Waiting for an elevator with me at 826 Broadway on February 13 last week there were two women who were chatting.
We were all going to a concert of medieval music in the Strand Bookstore’s rare book room. I had entered at the Strand’s main entrance next door, at 826 Broadway. I had bought a book that looked very interesting: Wordsworth’s Classical Undersong: Education, Rhetoric and Poetic Truth by Richard W. Clancey. The subject matter fits right in with the focus of this blog. I often find interesting books at the Strand by serendipity.
One of the women said to the other that (as I had experienced) she could not get to the Strand rare book room by entering at the store’s main entrance and walking up or taking the elevator from there to the third floor, as I had tried to do. (The nonfiction books on literature are in the basement, a usual first stop form me.) She said to her interlocutor: “They have a red cord thing” blocking passage to the rare book room from the main store and that therefore she had recognized you had to take the elevator (as we were doing at that moment) next door.
That’s a redundancy, I thought to myself. I am always “proofreading” and “editing” people’s speech (including broadcasters’ and newspaper reporters’) whenever I detect what I am sure is a grammar error or infelicity of style.
Or is it redundant? I thought.
She could have said, as an English teacher would probably so correct a student’s sentence to: There was a red cord blocking the door. Or, A red cord was blocking the door.
But “red cord thing” actually conveys her meaning very well. For she wasn’t certain whether it was a cord (a piece of rope), a string, tape, or whatever. But something resembling a cord such as one sees in a rope line or tape blocking access to accident and crime scenes, something red, was blocking access.
Young women whom one constantly hears chatting on their cell phones often get made fun of by grammar snobs such as myself for using like constantly as an intensifier or qualifier. He seemed like about to go crazy; or, I saw a guy who was like riding a bike with no hands.
English is a marvelously fertile and flexible language, rich in nuance. New ways of saying things in non-formal speech are always being come up with. Such as the use (perhaps overuse) of the all-purpose like as an adverb, and many expressions that convey the meaning exactly, but who would of thought of them before they were invented, e.g., couch potato and soccer mom.
–Roger W. Smith