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Food For Thought

There are words we use in conversation and very informal writing (such as texting – which is a newly popular term I find greatly annoying). We don’t pay a lot of attention to the way these words are spelled– or even if they ARE words– because we’re concerned only with getting the message across. A few are real words but are generally used incorrectly.
At the top of the list, and the bane of every English teacher’s existence, is the non-word “alot.” One teacher I know began the first day of class each semester by writing that word on the chalk-board and warning her students that, if she should see that word in any of their written assignments, it would earn them an automatic F. Even my computer (which I don’t believe to be an authority on grammar) knows this is not a word and insists on correcting it whenever I try to type it. After repeated tries, I ultimately had to let it make the correction, then go back and sneakily remove the blank space it automatically inserted. A similar word, ALLOT, has an entirely different meaning, “to portion out.” When your meaning is intended to indicate a great amount or number of something, use TWO words– A LOT. Just remind yourself that ALOT is a four-letter word.
Some dictionaries will tell you that another non-word should be reserved for informal usage, but attribute to it a very specific meaning. That word, which is familiar to all of us, is ALRIGHT. The definition given tells us to use it in the same way as OKAY to indicate that something is proper or acceptable. To be correct, you should write it as TWO words, ALL RIGHT. I suspect that the erroneous, informal spelling came into being because of its similarity to the perfectly proper word ALREADY, which means “presently” or “so soon.” It does not mean “prepared” as in ALL READY. In speech, of course, nobody knows which spelling you intend, but be careful when you write it!
Another perfectly proper word, AWHILE, is so commonly misused that it will no doubt be considered acceptable before long, even by the fussiest of grammarians. It seems that just about everybody gets it mixed up with A WHILE. When spelled as one word, it has a specific meaning, “for a short time” and should be used only when it can be replaced by those four words without changing the meaning. This rule dictates that you cannot use if after the word “for” because you will be, in effect, saying “for for a short time” which is gobbledegook. I come across this incorrect usage frequently, even in the writings of famous authors that I otherwise admire. The mistakes may not be their own, since most written works pass through the inspection and editing of others at least once between leaving the author’s desk and appearing in print. I find that fact even more depressing, since those editors and publishers ought to know more about those things than most of us. Remember, if you are invited to “stay awhile,” you should linger FOR A SHORT TIME, not all afternoon. If somebody wants you to spend a great deal of time as their guest, they will probably mention a specific amount of time, or at least say, “stay for supper,” or “spend the rest of the summer with us.”
I cannot understand the tendency to turn nouns into verbs by saying such inane things as, “I gift my friends with homemade candy for Christmas.” This seems to be an attempt to invent a new part of speech. Quite recently, someone asked what gerunds are, as this appears to be a lesson too many English teachers omit. Gerunds, if you were cheated out of this fascinating little bit of information, are verbs used as nouns. An example of this usage is; Swimming is my favorite sport. “Swimming” becomes the subject of the sentence, even though it is an action word (verb) so, here it is used as a noun. The use of “gift” (a noun) as the action word (verb) in that statement about homemade candy, is way too self-conscious and contrived to even compare this “new usage” to the tried and true gerund. It gets even sillier then you start to conjugate this new “verb” and say such things as, “He gifts her with flowers on her birthday,” or, “She gifted me with the latest best-seller.” What’s wrong with the word GIVE? Isn’t it enough to say that you gave someone jewelry, or do you want to make sure the listener knows it was a GIFT, and that you didn’t sell it or trade for it? And the past tense, the use of the word “gifted” gets us to a whole new dilemma where we are further confused by the usual meaning of the word that implies talent.
Gerunds have been around for A LONG WHILE. It’s ALRIGHT to use them when talking about activities such as singing or reading. As for that use of nouns as verbs, even though it’s ALREADY become acceptable to say it in informal speech, I wouldn’t say it A LOT. I think that’s a fad that will last only AWHILE. Be meticulous about the way you use these words in your WRITING.