BCT, 10th Mtn. Div. (LI) PAO
CAMP STRIKER, Iraq — I’m a grammar snob. I admit it. I take pride in it. So I’ll admit I’m prejudiced and harsh on the subject – but it drives me crazy when people butcher English when it is allegedly their first language.
The one that gets me all the time is people, when discussing something at which they’re good, refer to it as a “forté.” Pronounced “four-tay.” This is Italian, and it means “loud.” That’s why in music, the notations of which are written in Italian, a section of a song played loudly says “forté” between the lines. “Forte,” with no accent, is French and pronounced just like for, means strength. But I am assaulted at least once a week by someone who tells me that, say, map-reading is not their loud. Call me petty.
“Cache” is another one; I realize that in the alphabet-soup world of the military, where Soldiers can be sent to a combat support hospital which is called a “cash,” perhaps I shouldn’t argue, because the meaning is clear; you generally don’t find a combat support hospital filled with mortar rounds or what-have-you. But to call a hidden stock of weapons a “cash-ay” is simply brutal. Cachet – sticking a silent ‘T’ onto words is the French way of winning at Scrabble – makes it have an “-ay” at the end. But cachet means prestige, a certain je ne sais quoi, if you will. In a much older form, it can be a tiny folded embossed letter from a nobleman. Unless you have discovered one of these buried in a field near Mahmudiyah, what you found was a cache, with no –ay at the end.
Espresso. It’s also from Italian, and refers to the coffee being squeezed – pressed, even. But maybe because of the caffeine making people go faster, it’s “express-o” as though they fed it to mail-delivery ponies.
The splat-mark on a keyboard is not the singular form of the Gaulish warrior in French comic books; the spelling of the full word that becomes “etc.” does not contain X.
I don’t fault people for not knowing French or Italian; English is the language that lurks in dark alleys, beats up passing languages and steals the vocabulary it finds in their pockets. It is the bastard love-child of German and Latin and steals any words it can get its grubby hands on.
But it certainly doesn’t hurt to know a couple of extra languages.
Then there’s just your standard Army-speak; the military changes words the way small underdeveloped countries change leaders – often and nonsensically.
When I got to Fort Bragg, I had a hard time learning the layout of the post – it’s huge. They sent me to a class to “get orientated.” I know Japanese and I can eat pudding with chopsticks – I’m very well Orientated, thank you. But I can’t find my way around until I get oriented. Literally – and stupidly – it means to be pointed east, but at least that way I’d be able to find Bragg Boulevard.
And of course when landing in Kuwait, the big issue was getting the Soldiers “acclimatized” to the heat. This one has been around long enough to start squeaking into “proper” usage although “acclimated” is older and more sensible. But the military seems to adore longer words as though it makes people sound smarter.
“Canalize” usurped the rightful spot of “channel.” Both mean to direct something in a specific path, but why use a two-syllable word when there’s a three-syllable word waiting to be made up? Better yet, why use perfectly good and useful word when you can drag an inappropriate one, kicking and screaming, into the sentence?
I can’t describe how often I’ve heard someone say “I don’t have visibility on that.” Of course you don’t. It’s an abstract. Visibility is how far you can see; pilots have it, people driving vehicles have it, especially when there are things like snow that reduce visibility. But you can’t have (or put) visibility ON anything. You might have knowledge of it, have heard of it, or know about it, but that is all.
And so, to quote my hero, James Thurber, “a living language is an expanding language, to be sure, but care should be taken itself that the language does not crack like a dry stick in the process, leaving us all miserably muddled in a monstrous miasma of mindless and meaningless mumbling.”
Destruction of grammar is just something up with which I will not put.
Friday, August 24, 2007
Sgt. Chris McCann