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The Public Eye 11/23/12

By Stewart Dobson

I have always admitted I’m no English language expert and that my knowledge of grammar is even worse, limited as it is to understanding that if you’re going to buy a vowel on “Wheel of Fortune,” you have a limited selection from which to choose.

So bad was I at English in my high school days that I nearly did not escape what I then considered and still believe to be some kind of punishment for being born.

It’s as if the Voice from Above says, “You’ve been born, now it’s time to go to school.”


The sad fact is, I never learned the rules or the various particles of speech, as I eagerly demonstrated on my final English exam:

Question: What is a transitive verb?

Answer: Does it involve wearing the clothes of another gender?

Question: What is a reflexive pronoun?

Answer: It winces when you touch it.

Question: What is an antonym?

Answer: The larva of a small insect, as in, “Look at the ants and all their little nyms.

Even so, there are certain words and expressions that drive me crazy, even though I couldn’t tell you in grammatical terms why that is.

Take, for instance, the expression “reach out.” I hate it. This expression is primarily used by people, organizations and governments that want to say “communicate,” but prefer what they think is a warmer term that suggests not only are they going to communicate with you, but there’s going to be a group hug afterwards.

Besides, if “reach out” really does mean “communicate,” and it does because I looked it up, then I haven’t been in the communication business for the past 42 years, I’ve been in the “reach out” business. I used to work for a newspaper outfit called Coastal Communications, which in today’s parlance, would be Coastal Reaching Out.”

And then there’s the worst of all words, “unique,” the use of which is not unique at all. What it means is “being one of a kind” except that everyone these days employs it to label anything they think is interesting.

“We offer many unique (fill in the blank).”

All I know is if these are the only (fill in the blank) in the world, then whoever has them ought to be charging more for them.

I’m not beating up on the people outside the Reaching Out business who routinely apply these expressions, but we in the business ought to know better.

On the other hand, maybe I’m just being intransitive. Which means stubborn, I think.

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