Monday Grammar Lesson

Today’s pet peeves are brought to you by radio interviews with allegedly “educated” individuals, as well as actual published print material edited by people who claim to have degrees in things like English and journalism. I can’t take it anymore.

Lesson #1: To say you “feel badly” about something is not the same thing as remorse or empathy. In fact, I would argue that it is the exact opposite.

First, why the confusion? I assume it is due to the fact that the word “feel” as a verb, can be both an action verb or a linking verb. You can actively reach out and feel the soft fur on your kitten’s back. ACTION VERB.

But you can also feel sick. Feel lonely. Feel excited. No action here. In this case, the word feel is used as a state of being, like “am.” (I am sick, I am lonely, I am excited.) I am not doing any of these things. LINKING VERB.

In the case of “feeling badly” for someone, the verb is not meant to be an action word. It is a linking verb. So substitute any other to-be verb and see how it sounds. Example:

How are you?

I am badly.

You are badly… what?

Still with me? Here’s another substitution that might help. Some other common verbs that can be both action or linking and stray from the “to-be” verb list (am, are, was, were) include taste and smell. For some reason, it simply isn’t as common to say, “This soup tastes badly,” or “What smells so badly?” Likewise, people don’t often make this mistake: “I’ve had a cold all week so my nose smells bad. Tell me if this milk is still fresh.”

CONCLUSION: To “feel badly” is to be not-good at feeling. In order to understand this, substitute anything for the word “feel.” If you “write badly,” you are a bad writer. If you “drive badly,” you likely have lots of dings in your car or tickets on your record. If you “feel badly,” you are claiming to be an emotional stone who cannot empathize with others, or one who possibly suffers from numbness of the extremities.

To someone who genuinely “feels badly,” I would caution you not to stand too close to an open fire or a hot burner. You might not notice your skin is burning because you are bad at feeling.

But to use “I feel badly for you,” in an attempt to convey empathy is just wrong. It is grammatically incorrect.

Just say, “I feel bad for you.”

Adding an -ly to the end of words does not in fact make anyone sound smarter. In my book, it is on par with using words like “conversate,” “irregardless,” and asking a judge in Texas for “deferred adjudification.”

Go back to 7th grade and work on your edumacation, people.

Lesson #2: Begging the Question

I know for a fact that rhetorical logic is no longer taught in basic high school English classes. There simply isn’t time for it. Only if you were a philosophy major in college, ever prepared for the LSAT, or had an excellent AP English teacher who took the time to teach logical fallacies, might you have heard the phrase “begging the question” used correctly.

The rest of the world hears it (and uses it) regularly and wrongly.

In our current society, “That begs the question” has come to mean, “That causes me to ask or naturally leads to the question…”

But might I submit that just because it has become acceptable in pop-culture, it doesn’t make it right.

Begging the question is actually a fallacy of logic. Aristotle is credited with its origination, which means it was first used in Greek. Likely, it went through several translations before becoming our English phrase beg the question. If you were to look it up, I guarantee you would read through the definition two or three times and still have difficulty explaining exactly what it is.

So I’m going to make it very simple.

As a logical fallacy, “begging the question,” could probably better be termed, “Toddler logic.”

It is when two mildly related ideas are pushed together as conclusions for one another, and this, said without any sense of genuine understanding of logical connection. Two-year old style.

Example:

Carter, did you get a sticker today?

No, I had a time-out.

Why did you get a time-out?

Because I didn’t get a sticker.

It is true that she did not get a sticker because she got a time out. It is not true however, that she got a time out because she did not get a sticker. It is circular reasoning. To say, “I got a time-out because I did not get a sticker,” begs the original question, “Why did you get a time out?”

Yes. Okay. It is strange. It is hard to understand how from the Greek or Latin such a logical problem had to be defined using the term “beg.” But people, don’t question it, just stop using it.

Especially if you work for a major television or radio news station.

Rant over.

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