Sad Deaths and the Stigma of Poor Grammar

It’s difficult to get through even one day’s reading without having to struggle through the tangled mess of woolly words – a real dog’s blanket of poor grammar and lazy language use.

For most people, writing is not their primary function at work and, whether from lack of time or lack of training, they make mistakes. The smart ones hire professionals to edit and polish or proofread, so they have more time to spend on what they do best – the jobs they are paid to do.

For others, writing is what they are paid to do. They don’t always do it well.

That’s why, every day, absolute howlers stroll through the holes in their knowledge and saunter on, unnoticed by their editors.

Here are just two, of many that come ‘Across My Desk’.

‘The stigma surrounding . . .’ 

A stigma is a mark, with a negative connotation. So far, so good (or bad, in this case). A stigma doesn’t ‘surround’ anything, though. If there were a stigma ‘surrounding you’, you’d be laughing. It would have missed you altogether and you’d be clean.

It’s just like another silly expression: ‘The discussion centred around…’ Sorry, can’t be done! It would have to centre on; ‘around’ is for circumferences – that is, going around in circles, which, admittedly, is what a lot of discussions do.

Published version: It’s time to end the stigma surrounding mental health (21 Jan 2019) [Note: ‘health’ is the wrong word here, too. Health is a positive!]

Correct version: It’s time to remove the stigma of (or from) mental illness.

‘… but he sadly died’

I bet he did. He might not have been looking forward to shuffling off this mortal coil, and there might have been some long, lingering and sad goodbyes. But what if his exit were sudden? No time for tears or regrets, then…

Seriously, though, this is poor grammar because the adverb is misplaced. It should be written as ‘… but, we are sad to say, he died’ or even ‘… but, sadly, he died’, putting the sadness where it belongs – with the speaker (and perhaps others), who are sorry to see him go.

Published version: We remember those who have sadly died this year (16 July 2019)

Correct version: We remember sadly those who have died this year.

‘Hopefully, he died’

Am I being callous and cold? No. Just emphasising what ‘hopefully’ means. If he died hopefully (in a state of hope), it probably means he had an eye on reaching a better place.

So many writers don’t get this. It isn’t a case of poor grammar; they simply use the word wrongly and convey a meaning they didn’t intend.

‘Hopefully we’ll win fifty million dollars’  should be written as ‘We hope we’ll win…’

‘Hopefully we’ll buy a ticket’ makes more sense. Buying a ticket in the hopeful state is the only way to do it; otherwise, why bother?

‘Winning hopefully’ seems a bit selfish, in my opinion. After a fifty million dollar windfall, there’s pretty much nothing left to hope for.

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