A slip of the tongue

Greg Adams, now the former Little Rock School Board president listens during a hearing on the district's takeover by the state. Image by Danny Johnston, AP.

Greg Adams, now the former Little Rock School Board president, listens during a hearing on the possibility of the district’s takeover by the state.
Image by Danny Johnston, AP.

The thing that seemed to most upset a lot of people about the state taking over the Little Rock School District wasn’t that a state agency was sticking its nose into local business. Oh, no.

It was Arkansas Education Commissioner Tony Wood’s unfortunate choice of pronouns, as reported in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette story the next day:

“‘School will be held in the morning,’ Wood said just after the state Education Board’s vote.

Image by Danny Johnston, AP.

Image by Danny Johnston, AP.

‘Buses will run, lunch will be served and children will learn. Fundamentally this is a change in the governance, in the administration, of the district. The superintendent is still in place. This forges an opportunity for he and I to work together to try to make things better. School will go on successfully.’”

For those playing at home, he should have used the object form of those pronouns—him and me, rather than he and I. Because of that slip, there’s seemingly been no end to the offense shown by those who profess great love for grammar, as these recent letters show.

Pronoun problems?

I take it on faith that the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette correctly quoted Education Commissioner Tony Wood. The quote is, “This forges an opportunity for he and I to work together …”. If people would learn and use the English language correctly, especially those involved in education and journalism, he would have said, “This forges an opportunity for him and me to work together.”

Am I supposed to have good feelings for the future of our children and our country when I see our English language bastardized every hour of every day like I do?

JOHN JONES

Little Rock

Emphasize grammar

Tony Wood, who leads the state takeover of the Little Rock School District, is quoted as saying, “This forges an opportunity for he and I to work together to try to make things better.”

One hopes that part of making things better will be an emphasis on grammar. “He” and “I” are the objects of a preposition and should be in the objective case.

Mr. Wood’s grammatical shortcomings will not necessarily disqualify him for leading the Little Rock School District, which, as I too well remember, never much valued those who attempted to teach English.

MATILDA WYNNE BUCHANAN

Little Rock

On misused pronouns

Once again I am appalled at the failure of supposedly educated educators’ misuse of the English language, and yet they are in charge of the education of our children at the highest level in the state.

Commissioner Tony Wood, and I quote, says: “This forges an opportunity for he and I to work together to try to make things better.”

Well, good luck! Did he not learn his pronouns in eighth grade?

BRENDA BALL TIRRELL

Hot Springs Village

MjAxMi0xMmYwYjE0MjQzNmMzMTI4

A case of if only …

I would feel a whole lot better about the state’s takeover of the Little Rock School District if Education Commissioner Tony Wood—presumably the top education official in the state—had a rudimentary knowledge of English grammar. The proper phrase is “for him and me,” not “for he and I.”

BETTINA E. BROWNSTEIN

Little Rock

Education expertise

State Education Commissioner Tony Wood is now the boss of Little Rock School District Superintendent Dexter Suggs. Poor Dr. Suggs! He has to take orders from someone who doesn’t know when the object of a preposition is needed. Woods said of Suggs, “This forges an opportunity for he and I to work together.”

Mr. Woods, if you don’t see the error of your ways yet, that should be “for him and me.” One hopes your educational expertise exceeds your grammar.

MICHAEL J. MORAN

Little Rock

Grammatical morass

You quote state Education Commissioner Tony Wood as saying, “This forges an opportunity for he and I to work together …”. Does the commissioner not know the difference between a nominative pronoun and an objective pronoun? I would expect someone in his position to use correct grammar when addressing a group just after taking over control of their school district.

If, in fact, he doesn’t know the difference, can there be any hope that our students will ever know?

THOMAS WILSON

Bryant

4f43f05e840cbI, on the other hand, will cut Mr. Wood some slack. I know, I know, how dare I?!?

In high school and college, I did a lot of public speaking, and quite a bit of broadcast reporting. When I had a script, I had no problem. Speaking extemporaneously, however, I could be more than a little awkward, as my mouth worked faster than my brain did at times. Sure, it was sometimes very entertaining for the audience, but for me it was just painful, and oftentimes I would hear myself saying something that might make the English teacher in the family smack me (OK, no, she’s too sweet to do that).

Pretty much me doing the weather. GIF found on Umbrelr.

Pretty much me doing the weather.
GIF found on Umbrelr.

When I did my semester of on-air work for ASU-TV, most of the time I served as anchor or producer of the newscast. For two weeks, though, I did the weather, which was largely unscripted. My landlords at the time would always comment positively on my on-air performance any time I saw them, but when I had to do the weather, the first thing Fran said to me was, “You don’t like doing the weather, do you?”

Nope, Fran, I hated it because coming up with ad-libbed weather talk was physically painful for me. Strangely, I’ve never had the same problem when improv acting, perhaps because I’m portraying a character instead of being myself. (Who would have thought that would be so hard?)

This is ... awkward ... GIF found on Umbrelr.

This is … awkward …
GIF found on Umbrelr.

I communicate much better in writing, especially when asked to speak off the top of my head, so I understand and can excuse Mr. Wood’s grammatical slip … as long as he doesn’t make a habit of it.

Such errors are inevitable in our everyday speech. In 2012, Psychology Today reported that we make one or two errors per every 1,000 words spoken, which in a day might amount to somewhere between seven and 22 slips.

It very easily could have been a simple mistake ... or it might have been intentional. Who knows? Not the viewer. Image found on Psychology Today Sold on Language blog.

It very easily could have been a simple mistake … or it might have been intentional. Who knows? Not the viewer.
Image found on Psychology Today Sold on Language blog.

Sometimes, they’re simple grammar errors such as that made by Mr. Wood. Other times, they might be embarrassing/entertaining gaffes known since the 1950s as Freudian slips. Sigmund Freud early in the 20th Century posited that such mistakes reveal what is in the subconscious. Sooo … when Ted Kennedy said “breast” rather than “best” in that televised speech on education …

Another such mistake is the spoonerism, which is the transposition of initial sounds of words or syllables. The brain slip named after William Archibald Spooner often results in such phrases as, “It is now kisstomary to cuss the bride.” Poor bride. And poor Spooner, to whom many phrases have been attributed that he never said. He can join the club with Thomas Jefferson and Mark Twain.

Image found on kaystrom.com.

Image found on kaystrom.com.

A malapropism is yet another slip. Named after Mrs. Malaprop in Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s The Rivals, it’s the misuse of a word by confusing it with a similar-sounding word. Former Boston Mayor Thomas Menino, for example, once was said to have called the lack of parking spaces in the city “an Alcatraz around my neck.” Menino, who died in October, was notorious for such slips, earning the nickname “Mumbles.”

A less-well-known but no less potentially funny error is the eggcorn, in which an original word is replaced with a similar-sounding word that still makes a kind of sense, such as “ex-patriot” for “expatriate.”

Fuzzy+5-14-10

And then there’s the mondegreen, which is a word or phrase resulting from having misheard something. The term originated with author Sylvia Wright, who as a child misheard part of the lyric “thou hae slay the Earl of Murray and laid him on the green,” from “The Bonny Earl of Murray,” as “Lady Mondegreen.” Lovers of misheard song lyrics (of which I am one) have doubtless heard of “’scuse me while I kiss this guy,” “the girl with colitis goes by,” or “someone shaved my wife tonight.” If you haven’t, you really need to. And good luck ever hearing those lyrics correctly again.

Image found on 1031jackfm.

Image found on 1031jackfm.


According to linguists, as noted by Britt Peterson of the Boston Globe in late 2013 as the stumble-prone Menino was preparing to step down, verbal errors don’t necessarily mean the speaker is an idiot:

Maybe it was all an act ... maybe ... Image found on KickAssFacts.

Maybe it was all an act … maybe …
Image found on KickAssFacts.

“‘People view language as a window onto the soul or the mind,’ Ariel Goldberg, a psychologist at Tufts University who studies speech errors, told me. ‘But this stuff [i.e., verbal stumbles] doesn’t correlate with intelligence.’ What makes politicians notable stumblers (think George W. Bush, Sarah Palin, Joe Biden) is not brains or education, or even the relative number of stumbles they make. It has more to do with how stumbles feed a political persona—authentic and folksy, foot-in-mouth idiot, or some combination.”

All this to say: Tony Wood is likely not the dummy some are painting him to be. He is, though, undoubtedly human, and as such, is entitled to the occasional misspeak.

Yes, you can still make light of those errors. I won’t spoil all your fun. Word nerds need something to amuse them.

englishabuse

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3 thoughts on “A slip of the tongue

  1. I’d have pardoned the superintendent for the same reason you did. Yes, I winced when I read it; it looks awful in print. But since he was speaking, not writing, I forgive him. Reluctantly.

    Like

    • That was my thinking. If he’d been reading from prepared remarks, nah, but it was off-the-cuff and excusable … as long as he doesn’t do it repeatedly.

      At least one Grammar Nazi, though, was highly offended that I would cut him any slack whatsoever. Oh well …

      Like

  2. Pingback: Misquote mischief? | Serenity is a fuzzy belly

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