Remember back in the day when there were only six stations on TV? (One of which was PBS so it didn't count once Sesame Street was over.) God forbid the President came on. Then your whole night was screwed. Nothing worse than Happy Days getting preempted. Anyway, back in the day, when there was only one TV in the house and (gasp!) no remote control, we were forced to watch Walter Cronkite every night at 6:30. (Unless you lived in the Central Time Zone. Then God only knows what time Uncle Walt came on.) (And remember Sunday night, watching Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom, followed by The Wonderful World of Disney?) As kids, we were exposed regularly to intellectual dialogue, like "My assistant, Jim, will now attempt to circumcise a wildebeest while hanging upside down from the helicopter." (Thank you, Dad, for blasting NPRs All Things Considered in every room of the house. I hated it then. I really appreciate it now.)
And books. We actually read books. For FUN. With actual, correct PUNCTUATION edited by somebody who knew what they were doing. And we took English classes that actually taught GRAMMAR, instead of teaching us how to journal our feelings. (And since when is journal a verb?) This was back in the prehistoric, pre-spell checker days, when people still thought learning to spell was important. (If one more person says to me "it doesn't matter if they make mistakes as long as they express their emotions", I'm gonna poke them in the eye with a red pen.)
Today, it seems that most students' literary exposure is limited to random letters on a little screen, like "omg im rotflmao!!!!!!! wtf?". And their exposure to language on television is limited to what I so lovingly refer to as the newest English dialect, Reality Show Moron. (I actually heard a guy on the local NPR news today use the term condominiumize. At least he didn't abbreviate that to condomize.)
I got a big ol' knot on my forehead the other day when I read the following (almost verbatim) question from an ENGLISH TEACHER. "How do you teach students to use reflexive pronouns properly without all that subject/object stuff?" Well, first I would start with the following example sentence.
-- With the education you are being provided, you will never be able to support yourself.
(Yourself is the reflexive pronoun, by the way.)
Bottom line: The people who are supposed to provide models of proper, literate language are no longer being held to any sort of standard. God forbid we should expect eloquence anymore.
This all leads us back to today's topic. Things That Make Me Go AAARRRGGGHHH!!! (Vol. I)
If I didn't make that mistake on yesterday's test...
Traditionally, this is known as the subjunctive tense. (Or is it a voice?) In ESL, it is referred to as a conditional. No matter which way you slice it, the above statement is wrong.
It is true that the test was yesterday, so if you made a declarative statement, it would be "I made a stupid mistake on yesterday's test." (Probably related to the subjunctive is my guess.) However, when you switch to a conditional by adding if, it now becomes an unreal condition, of which there are two: present and past.
An unreal present condition can also be called a hypothetical. These are the what if's, as in:
-- What would happen if teachers were actually paid what they deserved? (Then the best and brightest would become teachers and once again, we would have the best education system in the world.)
-- Any girl appearing on MTV's My Super Sweet 16 probably couldn't spell CAT if you spotted them the C and the A.
In the first case, you just know that ain't never going to happen. In the second case, this is my hypothesis, which would be so much fun to test. (I smell a research grant.) In either case, there is no reality, especially on the MTV show. The verbs in both sentences are written in the past tense, with will becoming would.
Since the simple past tense is already used in the real present condition, you have to dive deeper into the past tense pool for unreal past conditions. For example:
-- If I had answered one more question on the SATs correctly, I would have gotten into Harvard. (Because we all know that one flawed test is much more important than the previous twelve years of hard work.)
-- Where would I have ended up if I hadn't made that left turn in Albuquerque. (Please pronounce that last word in your head as al-ba-koi-key. It's my homage to Bugs Bunny.)
Before I belabor this point too much (TOO LATE), please for the love of all that's holey (like the moon and the Detroit Lions defense), please use had done when you are grumbling about the past. It's what Jesus would have done. (Assuming Aramaic had an unreal past conditional.)
"His First Homerun of His Career"
For me, this one ranks below fingernails on a blackboard and Courtney Love's singing in the Please God Make It Stop category. It's a little thing, but it's not.
This is redundant repetition. Never, ever repeat a pronoun (or different form of the same pronoun) in a chunk of words that go together, especially of or adjective clauses with that. These would include:
-- their first year of their marriage
-- her car that she bought
-- his students in his fifth period English class
-- my worst day of my life
In all of these cases, the first word of the entire phrase should be the.
-- the history book in my locker
(The one that still has that "new book" smell six weeks into the second semester.)
-- the worst job I have ever had
(That ridiculous eikaiwa in Ginza, if you must know. Pushing a lawn mower forty hours a week in a Pennsylvania summer was better.)
-- the stupidest thing I have ever said
("I just want to be friends" to the girl who came back from summer vacation three months later an uber-hottie.)
-- the students in my fifth period English class
(The ones who sparked the need for that intervention a few years back.)
A little love and a little respect for this most expressive and creative of languages is all I'm asking. Unfortunately, most of the dogs in the Humane Society were treated better BEFORE they were rescued. (And I hope there is a special level of hell for those dog owners. They should spend eternity being treated the same way they treated their dogs.)