Sad Deaths and the Stigma of Poor Grammar

It’s difficult to get through even one day’s reading without having to struggle through a 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. There’s nothing shameful about that.

Because they know how important it is to send out quality communications, some set out to develop their skills. Some 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. And 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.

Across My Desk is a collection I have put together, not just because they can be hilarious, but to explain why they are wrong, and what the writers should have said instead.

Here are several examples:

‘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.

Published version: It’s time to end the stigma surrounding mental health. Note: ‘health’ is the wrong word here, too. Without an additional adjective (‘good’ or ‘poor’), mental health is generally accepted, by default, to be a positive]

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

Here’s 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.

‘… 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, 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’, letting the commas put 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.

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

‘Hopefully, he died’

Am I being callous and cold? Not at all. The sentence means he died hopefully – that is, in a state of hope. Posibly 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?

’To win 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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