October 24, 2014 11:27 UTC

'Hypercorrection Is Not Simply Being Fussy or a Nitpicker or a Pedant'

AA: I'm Avi Arditti with Rosanne Skirble, and this week on Wordmaster -- getting hyper about correctness.

RS: English once had a system where nouns took different forms depending on whether they were the subject or the object of a sentence. We've lost most of that.

AA: But this system survives in pronouns -- words like "I" and "me" and "she" and "her." And, as English Professor Jack Lynch at Rutgers University explains, these can be confusing, and lead to common errors known as hypercorrections.

JACK LYNCH: "Hypercorrection is not simply being fussy or a nitpicker or a pedant. The 'hyper' part, from Greek, means 'too much.' It means working so hard to avoid one potential problem that you end up falling into another one."

RS: "Can you give us an example?"

JACK LYNCH: "Sure. We're taught as children, and beginning language learners are told, you don't say 'me and you went to the movies.' It should be 'you and I.' And a lot of people, therefore, internalize the rule that 'you and I' is somehow more proper, and they end up using it in places where they shouldn't -- such as 'he gave it to you and I' when it should be 'he gave it to you and me.'"

RS: "But we're not hearing that in common, spoken American English."

AA: "What you're hearing is someone would say, let's say, 'He took Rosanne and I to the movies -- '"

JACK LYNCH: "Exactly."

AA: " -- where it should be 'he took Rosanne and me to the movies.' How did this happen? Why are people doing this?"

JACK LYNCH: "It tends to come from areas where people are aware that there's something a little tricky in the language. Now it doesn't often happen if the preposition -- words like 'to' and 'for' and 'with' -- comes before one of these tricky pronouns. You would never say 'he gave it to she and I.' 'To she' just sounds wrong to us immediately. But 'to you' is right because 'you' has the same form whether it's the subject or the object."

RS: "So that's a piece of cake there."

JACK LYNCH: "There are other areas where we make these mistakes; the word 'whom,' for instance."

RS: "And 'who.'"

JACK LYNCH: "Yes, 'who' and 'whom.' Many people know there's this word 'whom' out there and they have a sense it's associated with 'proper' usage. But they end up using it wrong, such as 'whom should I say is calling?' It should, in fact, be 'who should I say is calling?' because 'who is calling' -- it functions as a subject."

RS: "So this is a subject/object thing again."

JACK LYNCH: "Yes. You wouldn't say 'him is calling.' You would say 'he is calling.'"

RS: "So what's an easy way to remember this?"

JACK LYNCH: "Well, whenever you're considering using 'who' or 'whom,' try converting it into 'he' and 'him.' If your ear tells you that you want a 'he' there, you probably want 'who.' If your ear tells you [that] you want a 'him' there, you probably want 'whom.' And the 'm' at the end is a good way to keep them straight."

RS: "Now what about speakers of English as a foreign language, that's another group entirely."

JACK LYNCH: "Sure, and they'll make many of these same kinds of errors, especially with these forms where the language has been changing over a long time, and even native speakers can get confused in them. If you're not really confident in the rules, stick with what you do understand, rather than trying out the things that you don't quite get. Honest errors always sound better than hypercorrections, which run the risk of sounding pompous."

RS: "We talked about pronouns. We've talked about who/whom. Are there any other features that ...

AA: "There's one more. How about 'feeling badly.'"

JACK LYNCH: "Yes, 'feeling badly' is a common problem. Again, we're taught growing up, or we're taught as we're first learning language, that we have to use adverbs with verbs. We don't say 'he did it good,' we say 'he did it well.' We don't say 'he ran quick.' We say 'he ran quickly.' But there is a whole class of verbs, verbs of being, which can include verbs related to sense, that do properly take the adjective. So 'I'm feeling badly' is in fact a hypercorrection."

RS: "So 'I'm feeling badly' is you're not really feeling some thing well."

JACK LYNCH: "Exactly. 'Feeling badly,' what that would mean is something like I'm not doing it correctly, or I'm not touching something very sensitively, something like that. But if you mean feel in the sense of feeling good or bad in yourself, then it should be 'I feel bad' or 'I feel good.'"

AA: Jack Lynch is an English professor at Rutgers University in New Jersey. He says that as language continually changes, today's hypercorrection will probably become another generation's correct usage.

RS: And that's Wordmaster for this week. Send e-mail to word@voanews.com. And we've got all our segments at voanews.com/wordmaster. With Avi Arditti, I'm Rosanne Skirble.

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Learn with The News

  • Audio Gunman Identified in Canadian Capital

    Also, UN human rights officials have called on China to guarantee open elections in Hong Kong. And, an attack in southwest Pakistan kills 11 people. WHO advises against Ebola travel bans. | In the News More

  • Tiny Police Cameras Oakland

    Video US Police Increase Use of Body Cameras

    Police officers in Washington, DC, and New York City are wearing cameras on their bodies as part of a test. The goal of the program is to reduce the use of force by officers and lower the number of criticisms from citizens. Police officers in many smaller communities are already doing so. More

  • General view of the city of Luxembourg in this picture taken on November 20, 2012.

    Audio Luxembourg Set to End Bank Secrecy

    European Union finance ministers have reached an agreement that will make it more difficult for tax avoiders to hide their money. The new legislation was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. Countries known as tax havens had blocked the bank secrecy laws. More

  • Armed officers approach Parliament Hilll following a shooting incident in Ottawa, Oct. 22, 2014.

    Video Deadly Attack Shocks Canada's Capital

    Also, Kurdish lawmakers in Iraq vote to send Kurdish forces to the Syrian town of Kobani. China said 43 people tested for possible Ebola infection do not have the virus. Russia and Ukraine are still working to reach an agreement on Ukraine's payments for natural Gas. More

  • FBI Director James Comey speaks about the impact of technology on law enforcement, Thursday, Oct. 16, 2014, at Brookings Institution in Washington.

    Audio Apple, FBI Battle Over Privacy Rules

    Apple recently said it was increasing security settings on its latest operating system for the company’s wireless devices. Apple said its new encryption rules are designed to protect users from search and seizure of their iPhones. But the changes are of concern to federal investigators. More

Featured Stories

  • Audio Oscar de la Renta Dressed First Ladies and Movie Stars

    Clothing designer Oscar de la Renta died Monday at his home in the American state of Connecticut. He was 82 years old. His wife said he died of problems related to cancer. Mr. de la Renta dressed American movie stars and first ladies such as Jacqueline Kennedy, Nancy Reagan and Hillary Clinton. More

  • Audio Iron Ships Clash at Sea

    The American Civil War was fought not only on land, but at sea. In 1862, Confederate and Union forces fought a new kind of navy battle in waters off Hampton Roads, Virginia. It was the first battle between iron ships. On the Confederate side was a ship called the Virginia. | The Making of a Nation More

  • Audio San Francisco Radio Stations Ban Lorde's 'Royals'

    The California baseball team, San Francisco Giants, is playing the Kansas City Royals for the 2014 Major League Baseball championship, the World Series. Two radio stations in San Francisco banned the hit song "Royals." In return, another station in Kansas City chose to play the song once every hour. More

  • A neurovascular unit on a chip being developed by Vanderbilt University researchers. (Vanderbilt University Photo/John Wikswo)

    Video Scientists Design Chips to Act Like Human Organs

    Testing new drugs for safety and effectiveness is a costly process in the United States. It also can take a lot of time. Some scientists are now designing silicon computer chips that act like human organs. The scientists think they have found a way to make the process faster and more economical. More

  • Brain Resource Infographic

    Audio Dealing with Distractions and Overreactions

    Five million American children and teenagers have Attention Deficit / Hyperactivity Disorder, commonly known as ADHD. ADHD makes it difficult - if not impossible - to stay with a duty until it is complete. Katherine Ellison knows the problem well. | Health Report More

Practice Your Writing

Confessions of an English Learner BlogConfessions of an English Learner Blog

Tell us About Our Programs