I’ve been English-watching for a while now, and I’ve discovered a horrible truth.
There’s something desperately wrong with our language.
The crisis has risen to epic proportions. Somebody has to tell the world, and since no one else seems to have noticed, I suppose the honor falls to me.
Take the television commercial I just witnessed, for instance. The sweet young thing in the ad raved on and on about XYZ Mouthwash, and advised us to use XYZ, “to nip those flu symptoms in the butt.”
I kid you not.
I stifled my grandmotherly cackles, stopped what I was doing and listened more carefully. Surely she could not have said that. No one could make such a silly mistake; but no, there she went again. “So whenever you feel those flu symptoms coming on, just use XYZ Mouthwash and nip it in the butt.”
Now, in all my long life, I’ve met a whole lot of farmers and fruit-tree owners, and one of their worst fears was that a late frost might hit their trees in the spring, and “nip the fruit in the bud.”
That means if the frost killed the fruit tree’s flower buds, there wouldn’t be any flowers for the bees to pollinate, and so the farmer wasn’t going to have much fruit, come autumn.
That unfortunate phenomenon gave rise to the expression, “to nip something in the bud, spelled ‘B-U-D’;” that is, to prevent something bad from happening, right in the beginning.
For instance, if Joey’s friend Sylvester was caught shoplifting, Joey’s mother would snap, “Well, this nips that friendship in the bud!” Which meant that Joey wasn’t going to see hide nor hair of his light-fingered friend Sylvester for the rest of the mother’s natural life, never mind his own.
It makes more sense than the television version, but, admittedly, it’s not nearly as interesting a concept. Not half as funny, either.
Sadly, mistakes like this are just the tip of the iceberg. This kind of misuse of English has been sneaking up on us for some time.
For instance, people say, “Keep well.”
Hmm… That means either that you want to person you’re speaking to, to make sure he doesn’t lose his well (although wells are notoriously hard to lose, or steal, either, for that matter), or that you are hoping he has good health in future. But wishing him good health would be “stay (remain) well,” not “keep (retain) well.”
No, I’m pretty sure they’re afraid their friend will go out one day and find his well missing. People will steal just about anything these days, and they’re getting better at it all the time.
The same goes for authors who write lines like, “With a graceful gesture, she flung her mantel around her shoulders.”
Oh, poor heroine! I don’t know about your mantel, but mine is pretty darned heavy—I think it’s made of oak—and even though this author’s Valkyrie heroine can juggle a mantel onto her broad and muscular shoulders with a straight face, I just don’t get any kind of a romantic image from what is written.
What I see in my mind’s eye is that screamingly funny TV episode where Carol Burnett, playing Scarlett O’Hara, came downstairs wearing the velvet curtains–and the curtain rod as well.
“Ah saw it in the window,” she breathed steamily into Harvey Korman’s face, “and Ah just couldn’t resist it!”
I’ve been trying to come up with a caption for our Valkyrie with the mantel around her shoulders, but for the life of me, nothing comes to mind.
Maybe because I’m laughing so hard.
There are so many more examples, it isn’t even funny. No, that’s a lie. It is funny. In fact, it’s hysterical.
The idea of all us Americans strutting around being “First World rich,” flinging money and opinions around like…well, like money and opinions…and yet murdering our own language, is just too funny for words.
Is it just me?
I’m still worried about the girl in the ad. Was it the mouthwash I should bite? How do you bite mouthwash?
No, it can’t be that, can it?
She did say, “Bite the flu in the butt.” Maybe she meant the virus, after all.
But then, you never really know. You put the mouthwash into your mouth, don’t you?– not the flu.
“Is a puzzlement,” as Yul Brynner got paid for saying.
With all the stuff scientists are finding out about the sub-microscopic world, maybe they’ve found that flu viruses actually do have teeny, tiny little butts, and we’re supposed to nip them.
Since our big old teeth are much too coarse for such delicate work, perhaps they’ve developed this top-secret mouthwash to do all the teeny, tiny little butt-nipping for us. You know, like maybe teensy butt-choppers. Nano-dentures. Or more poetically, nano-nippers.
Who knows? It’s really a strange world.
And getting stranger by the commercial.
Well, I guess there are some things we’ll never figure out. I’ll probably write about something simpler next time. Meanwhile, it’s getting colder outside, so keep well, wear your mantel, and be sure to nip that flu virus in the butt.