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Friday, Apr. 29, 2016

Musings on constructive criticism

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Have you ever found yourself chastised for making a mistake?

Recently, I was informed that a phrase I've heard used in my family my entire life was not only potentially objectionable to some people, but was also improper English.

What was my faux pas, or my false step you might wonder? I wrote the phrase "little lone" in a recent Just Ask Me column.

Now I don't mind constructive criticism. I welcome it because that's how people learn what is wrong and then try to attempt to not repeat the mistake again, especially in the written language.

Please understand that if I had a problem with criticism, I've really taken the wrong career path. Since becoming a part of the Fourth Estate in October 2004, I've dealt with criticism on a daily basis, as do all reporters.

In this particular incident, the problem is the phrase was part of a direct quote, which means its use was not in violation of English purists.

But it really doesn't matter what story is written, there is always someone somewhere who finds fault with it on some level. That is a natural part of the job and you either grow a very thick skin to deal with it, or you get out while your feelings aren't emotionally destroyed.

Anyone using English on a daily basis understands how as a spoken or written language it has become a watered down version of "easy speak."

The Internet short-cut version of chatting and the numerous ways people express themselves according to which part of the United States they call home is forever changing and reshaping the English language in non-traditional ways.

The word "ain't" once called down the wrath of teachers everywhere, but now it's in the dictionary. That makes it acceptable for use on any term paper written in school today. Granted, it's not the best choice of wording, but it is considered a real word now.

Who knows what will be in the dictionary in a few years, in 100 years? Jeff Foxworthy could be considered a genius of the English language in the future.

But after learning the error of my ways, I turned an ear and began listening to how people around me were speaking in normal conversation. OK, I was eavesdropping.

I heard all kinds of regional phrases, including various uses of little lone.

Then I went a step further in my research and asked people from all walks of life if they used the phrase. To my surprise, 27 of the 30 people quizzed admitted to saying it. The other three said they had heard of it, but didn't recall recently using it.

I began to read with a closer eye, and saw many types of regional phrases appearing in print around me, especially in opinion columns, letters to the editor and feature stories in all types of media.

"If you gave someone who lives in the country a test using the phrases and language of a person who lives in the city, they probably wouldn't score very well. Some might consider them stupid for not knowing, which wouldn't be fair," one of the people I questioned told me. "Everyone uses their own form of language, their own phrasing. It doesn't mean it's wrong, it's just how people talk to each other."

All these quirky phrases are regional colloquialisms.

My southern grandmother, Mammy Jackson, used little lone all the time, along with many other phrases like "y'all", "t'ain't" and "shouldn'ta."

This was Mammy's way of "gettin'" her point across while "chawing the fat" and in her "puttin' pen ta paper," like so many other people use in their own regional "yakking."

One problem facing anyone willing to put their name on the words that appear in print for all to read is that anyone who reads what you wrote automatically becomes your critic.

Personally, I prefer not to speak in the "high-toned" or the "holier-than-thou" version of English. But I can, when needed.

I truly love sitting with a group of ordinary people who are "lettin' 'er rip" with a bit "down-home communicatin.'" Because, in those moments, that's when there is a true exchange of ideas. When we let our guard down and speak from the heart, that is when we create the most meaningful expressions of life!