Saturday, July 25, 2009
Pandemics, conditional tenses, and some really disturbing news
The other day I blogged about how the media’s use of conditional tense (could, can, might, may, possibly, probably, etc.) in their news stories has caused considerable chagrin among (or, for U.K. readers, amongst) the male half of the population.
Now, bless ’em, they are attempting to spread the chagrin caused by uncertainty about future events to the entire population, regardless of gender. May it please the court, I enter into evidence the people’s Exhibits A and B:
Exhibit A: Swine flu could hit up to 40 percent in US
Exhibit B: State official: Millions of Floridians could contract H1N1 virus within a year
You have been warned (terrified, had the pants scared off ya); now go and do all you can do to protect yourself and your family, beginning with making sure you (and they) get the shot when the vaccine is ready, eat oranges until they’re coming out your ears, keep a hanky at the ready, and cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze. Oh, and you could stop going to raves.
But now for the really disturbing news.
I thought I had caught the aforementioned media in an egregious spelling error in the headline of Exhibit A, namely, the word percent, which, as all of us of a certain age were taught, is wrong. Just to double-check myself, I hopped over to dictionary.com and found that life as we know it is over, kaput, gone with the wind.
After the definition, Random House Dictionary (© Random House, Inc. 2009) added the following:
Usage note: Percent is from the Latin adverbial phrase per centum meaning “by the hundred.” The Latin phrase entered English in the 16th century. Later, it was abbreviated per cent. with a final period. Eventually, the period was dropped and the two parts merged to produce the modern one-word form percent. The two-word form per cent is still used occasionally, but its use is diminishing. The percent sign (%) is used chiefly in scientific, tabular, or statistical material and only with numerals preceding it: 58%.
The penultimate sentence in that paragraph is what caused my jaw to drop and what caused Mrs. Mary Lillard, my eighth-grade teacher, to spin in her grave even faster than usual. The two-word form is still used occasionally? But its use is diminishing? Give us old codgers a break, Random House. Just say plainly, why don’t you, that the two-word form will join the dodo as a relic of the unlamented past just as soon as the generation of people who were taught that spelling matters diminishes to the point of dropping off the face of the earth altogether.
My rant is ended. I now return to my usual calm, sweet, shy, reserved self.
As Robert Browning (a once-famous poet, kiddies) said, “God’s in His heaven; all’s right with the world.”
Or, as the ravers say, “Peace, Love, Unity, and Respect.”