An internet server in the Charlotte area airs a commercial touting the advantages it offers consumers. After the usual hype with an attractive person talking, the over voice says (to paraphrase), “It’s time to get what you deserve.” My hardback dictionary states that “deserve” means “to be worth of” or “merit.” That first meaning has two connotations: to gain something positive, such as an award; or to receive a negative response to a particular action. Thus, a studious student may be awarded with academic accolades while a spiteful person may be ill-treated by another person. So in general, we use “deserve” to denote being awarded for hard work, courage, or other such positive acts.
Now, I know that language changes over the course of years because of our usage of it. In fact, several academics will argue that it must change in order for us to communicate effectively. Thus, the verb “quote” is now used to designate the noun “quotation”, and the longer form seems to have suffered a slow death. But my favorite new grammar usage, used by even the best of written sources, is “went missing.” A sentence such as, “The toddler went missing over the weekend” is as common as the sin of lying. I do not know why writers use two words when one, such as “disappeared”, would suffice, but “went missing” is here to stay. Furthermore, the verb “went” is a transitive which means that if it has a direct object, that object must be a noun or pronoun. However, that may be too complex, so let us just suggest we all use one simple word for the awkward phrase “went missing” because “missing” is not a place but a modifier.
It is no surprise that a television commercial maligns our language since its purpose is to communicate to the consumer. But I think we are headed down that “slippery slope” of misunderstanding each other if we continue on the path we are following. For example, I am old enough to remember the flap over a popular cigarette advertisement that stated, “… taste good like a cigarette should.” Our world has survived that confusion between like and as, but I wonder at what price.
Not too many years ago, I was teaching 12th grade English in a school in Woodstock, VA. The position was provisional for that spring semester, but would become full time the following fall, so I applied for the full-time position. During the interview, the principal asked me why I was requiring my classes to read Macbeth in the original and not in a translation. Shocked by her ignorance, I answered that we read Shakespeare for many reasons, but especially for the language. More recently when I shared with a friend one more article by an English teacher arguing that there was no need to teach Shakespeare, he responded, “Soon Shakespeare may be offered as a way to satisfy a foreign language requirement.”
Language matters and if we shift too much in its use, we will create confusion instead of clarity. To defend incorrect usage by, “Well, you know what I meant,” is a lazy excuse. As a reader and/or listener, all I know is what I read and/or hear. Anything else is a guess and if you don’t want my attention to go missing, then be precise. We both deserve it.