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Author Topic: Dealing with annoying English grammar errors (4th in a series of 14)  (Read 93 times)
Joe Carillo
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« on: November 17, 2017, 07:01:54 AM »

This is the fourth in a series of 14 essays on what I consider as the most annoying English grammar errors. It is running consecutively here in the Forum from November 7, 2017 every Tuesday and Friday until December 22.


4 – The mangling of idiomatic expressions


 
        IMAGE CREDIT: DETAIL FROM COVER OF BOOK BY DAVID HATFIELD

MANGLED IDIOMATIC EXPRESSIONS CAN RIGHTFULLY BE CALLED MALAPHORS


Next to footloose modifiers, the second kind of grammar error that I find most annoying is the mangled idiomatic expression, like this peculiar specimen that I came across in a metro Manila daily in early 2007 (italicization mine): “As to prevention, Salazar said that the Mandaluyong Continuing Legal Education (MCLE) would be there not just to abreast them with the latest rulings and procedures of law, but also to entail the Legal Ethics in the exercise of their profession.”

The correct idiomatic expression is, of course, “to keep abreast of (something),” which means “to be up to a particular standard or level of knowledge about something.” In the problematic sentence above, however, the operative verb of that expression, “keep,” was lopped off, totally obliterating its idiomatic character and reducing its meaning to the syntactically defective literal one, “to be beside one another with bodies in line” (as in, say, “columns of soldiers ten abreast”).

As I have discussed on a number of occasions in the Forum, however, an idiomatic expression doesn’t have the same meaning as those of its individual words. In addition, its component words are not substitutable and the idiom itself is not modifiable. When either or both of these things are done to an idiom, the idiom collapses or its meaning is seriously altered—which is precisely what happened when the idiom “keep abreast of” was modified to “abreast them with.”

(One other “breast” idiom that we should avoid tinkering with is “to make a clean breast of (something).” Over the centuries, this expression has evolved into something that no longer has anything to do with a woman’s breast or bosom. It now means simply to tell the truth about something, particularly something terrible or unlawful we have done, so as to assuage our guilt, as in this sentence: “Before the estranged couple reconciled, they made a clean breast of each other’s infidelities.”)

In the same problematic sentence that we’ve taken up, you may have also noticed this other annoying wrong phrase usage: “to entail the Legal Ethics.” However, it’s not a mangled idiomatic expression but simply a wrong verb choice. The verb “entail” means “to impose, involve, or imply as a necessary result,” as in, say, “Building the mountain tunnel entailed a lot of hard work.” Obviously, though, this wasn’t the meaning intended by that questionable phrase; more likely, it was some form of the verb “observe” or “conform.”

That having been clarified, we can now make this grammatically and semantically correct reconstruction of that problematic sentence: “As to prevention, Salazar said that the Mandaluyong Continuing Legal Education (MCLE) would be there not just to keep them abreast of the latest rulings and procedures of law, but also to ensure the strict observance of legal ethics in the exercise of their profession.”


FIGURE IT OUT: IS THIS A MANGLED IDIOMATIC EXPRESSION OR PLAIN OVERSTATEMENT?


Before leaving the subject, let’s examine this other mangled idiomatic expression that came out in the same newspaper a few months ago (italicizations mine): “(The) President said on Monday that the successful Asean and East Asian summit broke a new dawn for peace, stability and prosperity in the region.”

Here, the grammar violation is twofold: the mangling of the idiom “break of dawn,” which means “sunrise,” and the forcing of the word “break” to work as a transitive verb. In the context of the given statement, however, “break” can only work intransitively—meaning that it can’t have any direct object, whether “dawn” or any other noun. As we all know, dawn just breaks as a natural occurrence, but the writer in this case would have us think that the Asean and East Asian summit “broke a new dawn,” which is an absurd notion, of course.

Here’s a better rendition of that sentence: “(The) President said on Monday that the successful Asean and East Asian summit brought about a new dawn for peace, stability and prosperity in the region.” (2007)

(Next: Bedlam when verbs get too far from their subject)   November 21, 2017

This essay, 4th in a series of 14, first appeared in the column “English Plain and Simple” by Jose A. Carillo in the August 18, 2007 issue of The Manila Times. It subsequently formed part of the book The 10 Most Annoying English Grammar Errors, © 2008 by the author, © 2009 by the Manila Times Publishing Corp. All rights reserved.   

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« Last Edit: November 17, 2017, 07:15:23 AM by Joe Carillo » Logged

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