Candidates Need to Clean Up Their Language
March 9, 2008 · Call it fuddy-duddy, but indulge me in a few pet peeves about language usage by politicians, and yes, the media. This with a bow to my friend Bill Safire, the reigning usage maven.
First, the Obama and Clinton camps recently squabbled over an ad showing a hypothetical 3 a.m. phone call to the White House asking: "Who do you want answering the phone?" Whatever the crisis, I would like them to say, "Whom do you want answering the phone?" Grammar 101. Ernest Hemingway didn't write For Who the Bell Tolls.
Then the word "nation." The media report that President Bush has landed in the nation of Liberia. No, he has landed not in a nation, which is a social concept, but in a country, which is a geographical concept. The nation may also have organized itself into a state. But you land in a country, not a nation.
Then a phrase which is on its way to becoming a cliche: "up for grabs." In its original meaning, "up for grabs" was meant to denote some disorganized situation in which there was no way to tell who might end up with a majority of votes or supporters.
But "up for grabs" has evolved into a catch-all phrase for "in contention." It is customary now to hear that "so many convention delegates are up for grabs in the primary contest." They are not up for grabs. It is known who the contenders are. There may be so many delegates at stake, but they are not up for grabs.
Finally, the commonly used "protest of" some action — wrong. To protest is to proclaim or announce, as methinks thou dost protest too much. What you mean is to protest against.
I'm not sure how many people care about language usage in the political arena. But I would like to see a little elegance in the words of politicians and the media.
Monday, March 10, 2008
NPR on Candidates' Grammar
Daniel Schorr had this to say on NPR this weekend: