Bad English 15

I’ve recently participated in an online discussion about “corruptions in the English language”. Here are a few of the “corruptions” which raise the ire of some of the contributors and some from discussions I’ve had with teachers over the years:


“should of” instead of “should have”

the insertion of “like” into every utterance

the word “irregardless”

confusion over less and fewer

I’m loving it

saying advertisement rather than advertisement

gotten instead of got

angry man

Incorrect English drives me crazy

Now, I don’t consider myself a complete linguistic libertarian but I am surprised when:

Some people (mainly Brits, talk about some of the disgusting Americanisms that have entered our wonderful rich English (belongs to the English right!) tongue.

Some people work themselves into a frenzy about the heinous use of less when  fewer must be used. I wonder if communication has ever broken down because of this confusion?

Some people mutter darkly about how young people are degrading the language with their new expressions and how this is symptomatic of the end of Western civilization as we know it. I’m sure these people never used expressions like “cool” or “groovy” or “hip” when they were young. It would be scandalous of me to suggest that they spoke anything other than the Queen’s English when they were spotty, hormonally imbalanced teenagers.

Excuse the heavy-handed sarcasm. It’s just that I get worked up by other people getting so worked up about the way other people choose to express themselves.

business man with laptop over head - mad

10 items or less….aaarrrggghhhh!!!

In his fascinating read The Unfolding of Language, Guy Deutscher talks about how language change results from three tendencies:

economy  – the tendency to save effort

expressiveness  – our tendency to strive towards achieving greater effect and meaning for our utterances

analogy – our craving for order and regularity in the language.

Teacher Pointing at Map of World

English is an International Language

So, if we look at the corruptions mentioned earlier, we might be able to discover why they are used:

‘Innit’ seems to me to represent an attempt to be economical. Many languages have simple equivalents to question tag such as ‘yes’ or ‘no’. How much easier is it to say ‘You will come to my party, yeah?” than “You will come to my party, won’t you?”

‘Should of’ instead of ‘should have’ in spoken English surely derives from our tendency towards phonological economy. Pronouncing the ‘h’ in ‘have’ after the modal verb ‘should’ requires a lot more effort than eliding it (I do agree that it’s absolutely wrong, if understandable, to use ‘should of’ in written communication).

Using ‘like’ probably derives from our attempt to be more expressive: to engage the listener and prepare them for our next utterance  A discourse marker used to inform the listener that we are about to say something of importance.

It was… like… absolutely awesome, bro’.

Irregardless, a blend of irrespective and regardless, probably results from analogy. The fact that this word is so frequently used suggests that the two original terms are semantically similar and we are not always sure about which one to use. We hedge our bets by using ‘irregardless’. It’s better to be partially wrong and partially right than fully wrong.

I wonder if the confusion over ‘less’ and ‘fewer‘ is also a result of our tendency towards analogy. I’ve been teaching countable and uncountable nouns to English language students and trainee teachers for years and nobody ever fully gets it. He eats less chocolate than his brother but his brother ate fewer chocolates last night. Using one word (less) and keeping the other (fewer) in the last century is an option I would seriously consider.

‘I’m loving it’, a phrase which irritates the hell out of me , does offer a more immediate and dynamic option than the present simple stative form. A classic case of expressiveness.

Advertisement and advertisement is probably a combination of economy and analogy. I’d imagine that the verb ‘advertise’ has grown in popularity in the last few decades and this has influenced our pronunciation of the noun form. Not to mention the influence of those pesky Americans and their economical use of English.

union jack

British English

USA flag

American English

The final item, ‘gotten’ instead of’ got’, often gets up the noses of us Brits and we fume about how our cousins over the pond have corrupted our language. Well, most linguists agree that English had two past participle forms of the verb ‘to get’ and the American kept both and the Brits discarded the gotten form. So, it appears that we ‘corrupted’ the language due to our tendency to economise (or is it economize) it.

Well, that brings me to the end of this post. I’m the same as everybody else and get irritated when people use English in a way I think it should not be used. I do think that we have to be alert to the use of corruptions in the language if meaning is not conveyed successfully. On the other hand, non-standard forms are used among members of different social-linguistic groups for reasons we may not be aware of.


Young people can’t speak English these days!

As Henry Hitchings writes in ‘The Language Wars’:

People who use standard English allege that those who fail to do so lack linguistic ability, but in reality people using stigmatized forms of English may have complex abilities as speakers – incomprehensible to many observers but powerful among their peers.

Please send me your ‘favourite’ corruptions.

15 thoughts on “Bad English

  1. Reply Mark (Mi profe de inglés) Jan 26,2013 12:38 pm

    Hello again.

    1) Even Cameron uses “gonna” instead of GOING TO (or even just “GOIN’ TO’, which would be less unacceptable) these days. I’ve heard him say it a few times, in news reports.

    2) I was listening to BBC Radio 4 the other evening and heard an American “speaking English” utter the following “When it efectuates…” (yuck!) instead of “When it TAKES EFFECT”. I’m not sure which part of the U.S.A. the speaker was from. Now OK, Florida’s population might well be approximately 27% Hispanic (so one could empathize with the English becoming more Hispanic and perhaps even begin to half-understand the increasing use of ‘Spanglish’, but I have to say that ridiculous invented verb is too much like an invention from a pre-Intermediate or Intermediate language student!

    Cambridge Dictionaries on line result:
    Results for effectuate: effectuate was not found

    Did you spell it correctly? Here are some alternatives:


  2. Reply Zubair Khan Feb 12,2013 2:01 pm

    Most people confuse English propositions with the ones spoken in their native language! Actually they try to translate word by word rather than the expression! and that sounds funny and awkward! Below are the some of them.
    tired from instead of tired of
    good in instead of good at
    in night instead of at night
    belong from instead of belong to
    believe on instead of believe in
    and a lot more……………..

  3. Reply Andrew Feb 12,2013 2:44 pm

    One of my pet subjects! I have another theory about “unofficial” or “wrong” words, which is that a word appears when there simply isn’t a word available in current English with quite the right meaning. This is equally true of loan words from other languages (Schadenfreude, Zeitgeist, siesta, fiesta,.. the list is endles and probably extends to most words in English!) as it is of recent neologisms and “americanisms” (Where we would be without americanisms such as park the car, ex-wife and boss?) Modern computers physically do not work via a modem, but “cable modem” is in general usage (network translator switch anyone?)
    Innit is a plea for an English equivalent of French “n’est-ce pas?” or Catalan “oi?” Staycation, cloud computing and infotainment are ingeniuos inventions and in wide usage simply because their meaning is instantly clear – compound words crop up constantly in other languages such as German, Norwegian and Turkish – English is following this trend.
    “Bad” words cause annoyance where the register is inappropriate, which is usually when a social boundary has been crossed (teens/parents; English speakers from different regions or countries) but most commonly in Britain it’s the infernal “class” division which for some reason most of us still cling to, that causes the friction: Far too many people still judge others on accent or choice of key words (lavatory/toilet; napkin/serviette; cutlets/chops)

  4. Reply Beth Feb 12,2013 4:01 pm

    How about the use of ‘like’ instead of ‘such as’?

  5. Reply Neil Feb 12,2013 4:19 pm

    I quite liked your post. It was very interesting. By the way, I am not a native English speaker.
    I still make so many mistakes, but with a bit more practice I am sure I will be able to acquire this amazing language.

    Best regards from Chile,

  6. Reply dilano71 Feb 12,2013 4:40 pm

    Thanks for your comment Zubair. Prepositional phrases can be quite random in English but there are even differences among native English speakers. Is is ‘different from’ or ‘different to’ or different than’? Do we ‘talk with’ or ‘talk to’ people?

    These differences rarely result in communication breakdown though.

  7. Reply dilano71 Feb 12,2013 4:44 pm

    I completely agree with you Andrew. The class division is still there, bubbling under the surface. Funnily enough, I had a conversation with a Spanish woman who is married to an English chap / guy / bloke. She was stunned when I informed her that I was going to the toilet as she had been told never to use the ‘T’ word!

  8. Reply dilano71 Feb 12,2013 4:46 pm

    Thanks Neil. I’m glad you liked the post. I was in Chile about ten years ago for a week and I’d love to return.

  9. Reply Mark (Mi profe de inglés) Feb 12,2013 5:44 pm

    An interesting point. Although I’m British (English), I often use ‘talk with’ as it sounds more consultative or dialogue-like, as opposed to ‘talk to’ which (to me) could suggest a smattering of one-sidedness. However, ‘talk with’ is as I understand it generally considered American English. I think television and films have been a major influence in ‘pooling’ the two versions over recent decades.

  10. Reply dilano71 Feb 12,2013 9:44 pm

    Hi Mark, I find myself using both forms but I think I’m more likely to use ‘talk with’ if I need to have a private chat about a serious topic or I need to admonish or warn somebody. American and British varieties do seem to be merging, or perhaps we are going over to the ‘dark side’.

  11. Reply Rachel Williams Feb 12,2013 9:53 pm

    How about ‘There’s a lot of people here tonight.’ Instead of There are a lot of people here tonight. Another economical saving and similar to the question tags example..many other languages have one phrase for singular and plural. The French ‘Il y a…’

  12. Reply dilano71 Feb 13,2013 8:39 am

    Hi Rachel, There are a lot of people vs There is a lot of people is an interesting example. As ‘a lot of’ can be used with countable and uncountable nouns (there are a lot of plates to wash or there is a lot of rubbish in the street), the speaker has to decide if the noun is countable or uncountable. ‘People’ is uncountable in many languages so L2 speakers often get confused. It’s tricky for native speakers as well because ‘people’ is the more common irregular plural noun of people and generally used rather than the regular plural noun ‘persons’. I doubt we would say ‘there is a lot of persons’.

    Thanks for the comment.

  13. Reply Linda Feb 20,2013 4:54 pm

    I totally enjoyed reading this as an American and former literature/language arts teacher, and YES, I do see that we here tend to want to shorten words (as well as other things…for to us “time is money”) as well as make nouns into verbs, both of which either drives me insane, or I just accept it after awhile, for I told my students that the bastardization of the language is often inevitable.

    I think from the above, we teachers here hate the use of “should of” and “irregardless” the most, especially in writing. The use of “like” is on its way out from what I can tell, but the problem using “less vs. fewer” will be around for awhile, I am sure. Now the first one on the list, “innit”, I have not heard here nor “gotten” for got, and of course “advertisement” is, well, the way we say it…which leads me to “I’m loving it” as the only place I have heard it here is from the McDonald’s ad, so is that where you all got it from?? Just curious as it would not surprise me in least due to the influence of phrases from commercials past.

    But with that said, I had to chuckle about your comment of how the Brits “fume” at what we have done to the language (but isn’t there a long standing joke that the only thing that separates us is the language?) as I am on the rampage as to what “crossed the pond” to us, and that is the phrase(s) “went missing” or “gone missing”. I mean, HOW can someone go there when it isn’t a place or a state of mind?? Our news people now say it and write it without blinking an eye, but it drives English teachers crazy. SO, I guess it is turnabout fair play in this instance. Regards from Florida

  14. Reply dilano71 Feb 20,2013 8:45 pm

    Very interesting to hear an American point of view. Although we listen to lots of American English, we Brits probably generalise about your variety / varieties of English as much as you do about ours. I remember a comic sketch about a Brit complaining that in the USA, hamburgers had no ham in them and nobody ever rested in the restroom and other such things. Thanks for your response and I’m glad you enjoyed reading the blog.

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