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Sign Language?

Monday, Nov. 21, 2005 9:44 PM

Pedestrians please use the signalized crosswalk ...
This sign is posted at the crosswalk at the ferry terminal in our city. The word signalize means to make noteworthy or to point out. However, it is now being used to denote a crosswalk or intersection which has a traffic light installed. Whatever happened to, "Please Cross At Signal Only," or, "Pedestrians Use Crosswalk"?

Bad grammar seems to be the new standard, followed close behind by bad spelling.

Chief among this writer's Hall of Shame are:

ARSON FIRE. This gem is commonly heard in newscasts, and is intended to further describe a fire as being of suspicious origin. Unfortunately, the definition of arson is, "... the criminal act of deliberately setting fire to property," so arson fire means a deliberately set fire fire. Although there are people in the news business who consider this acceptable usage, one only has to look at the word's origins, ardere - Latin for, 'to burn.'

NEAR MISS. A classic coined somewhere in the midst of near collisions between planes. A near miss means you hit; a near hit means you missed.

FREE SPEECH ZONE. The new buzzword describing fenced-off or cordoned-off areas where you can put troublemakers, ahem, protesters so that you often don't have to look at them, let alone deal with inconvenient questions, signs, pies, thrown objects or liquids, and so on. The problem is, does it mean that free speech is not allowed outside of the zone?

Now, onto recent winners of the Bad Spelling Prize.

ELECTRONIC ARTS for their game, Marvel Nemesis. Set in the world of Marvel Comics superheroes, one of the scenes takes place at the mansion headquarters of the mighty Avengers. Unfortunately, the level banner reads, "Avenger's Mansion" -- a mansion belonging to a single avenger, instead of the correct plural possessive, "Avengers'."

ACTIVISION for their game X-Men Legends II. One dialogue box confuses the word diffuse for defuse, and loose for lose. What seems likely is that someone ran a spell-check on the text, and the computer found no errors, because all of the words are correct ... it's the usage that is wrong, but spell-check utilities rarely check for context.

I am not claiming to have never misspelled a word or written an awkward or ungrammatical sentence. However, the simple consideration of taking pride in what one is doing, and doing it well, should be sufficient to the task.

Instead, we're making excuses for our declining skills and expecting computers to take up the slack. We make fun of immigrants who can't speak English; in some cases, we're outraged that we have to make allowances for them ... but it's a hollow complaint when one considers how badly we handle the very language we expect others to excel at.



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