Friday, July 01, 2011

(07.02.11) Recommends:

Enough Already.

So. I grew up in a household with a mother who was constantly correcting grammar. Were the corrections that she was making actually, like, correct? Yes, they were. How do I know this? Because I was a child. I didn't know anything then. So, whatever she said was correct. I'm not a child now. Yet probably I know less now than then. [1] However. My thoughts on grammar -- like Barack Obama's thoughts on gay marriage -- are "evolving."

My evolution is multifaceted, I suppose. It comes partly from annoyance at the self-righteousness of those who take up the self-appointed mantel of Grammar Police. Particularly because these are often people who, on the one hand, are so eager to express to you that they know how to differentiate between "your" and "you're" yet, on the other hand, whose actual expression is such that it is clear that they cannot make distinctions that are less than marginally more sophisticated, e.g., when to use "who" vs. "that" or when to use "regard" vs. "regards" or, good heavens, in a move that would make my mother blush, when to use "good" vs. "well."

It also comes from my reading of Steven Pinker. He managed both to confirm every suspicion that I ever had regarding the fraudulence of the Grammar Police while focusing me in on the idea that "grammar" is really two distinct concepts.

First, there is grammar as a system of understanding; e.g., in English, the subject-verb-object construction. e.g., "I drank soda last night." If you ask an English-speaking child what he did last night he might say "I drinked soda last night." Or: "I dranked soda last night." But he would never say, "Soda night I last drank." Thus, grammar is a system, a type of math requiring a basic set of rules and equations so that we may all communicate with each other. And it should be clear that nobody messes up this form of grammar [2]. This is what I call capital G Grammar. But this is not what the Grammar Police are after. (This would be much too subtle for the Grammar Police.)

Second, there is grammar as style. This is the "who" vs. "that" problem. The split infinitive problem. The double negative problem (e.g., ever experience Grammar Police labeling English language double negatives as "So Ghetto" while labeling French a "Romance Language"? Even though the basic "ne...pas" construction of French language is a...double negative. Whoops.[3]). This is grammar that the Grammar Police latch onto. This is what I call lower case g grammar.

Okay, all of this is by way of introduction. It's my way of saying that I'm composed of two sides, one of which does experience an increase in blood pressure when it experiences people maligning language -- i.e., lowercase g grammar -- while also understanding that these infractions rarely, if ever, interfere with Capital G Grammar.

However. There are some things that even my Grammar v. grammar enlightened mind cannot handle.

Today's example: "I was lucky enough to..."

Following find common forms of this construction:

"I was lucky enough to go to Harvard."

"I was lucky enough to get a job at Google."

"I was lucky enough to make an investment which made me a millionaire."

No. No! You were lucky. Not lucky enough. Lucky. As in:

You were lucky to go to Harvard.

You were lucky to get a job at Google.

You were lucky to make an investment which made you a millionaire.

This is either false humility or delusion at its finest.

Lucky enough suggests that your lot in life is mostly due to something that you, um, did. And while I believe that's rarely the case, let me be clear. I fully believe that people who went to Harvard are smart. And worked hard. And received good grades and test scores. And so forth and so on. And deserved to be there. Fine. So say: "I deserved to go to Harvard." Or: "I worked hard and got into Harvard." Or: "I went to Harvard." Or my preferred edit: "I was lucky to go to Harvard."

Cuz you know what: you were lucky to go there. There are millions and millions of people who would love to go to Harvard. So stop with the enough already.

Saying you were "lucky enough" does two things.

First. It suggests that you, in all other respects and acting alone, were qualified e.g., for Harvard. And that it was a mere scintilla of "luck" that caused you to be at Harvard. When in fact it was almost certainly the other way around: you were mostly lucky and merely happened to do some good things along the way.

Like: Were you, e.g., born in the U.S. or were you born in Sub-Sahara Africa? Were you, e.g., the progeny of very smart parents? Were you, e.g., born fully functional or were you born with Down Syndrome? Etc etc? Was it the former?

Oh, it was?

Was the reason that you were born in/with the former due to hard work?

Oh, it wasn't?

Wanna know why?

It's because you weren't "lucky enough," dick face: you were just lucky.

Second. It suggests, as mentioned above, the most obnoxious form of false humility.

"I went to Harvard. That's a place of smart people. I'm a smart person. But it's uncouth to say so. So I'll say that I went to Harvard because I was lucky. It could have been any of us. It just happened to be me. I was lucky. I mean, lucky enough. All the rest of it was my raw smarts."

A closing note. This is not meant to be construed as a rant against Harvard! Harvard is totally cool and amazing. I somehow just kept typing it in above.

And the optimistic part of this rant is that, somehow, I come across really smart people constantly. Even people who went to Harvard! Really successful people. In all manners of the word successful. And the overwhelmingly vast majority of these people do not use the "lucky enough" construction! They actually just say "lucky." It makes my heart sing. And it makes me think there's something to my "false humility" conjecture. Probably there's a little insecurity mixed in with the false humility.

So sad. Because if only they were "secure enough" or "humble enough" rather than "lucky enough" they might be interesting people.

Regardless. Hence forth, please refrain from the "lucky enough" construction, people! And when you hear it, as you inevitably will, give the speaker a dirty glance! Because in the end, "lucky enough" is a much more offensive misuse of grammar than anything the Grammar Police will ever mention on their Facebook status feeds.


[1] Which is to say that this post has any number of "grammatical errors." But I've already beat you to the punch line. So you have nothing to gain in mentioning them to me. I already know. Even if I don't, like, already know. See what I did there?

[2] Unless there was some sort of severe neurological deficiency that made expression of this mathematical equation impossible. Which, in an unfortunate way, reiterates that grammar is fundamentally about communication and not style.

[3] Also, what does it say that the romance languages derive from something called Vulgar Latin?