Careful Listening Creates a Critic

If you hated English class in high school, you might want to skip this post, but then again, maybe you shouldn’t. It’s time for another of Mary’s observations in how the English language has changed and how it’s been abused over the years.

Top on my list today is the mispronunciation of a word with a vowel in it, followed by a single consonant. Here’s a very easy example. My name is Hiland, as in Highland, not Hilland. Notice that my name has only one consonant after the i. that means the I should have a long sound, as in eye. I use this example, not to promote my name, but to point out that it’s mispronounced most of the time, and I always, I mean ALWAYS, have to spell it for counter workers at doctors’ offices and anyone else who needs to look up my name. It’s actually my former husband’s name, which I kept for my children, but I also like the sound of it—if it’s pronounced correctly.

Speaking of pronunciation, I must comment on another subject I know a great deal about – how people read aloud. I use talking books and am distracted when the narrator puts the question in her voice at the end of the sentence, instead of at the end of the question. When I was director of volunteers at the radio reading service and routinely administered auditions, this was a common correction I had to make. Example. “Do you want sugar in your tea?” she asked. Note that the ? mark is inside the quotation marks. It does not read like this. “Do you want sugar in your tea, she asked? In other words, the reader’s voice should not continue the upward inflection after the question mark in the text. Another correction I often had to make is the pronunciation of “nuclear.” There is not a second u in this word. Preventive is only an adjective, according to Alexa, while “preventative” can be both a noun and an adjective. And we all know that Alexa is the ultimate authority.

I am also an avid listener to a radio show called “The Moth,” in which people tell stories. Invariably, the story-teller begins with the word, “So.” People, this is the beginning of your story, not the conclusion. If I were still in Toastmasters, you can bet as the grammarian, I would be emphasizing this bad habit constantly.. Or maybe, I could be all wrong about this. Maybe this is the new acceptable way to start a story.

And here’s another change in English usage I might be wrong about. We used to say “You’re welcome,” or “my pleasure,” when doing something or a service for another person. But most of the time, when you say thank you to a server in a restaurant or thank someone for giving you change, the response is “No problem.” And when did “Invite” become a noun? what happened to “invitation?” Here’s one that you hear all the time in ads. “Free gift!” Aren’t all gifts free? It’s like when you ask for a substitution of fruit for the fattening fries, the server says “Yes, for an upcharge of $2.” An upcharge is not a substitution.

Now on to a couple grammar reminders. Say “Not all men are handsome.. “ Do not say “All men are not handsome.” Be careful where you put the word “not,” because it changes the whole meaning of the sentence.

I’m going to repeat this next one, because it is so prevalent. “It took my wife and I 3 weeks to choose a paint color.” If you leave “my wife” out, see how silly the sentence sounds. Now put her back in and use “me” instead of “I.” If you think always using “I” or “myself” instead of “me” makes you sound more educated, please think again.

And one final humorous comment. Each time I wrote “pronunciation,” my spell check changed it to pronounciation. My spell checker must have flunked English.

Mary Hiland

Author of “The Bumpy Road to Assisted Living A Daughter’s Memoir”

Available at, dldbooks, and NLS Talking Books DB 91261


2 thoughts on “Careful Listening Creates a Critic

  1. I loved that punch line! My own pet peeve is the use of “more importantly” to mean “more important.” And though it’s not grammatically incorrect, the word “utilize” seems rather pretentious to me when we have a perfectly good word like “use.” People who get paid to talk learnedly of things and dazzle us with their expertise have even started saying “utilizations”and “utilizable!”

    • Yes, I know what you mean about people trying to dazzle us with their pretentious words. I just heard one the other day, but of course now I can’t remember it, now that I’d like to dazzle you with my own contribution to this train of thought.

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