Sunday, June 3, 2018


Recently, many newspapers all over the world reported the story of a retired school teacher who purportedly corrected Trump's language in his letter to her.  You may read the full story in USA Today which gives more details about this retired teacher that other newspapers have chosen not to reveal. First, the 'corrections' of the retired teacher Yvonne Mason appear more like the ravings of a hysterical woman.  What's amusing to me is Mason has not shown a single language error that Trump has made. We will examine what Mason says are errors made by Trump. We will then take a look at those who defend Mason and of course there are legions of them - anyone that takes a swipe at Trump is always supported by a massive cheer-leading team and the story is always blown up out of all proportion; CNN even gave Mason two interviews at prime time.

Mason's only objection to Trump's letter is the capitalization of words such as 'Nation', 'State' and 'Federal'. That's all there is to her objection. The New York Times is at least fair in defending Trump's capitalization. This is what it says in its report:

That takes care of Mason's ravings and you can decide for yourselves why CNN bothered to give her prime-time broadcast and why so many newspapers published her flawed 'corrections' as if Trump really made 'grammatical' errors, as many newspapers claim.  USA Today also tells us a little bit more about Mason. Apparently she has been sending a postcard a day, every day for a whole year to Trump. That Trump took the trouble to reply to such a woman only redounds to his credit. I cannot think of another world leader who would read the letters of such a woman, far less reply to one of them. 

I am done with Mason. Her 'corrections' are all wrong and there's nothing further I can say about the matter and I would not have written this blog post if it weren't for other ignoramuses who took on the role of grammar nazis and insisted that Trump's language in the letter was incorrect.

UK's Independent newspaper also published the story and in the comments section, it is heartening to see many posts made by honest people who are linguistically sound and who do not see any problem with Trump's language. But of course you are sure to find Mason-like creatures everywhere you go and it is the comments of one of them that I want to refer my readers to.

Someone who calls herself Mia Schu took exception to two sentences that Trump wrote. The first is easily dismissed because Mia Schu's error is so glaring that even if I don't refer my readers to an authority as trusted as a reliable dictionary, they will doubtless conclude that she is ignorant of the basic rules of English usage and that she is unfamiliar with even common English words. This is the first sentence she objects to in Trump's letter:
Further, I signed into law legislation that will strengthen background checks...
She declares that 'a sentence cannot open with the word "further"; "furthermore" should have been used instead.'

Although Mia Schu claims to be 'an expert in correct English usage', she obviously knows nothing about English usage. Nobody who has the least knowledge of English usage can possibly object to the use of 'further' as a sentence adverb. Here is how the Oxford Dictionary Online defines the word 'FURTHER' used in this sense and the example that follows the definition clearly shows it can be employed to start a sentence:

I will add one final word before I turn to the other mistake made by Mia Schu. I have no doubt that like most grammar ignoramuses, Mia Schu is not familiar with the works of well-known writers. Examples of the use of 'further' as a sentence adverb can be seen in the works of highly acclaimed writers. I will just quote an example from Kingsley Amis:
Further, shameful as it might be to admit it, the idea of the play had started to interest him rather.

The other sentence in Trump's letter that Mia Schu finds exceptionable is:
... I hosted students, teachers, educators, and families at the White House for listening sessions... 
She says that you can host an event but you can't host people. She is totally wrong. 

'Host' when used as a verb has received much condemnation in many style books including the AP Stylebook and the Telegraph Style Book.  But the objection is against the use of 'host' as a verb, which means, 'I hosted an event' is just as condemned as 'I hosted students at the White House'.

There are two objections to the use of 'host' as a verb. The first is the erroneous belief that it's a modern back-formation from the noun.  But 'host' has been used as a verb since the 16th century and this objection is clearly unfounded.

The second objection works against Mia Schu rather than Trump. The core meaning of the word 'host' used as a verb is to 'receive (a person or persons) into one's house and to entertain them as guests. This is precisely how Trump uses the verb 'host' and it is a use that has the backing of antiquity and escapes the censure of even the most exacting linguist. It is from this core meaning of 'host', that two modern meanings arose in the second half of the 20th century:

1. To introduce a TV programme, etc; and  
2. To organise an event to which others are invited and make arrangements for them.

Mia Schu insists that 'host' can only be used in this second extended new meaning but she does not know that it is this modern meaning of the verb 'host' that really attracts the disapprobation of the more demanding grammarian. Because Trump's use of the verb preserves the core meaning of the word, it is free from all censure. Language ignoramuses like Mia Schu of course cannot be expected to know what correct usage really is and it is not uncommon for them to replace perfectly good sentences with their own dubious ones, which is precisely what Mia Schu is doing here. There are always grammarians who will view modern extended meanings of words with suspicion even though both these extended meanings are now accepted in most dictionaries. But no linguist will condemn the core meaning of a word and insist that the word can only be used in its modern extended sense. This is what Mia Schu is doing in her ignorance of how the word has developed.

Yvonne Mason and those who support her are totally wrong in saying that Trump's letter contains language errors.  Nobody has shown a single error in the letter.

Before anyone raises an objection to someone else's use of the language, the decent thing to do is to be sure that her objection is valid in the first place. But an ignoramus who puts on the grammar nazi's mantle is usually so linguistically deficient that she is never sure if her objection is valid. She probably can't understand a book on grammar and usage even if she attempts to read it. 

This is no different from what the disgraceful Speak Good English Movement is doing in Singapore. Ignoramuses who pontificate on correct grammar and usage but who lack any knowledge of the rudiments of the English language are really doing a great disservice to students who want to learn standard English. 

For a one-page summary of all my articles on language and particularly ignorant grammar nazis, please click here.

No comments:

Post a Comment