Thursday, January 27, 2011

Personal preferences versus critics’ choices

When reviewers hail a book as one of the year’s best, I've learned that their criteria may not always coincide with mine. The naming of Richard Russo’s Bridge of Sighs in 2007 as one of the year’s best made me swear off accepting these lists as infallible. Yet, I decided to read Freedom by Jonathan Franzen.

While I can admire what one reviewer called his “literary complexity,” I found the story of the Berglunds, their family, friends, and colleagues exasperating. As the chronology shifts back and forth from the 1980s to the present, from college years through marriage and children, to changing political scenes, I felt no compatibility, no sympathy for their motives and actions.

Room, however, was a surprise. Although it has been hailed as one of the best books of 2010 and was on the shortlist for the 2010 Man Booker Prize for Fiction, I was not eager to read a novel narrated by a five-year-old. Emma Donoghue, however, has created a unique world for Jack and his Ma and I felt myself unable to put the book down for long. Room is one of the best books I’ve read in a long time.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

I don't like a couple things, do you?

Have you noticed how some people use the word couple without its companion of? It never sounds right to me so I checked a few places and it seems to have appeared only in the past couple of years. According to Organization Monkey, “I’ll be away a couple days” is not traditional but it is not incorrect.

I’m on the side of Everything Language and Grammar however, which says “This grammar error seems to be one of the most pervasive in grammar history…… couple of is ALWAYS the correct expression in ANY type of writing or speaking, not just formal. Couple is not slang or colloquial or conversational English; it’s just plain wrong, and we should stop making excuses for using poor grammar."

Do you have a couple of language pet peeves?

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Let's Discuss it in the Lobby

When I heard the newly inaugurated Governor Andrew Cuomo announce that the second floor of the New York State Capitol would be reopened to the public, it reminded me of my tour of the building a few years ago. That was when I learned how the word “lobbyist” became part of our language.

Just outside each of the chambers where the New York State Senate and the New York State Assembly meet is a lobby where individuals with special interests may gather and wait to approach the state representatives. Over the years as these members of the public waited in the lobby for opportunities to advance their specific causes, they became known simply as “lobbyists.”

At the time of my tour, the guide said that the coining of the word actually started in the halls of the New York State Capital. Delving a little deeper, however, I have since learned that the history of the word may be traced to the halls of the British Parliament.

Regardless of its derivation, each time I hear the term “lobbyist” now, I picture the chamber anterooms of the beautiful New York State Capitol.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Could you really care less?

If you cringe whenever you hear "I could care less," you'll be glad to know that someone has finally corrected this statement. It was on last night's Modern Family when one of the characters - the rather uptight Mitchell - corrected his partner who had said emphatically, "I could care less."

To express a complete lack of concern, you'd say instead, “I could not care less.” If you could care less, it means you still care. It means that there is still a reservoir of care left within you. If you could not care less, it indicates that you have not one smidgen of care left to give.