Grammar on the Acela Express

Yesterday I was on an Amtrak train rolling along the East Coast. Compulsive public eavesdropper that I am, I tuned into a loud conversation among three gentlemen in the row in front of me. One, a well-groomed young man in a good suit, was obviously auditioning for the approval of the other two, perhaps as a job applicant or an eager salesman. He said, “Yeah, I coulda went to Boston University.” Then he proceeded to begin several sentences with “Me and him…”

I’ll never know the outcome of the meeting, as the gentlemen disembarked before I did.

Boarding the train and taking the place of the three gentlemen were two ladies. Neither was a native English-speaker, but one was a bit more fluent and confident than the other. However, in contrast to Sir Brags-a-lot, both women spoke impeccable English. One looked up at the sign above the seat and asked her friend, “how is that word pronounced?” I was impressed that she cared enough to ask. Her friend responded, “aisle,” like “‘I’ll,’ as in ‘I’ll be back in a moment.”’ There was conversation about not pronouncing the “s,” as with “island.” The woman more in the know assured her friend, “English can be confusing.” Her friend said, “Yes, but it is such a beautiful language.”

I’ve never thought of English as being a beautiful language necessarily. I find the romance languages more pleasing to the ear, even if I don’t understand everything. Perhaps the rhythms and intonations of a foreign language are what make it beautiful to our ears.

I do believe English is one of the most difficult languages to learn as second language, with all of its exceptions and varied pronunciations. English also poses challenges for us native speakers, which may be why I still enjoy studying it. That said, perhaps I should have been less judgmental of the fellow who could have went to BU.

Oh, whom am I kidding?

8 Comments

Filed under All Things Wordish, Travel

8 responses to “Grammar on the Acela Express

  1. I agree English is a difficult language to learn especially with its intricacies and nuances. Nice post!

  2. Deirdre

    I wish I could have heard the end of the Sir Brags’ conversation. I am tempted to complete his thought though: “I coulda went to BU….if I had written a gramatically correct admission essay.”

  3. Mom

    While driving to a doctor’s appointment yesterday I, too, heard some bombs on a radio talk show. The female co-host said something about “her and her friend went [somewhere].” A little later, this was followed by “Well, I guess he just picked and choosed.” I’m an elderly woman and should not be subjected to such grammatical infractions while operating heavy equipment!

  4. Congratulations on being Freshly Pressed! That is how I found your blog. I am a retired English teacher, so I know I am going to enjoy reading your blog. In fact, I’m putting you on my blogroll.

  5. Aaagghhhh! Sorry. I just realized I didn’t find you on Freshly Pressed. I found you on the tags link. I would say, “My bad,” but that would annoy us both!

    • Coming East, you almost got me! I was preparing for a day of chaos and a bursting inbox. I have been FB three times and it’s great but it can definitely be overwhelming. Thanks for introducing yourself. I look forward to checking out your blog.

  6. Paul Pinkston

    Sounds like he shoulda went to some University. The scary thing to me is that he probably did. He almost certainly went to high school, and he was taught to speak better English in Junior High School. What confounds me is that so many people have been taught proper speech, but they just don’t care. I expect that your impression that he was seeking approval was correct. So many people don’t realize how they are judged by grammar, and just wonder why they don’t receive cerain opportunities. The ironic thing is that when most people want to make a good impression, they talk a lot – not realizing how that may be counter-productive for them.

    Bad grammar is like yellow teeth … someone is bound to notice.

  7. The world needs more grammar police keeping the unraveling of thought and language to a minimum. Keep up the good fight!

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