Sunday, August 30, 2009

Why English Teachers Get Grey Hairs

I just fielded the sixth call for one of my children that began "Can I speak to____ please." One I could have dealt with--six was just too many.

There are two words in English that are usable when discussing whether or not something will be done by someone. One of the words is "can": the other is "may."

When you are making a request to speak with someone, the word to use is "may." "Can" has to do with your ability--physical, mental, emotional--to be able to do something.

When you say "May I introduce you to______?" you are asking for permission. The same thing for "May I speak to______?" But when you say "Can I speak to______?" you are going to get this response from me: "I don't know. Can you?"

School has yet to start and I am already getting irked by the grammar and usage groaners that are flying fast and furious. Come on, it's not as if I'm insisting that you use ineluctable correctly.*** Two simple words: can and may.

***Yes, ineluctable. A student last fall, in talking about a particular candidate for public office whom he did not feel stood a chance at getting elected, wrote that the candidate was ineluctable, so not the meaning he wanted to convey. What he wanted was unelectable. Ineluctable means incapable of being evaded; inescapable;inevitable; unavoidable. And as it would turn out, that candidate was, indeed, ineluctable. I, like that student, would so much more have preferred that the candidate be unelectable.


Tricia said...

Also an English teacher here. My husband has asked for years why I just can't turn off the teacher mode in June and turn it back on in September. I wish!

Just a thought, but not answering the phone might help.

Anonymous said...

I only taught for two years. I don't think it's the teaching. I couldn't turn off the grammar part of my brain before I taught, and I can't turn it off now, years after my short teaching stint.
If I hear one more "between you and I" or "I feel badly (why, do your hands not work? I'm so sorry..)" I will have to start tearing out my hair...

Something Different said...

My father is an English teacher, and he is famous for his obnoxious ways of correcting grammar mistakes.

Offer him a coffee, and he will reply, "Robusta is a coffee which grows in Brazil."

Ask if you can sleep by your friend's house, and he answers "that's really nasty of them. They won't let you in?"

And if you tell him that you need a [insert expensive and not very necessary object such as ipod here] because every single one of your friends has one, he will ask you why the married friends don't have.

He is successful though. We don't make these mistakes anymore. :-)