Please, Mr. Alito, To the Rescue!

Being the grammar nut that I am known to be, I nearly stood up and cheered when I heard Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito deliver his nomination acceptance speech. Given that he was preceded on the speaker’s platform by Dubya, it is no wonder that hearing Alito’s grammatically correct and clearly delivered speech, complete with natural intonations and inflections to give it the intended meaning, was a huge contrast to what we had just been subjected to.

I don’t know that Alito and I share common political perspectives, but that’s not what this is about. I appreciate seeing a person–and perhaps especially a man, since men are supposedly language-challenged–who can use the language as it should be–something so rare these days that I can’t remember the last time I noticed it. Right after hearing his speech that day, I sent an e-mail to a friend saying how impressed I was and that perhaps Alito should be named Grammar Czar. We sure could use one of those.

Apparently I was not the only one who noticed. In a piece from the 11/07/05 NY Times, both the judge and his father were noted for their language prowess.

One legislator took to calling him (Alito’s father) “the professor.” Mr. Applebaum said of Mr. Alito, who had emigrated from Italy as a child: “He would never hesitate to correct anyone’s English. He’d come right out and say: ‘Don’t use the word ‘presently. Use the word ‘currently.” Years later, lawyers working in Washington would get documents kicked back to them by Mr. Alito’s son with what Professor Kmiec describes as ‘arrows and cross-outs and rewritings that reflect this senior Alito’s instruction on how to write a good, clear sentence, an organized, structured paragraph, not to bury the lead, as it were, so as not to keep your client guessing as to what he can or cannot do.'”

Can’t we find someone else to nominate for the Supreme Court? This man’s talents should not be wasted when our language is in such an alarming state of dilapidation and disarray. Need some for instances?

When is the last time you actually heard someone say “There are two things?” Listen, and you will hear that everyone says–and often writes, “There’s two things.” In other words, the ‘s at the end of ‘there’ means ‘is.’ ‘Is’ is clearly incorrect because two things are not one thing–that is, two things are plural and one thing is singular. Plural things take plural verbs (like ‘are’) and a singular thing takes a singular verb (like ‘is’). Where and how did we go so wrong that now everyone on the planet–with perhaps the exception of Mr. Alito and me (and I’ve had to catch myself more than once) says, “There’s a thousand reasons…?”

And here’s another example of what well-educated people have fallen into: “Mary went with Joe and I,” or,”Mary told Marcia and I.” Worse yet, but still frequently heard, “Mary told she and I.” Yikes! Mr. Alito, Senior is no doubt doing flip-flops in his grave, no disrespect intended.

I once had the nerve, as it turned out, to correct David E. Kelly on a line in an Ally McBeal episode that had high-powered lawyers with presumably high-powered educations to match, succumbing to the “With-He-and-I” syndrome. He did not take kindly to correction, but I noticed on a later episode that the problem had been taken care of. One for our side, Mr. Alito.

How about the lay and lie thing? Oh my word–Mr. Alito and I have few that we can count on our side on this subject. Suffice it to say that each time I hear an aerobics instructor tell an exercise class to “lay down on the floor,” or a TV reporter say, “He was laying in the street,” I want to shout, “It is not possible!”–unless in each case they were talking about laying eggs. Similarly, it is impossible for someone to have “laid down,” or to be “laying” on the bed–unless of course egg laying is being referred to again.

Really, saving the English language is more than a full-time job and there are far fewer people who are qualified to head up that effort than there are to serve on the Supreme Court. We need Samuel Alito to save us from total linguistic anarchy, to which we are well on our way and where we will soon arrive, unless something/someone steps in to take charge and reverse the stampede.

Please, Mr. Alito, think of what your father would say.

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