Your Pain Is Our Pleasure
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October 4, 2010
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@greed: and it should be "Whom do you teach?"
@greed: Is not teaching a language the same thing as upholding the correct grammar for it, as well as defending the dignity of it? How on earth could one teach a language without upholding the proper grammar of that language? I guess your English teachers always told you that English sucks and shouldn't be used by anyone above a troglodyte.
Dr. Hoff has given at least some of her credentials (English professor, although she's left out her Ivy League education and her PhD in her profession) to be able to say what she has. She's also used her name and isn't hiding behind a veil of internet anonymity and a bogus moniker. What are your credentials for saying what you say?
Wait, let me guess... your creds are "internet troll." Or perhaps, "person with computer and internet access." You are the one to be pitied, my friend.
Sorry, my love, but I disagree. First, the mistake "I went over his house" is not a preposition misuse error so much as it is an error of omission. They meant to say "I went over TO his house." They didn't use the WRONG preposition, they just left one out. And still, the use of "over" in that phrase is acceptable, however it's a misuse of "over," is it not?
But my point is that "I went over his house" is objectively wrong, if the speaker did not mean to say he traversed the airspace above "his house." To say that "on accident" is objectively wrong is to say that "on" has a specific singular meaning. Well, if it means "physically located above and adjacent to," such as the phrase, "on the boardwalk," then how can you explain the apparently-correct phrase "on purpose?" Or "on the phone?" Someone above said "on purpose" means "on the intended purpose." But that's still not a measure of physical locality, is it? "On" takes on multiple definitions and meanings. And it's used many times in many ways along these same lines. "On task." "On time." "On report." "On the ball." "On par." "On the stick." "On error."
(that last one may just be a computing term)
And to say that words can have only specific meanings and all else is incorrect and should be expunged reduces the majesty of language, particularly the English language, to mere mathematics: it's wrong or it's right, period.
As well, if words have only set meanings that are not allowed to stray, then we lose things like puns (in my opinion, the highest and cleverest form of humor), poetry, colloquialisms, localisms, idioms, and the like. Just because Louisianians say "on the bayou" and it's more correct to say "in the bayou" doesn't mean it's right to say they're wrong. That's how they say it, it's quaint, and it also allows poets and authors to, with but a few words, demonstrate more about the speaker than could be said with ten times as many words.
There are so many other phrases that seem incorrect, but are nonetheless correct (most likely due to common usage). How about "in country?" "On hold?" "Up to no good?" These all seem like gross misuses of their individual prepositions; but yet they all seem to be just fine to most scholars, yes?
Should we condemn the likes of Samuel Clemens because Tom Sawyer's English wasn't perfect?
Should we start spelling it "colour" and "humour" since they were correct first? And heck, even the English know the value of little quips, or else asking someone to "knock them up" would take on a vastly different meaning.
The issue here is that I cannot see any OBJECTIVE reason why "on accident" is less correct than "by accident." Your example, "I went over his house" is OBJECTIVELY incorrect, and not the least-wise because it's totally ambiguous. I mean, was the speaker a pilot? A human cannonball? A really good jumper?
However, the phrase "on accident" has no objective basis to be incorrect. All of the comments here state that it's just personal preference, brought on by the environment under which they were raised. But not a one of them can claim that someone used the phrase "on accident" and created confusion and error out of it. It's accurate, demonstrably understandable, and extremely communicative.
To disallow such things would be to say that "computer" is an incorrect word because it didn't exist before a hundred thirty years ago. Go back to 1770 and tell people about your cellphone and see if they don't correct your use of the King's English. Use the term "extraterrestrial" to refer to little green men and see if they don't likewise correct you. Radar. Semiconductor. Electricity. Digital. Airplane. Spacecraft. All are words that are 100% correct, but exist only because the language was allowed to grow and change.
Other terms carry meaning out of convention, but could be shown to be incorrect... but somehow, we still allow them. If a student turns in a "paper" in electronic format (i.e. it was emailed in Microsoft Word format), how can we call it a paper? Should we call it a "bits?" Or perhaps an "electron configuration?" In the end, it's the common usage of phrases in our language which carries the meaning.
So, I agree that language should not necessarily allow that which is incorrect and/or inherently ambiguous to become "correct." But I disagree that the phrase "on accident" is demonstrably false.
You asked how far are we willing to slide? I say that we should be willing to slide up to the point of ambiguity, or up to the point of gross and obvious misuse. I mean, I could say "flog me that flog" and you'd know that I am asking you to hand me what I'm pointing at. But those aren't the correct uses of those words. And without the physical act of pointing, the meaning is, well, meaningless.
But the phrase "on accident" has one meaning and no objective means to demonstrate that it is incorrect.
(and yes, I just had a one-sentence paragraph that started with the word "but." Sue me.)
No argument... but I would submit that "on accident" isn't so inaccurate as to cause issues, medical, legal, or otherwise.
If a surgeon tells the nurse "plaster me the banana pants" when he wants a scalpel, yeah, that's bad.
But if he says, "I severed the artery on accident" I doubt the others would stand around doing nothing out of confusion. I'd wager they would jump to action with sponges, clamps, and what-not.
I guess I break all the molds. I was born before 1970, am educated (although not "highly" educated), consider myself quite intelligent, and spent the majority of my life in the Mid-West (Chicago, Dallas). As well, I am very much a proponent of "proper" English not becoming extinct.
However, I have zero problem with the phrase "on accident" and use it frequently (much to the chagrin of my English Professor fiancée). I also say "by accident" as well. I guess it depends on my mood at the moment.
I don't find there to be any subtleties in connotation between the two phrases. Languages migrate; it's just a fact. Reading these comments, I find a fair number of them that claim actual pain in hearing or reading the phrase "on accident," all the while lacing their comments with "WTF" and "LOL."
Anyone who claims pain from usage irregularities while using such colloquialisms brushes dangerously against pomposity and, dare I say it, douchebaggery.
Relax, people. Think about "communication" rather than what's "right" and "wrong" to your ears; you will be far happier.
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