In the Grand Scheme of Things

I might be overreacting. It’s been known to happen before.

Sometimes I get a little overfastidious about language usage. I don’t mean I get all crazy-offended at so-called “four-letter words” and such (though I used to, and I still call The Youth out when they use them, and I try–not always successfully–to avoid using them myself). I mean things like: hybrid lingo involving two or more words of different root languages gives me hives. Example: staycation. Even though it’s true–I do prefer to travel during my time off–I don’t believe this is the primary reason I want to drop-kick that word out of present-day vocabulary.

Or–it kind of drives me up a tree when people say a la something in American English. (I don’t remember if they do this in England–but over there they do other things to butcher the French language. It’s just that there it seems somewhat adorably intentional.) The a la thing is useful because it somehow expresses of the or according to the nature of in a different–or briefer–way than English does. The problem, for me, is that la is feminine, and so when someone says something like, “He’s got a sense of humour a la Jeff Dunham” (which probably means it involves puppets), I get all squirmy because “of the Jeff Dunham” sounds weird, and last I knew, Jeff Dunham is not female. (Some might also argue that he’s not humorous, but I’m not going there with this post.) To “correctly” insert French idiom into an English sentence, we should say, “a Jeff Dunham” (with an accent ague, which I don’t know how to make on this blog), but since no one does use the idiom that way in American English, if I started throwing that around, no one would have any idea what I was trying to say. Then I’d have to explain it, and they’d all fall asleep, and . . . hey! Wake up!

So then I do what I don’t want to do and just accept the Americanised French and say a la (peanut butter sandwiches) all over the place like everyone else, and feel a mild sense of self-loathing for doing it. (It’s just words, but I still feel hypocritical which, every time I am, engenders the self-loathing thing.) Also au jus. It means with juice (like–meat juice), but in “American,” we say, “Would you like some au jus with that?” I say it. It just drives me crazy that I do.

“A la peanut butter sandwiches!!”Not sure to whom photo credit goes, but I got the photo from Or we could pretend I was one of the hippie chicks clearly in the background.





19 thoughts on “In the Grand Scheme of Things

  1. It would actually be “au” Jeff Dunham (the masculine contraction for “of the”). It would also be an accent grave (going down), not aigu (going up).

    Beyond that, I agree! It bugs the H-E-double-hockey-sticks out of me to hear people misuse any language, but even more so to hear them misappropriate words that don’t particularly mean anything anyway.

    Having said that, ask the French what their word for sandwich is (hint: it’s not cheese-and-meat-between-two-slices-of-bread).

  2. Oh Jenn, you’re a wee bit crazy aren’t you? I can’t say those things bug me too much, but there are some northern phrases that drive me up the wall: “9 while 5” meaning 9 until 5, and “can I lend you…?” meaning “can I borrow … from you, please?”

    • You’ve only just noticed? 🙂

      Not having ever lived in the north (of your country), I never heard those turns of phrase–but I think they would bug me, too. I always found, “It’s all right,” as a reply to, “Thank you,” a little off-putting. To American ears it sounds simultaneously dismissive AND as if you just inconvenienced them.

  3. As a non-native English speaker, I don’t know if my opinion counts 🙂 But as somebody who lives in a different country with a different language than she grew up with, AND a country where nearly everybody has more than one language in his/her repertoire, I actually like the phenomenon of mixing languages… It’s true, I have less patience with people putting English words in the Dutch language. But it’s actually kind of creative, don’t you think, to pick and choose from different languages? Now there is a difference for me if they (we) use the expression right (and pronounce it right), or if my husband f.i. says deja vous when he means deja vue and says: that’s how we say it in America. Then I get annoyed 🙂

    • Haha! That’s funny!

      I guess I don’t mind mixing languages, as such–but I mind it in he same word (for some reason–and I don’t mean mixing modern languages in the same word–both ‘stay’ and ‘vacation’ are English words, but I feel like ‘vacation’ is Latinate, and ‘stay’…isn’t. I just mind when the mixed in languages are used technically incorrectly. But apparently (see comment above) I don’t even know how to use them correctly myself, either!

  4. While living in Romania and trying to learn the language (I was know as the butcher) I would inevitably find myself using half English and half Romanian, not quite the same as you are talking about here, but I am sure I a-la annoyed the heck out their peanut butter sandwiches. 🙂

  5. But you see, English (much like many other languages) is entirely made up of borrowing parts from other languages and uniquely twisting them into something different. So, while it’s not at all acceptable in the language being borrowed from, not accepting it in the borrowing language seems odd, since you accept all the twists that were borrowed long ago.

    I liked this blog post from Language Log a while back that talked about how the “uneducated” are more likely to use their native pronunciation rules, which would be considered a more correct way to be speaking their own language:

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