Whatzup with that?
When words wander away
Here’s a headline on a piece of online spoofery: “Adam Beginning to Suspect Eve Made This Whole Mother’s Day Thing Up.” Funny, but clumsy. The head may have set a record for number of words separating the verb “made” from the adverb “up.”
“You’re such a fuddy-duddy!” you might grumble. Not true. I’m not a stickler about sentence structure. I say, if it communicates, fine. But I draw the line at ridiculous. An adverb ought to live in the same general neighborhood as the verb it modifies.
Dictionary editors seem to agree with me, though one consulted source waffled spectacularly. That editor addressed the phrase “make something up” and proceeded to explain to readers what it meant, giving a half dozen common usages. However, in every explanatory sentence, the editor used the proper phrase “make up something,” rather than the problematic “make something up.” The editor knew the latter was wrong yet declined to embarrass readers by actually saying so.
Here's another example of editing nonfeasance. It concerns the misspelling of “all right” as “alright.” The misspelling is in the dictionary, with the following footnote: “Although ‘alright’ is a common spelling in written dialogue and in other types of informal writing, ‘all right’ is used in more formal, edited writing.” In other words, “alright” is all wrong, but write whatever you want. Thanks for the bold stand, Ms. Editor.
A comment popularly attributed to Winston Churchill supposedly was in response to the bungled editing of his remarks. The former British prime minister is quoted saying, “This is the sort of English up with which I will not put.”
He was calling down prepositional nonsense. I’m talking about phrasal verbal abuse. I appeal to the common sense of readers and writers alike: Let’s bring home those lonely adverbs!
We all know that English is a tough language and there is no better example of that than how it reverses itself. Example: It declares that writers should separate verb and adverb when a pronoun is used, such as “put it up” rather than “put up it.” ESL learners must despair. And then, of course, there are split infinitives, where I choose not to boldly go.
As an editor, I remember once advising a young journalist about arranging words so they make sense and clearly convey the import of a sentence. I used the example of “slow down the car” instead of “slow the car down.” I still remember her look, which conveyed… “I may just speed up the car and run you and all your silly ideas… over.”
All of this being said, scroll back up to the headline. What do you see? “Whatzup.” That’s not in the dictionary. Neither is “whaddya.” I’m confident they both will be, alongside “whodunit” and “gotcha.” Language constantly evolves as it incorporates contemporary meanings, new technical jargon, and mod slang. A living language.
I have no problem with any of that. I merely ask that the changes enhance communication rather than murk it up.