Unkept incidences.

Saturday, August 2nd, 2008

Jane Espenson is a writer and producer on some of my favorite television work of the recent years. She’s done her Fireflys and her Battlestar Galacticas and even her Buffys. And she blogged a bit yesterday about something that, as a caring consumer (and sometimes producer) of the English language, absolutely annoys the heck out of me:

Sir, you mean “unkempt,” not “unkept”. “Whirlwind,” not “worldwind.” You might mean “incidents,” or you might mean “instances,” but you certainly do not mean “incidences.” And, Miss, you must mean “hot on the heels of,” not “hot OFF the heels of.”

And just as I was reading and nodding and feeling all superior over folks who write “for all intensive purposes” and suchlike, she wisely adds:

The only thing wrong with feeling superior about knowing how to use these words is that each of us has a matching supply of words we’re using wrong without even knowing it.

I’ll take her at her word, although I’m not sure where I’ve misplaced my matching supply. I think these kinds of usage errors are a fine indicator of a culture brought up kinda sorta listening to television and hearing-but-not-quite-hearing phrases tossed out…and not bothering to figure out just what was said.

When you pick this stuff up for the first time in, say, a book, the phrase is right there in black and white. But then you may not know how it’s pronounced…until you hear a character in a movie or on TV show say it out loud. (And even then, you may not be getting it just right.)

Her blog, by the way, is a regular in my big ol RSS feed, a consistently entertaining window into the modern world of toiling in television writing.