Dear Mr. Dad: When I was in elementary school, there was a much greater emphasis on English grammar and usage. I remember diagramming sentences and memorizing spelling rules. Does anyone do that anymore? My third grader—who goes to a very expensive private school—comes home with notes from his teacher (or school newsletters) that frequently contain grammar and spelling mistakes. I’m worried that our kids are going to come out of school completely illiterate. Is there any hope?
A: Depends on what you mean by hope. The English language is a living, growing thing—just think of all the new words and ways of using them that have crept into our dictionaries over the past few years: Green and friend are now verbs (as in “greening your home” and “I’m going to friend you”). And five years ago, had you ever heard of webinar, ecotourism, emoticon, netbook, or notspot? We’re never going to be able to stop our language from evolving—and I think that’s a good thing. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t make an attempt to at least use it properly. People (and by “people” I mean “plenty of native English speakers”) make dozens of usage errors. Some are kind of entertaining, but others can actually distort what’s being said. Here are a few of the ones that drive me batty.