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Helping Verbs in Your Life

I love baseball. There is so much perfection in the length of the bases, the shape of the diamond, the sound of bat on ball or ball smacking glove. Being outdoors on a perfect evening with a little breeze and watching a ballgame at any level from Anton’s young group of ballplayers to Jayna’s up and coming softball players to a Twins game is as close to nirvana as I’ve gotten.

Except for one thing – some of the banter.

I talk as much as anyone when I’m coaching baseball. I usually have something to say after every pitch. I was brought up to encourage teammates and keep the dialogue going, maybe not Ferris Bueller-like, but I can get going with the best if necessary.

But the English teacher in me just cringes when I hear one phrase: “Now you seen it!” after a player watches a good pitch go by. Brrr, just like listening to nails on a chalkboard! Actually, now you saw it or now you’ve seen it.

Even being the grammar freak that I am (it is my mutant power, after all), I don’t always speak the Queen’s English, especially (according to my wife) when I’m back home in New Ulm. However, the preponderance of “seen” being misused has started to irk me. I hear students say it constantly, I hear their parents say it often, and I even hear my co-workers misuse it.

I always tell my students that it is imperative they use the correct verbiage when writing and to strive for it most of the time while speaking. After all, we often speak in run-on sentences, but we’d prefer to see some more punctuation when you write that amazing story in your diary. But there comes a point where continued slaying of our language just makes you sound uneducated, and that can cost you money!

How so? I can only imagine that in most businesses, if you interview for a job and everything else is equal, the person who speaks better will get the job. If you tell the potential employer that you “seen something on my way in,” while the other candidate says that he/she “saw something,” you may be out of luck.

Does that sound preposterous? I have sat at job interviews and listened to teacher candidates speak as if they were in a junior high cafeteria. All things else equal when looking at resumes, those people dropped quickly on my list.

We’re supremely influenced by those around us. If we hear our parents speak that way, we are likely to follow in those footsteps since that’s what we know best. We look up to our parents and figure they know everything. I must have listened to my mom more growing up! (Happy birthday, Mom!)

Michelle and I are both pretty good grammatically, so imagine my surprise when I started hearing my kids speaking without those crucial helping verbs! I started connecting the dots and realized they were being influenced by talking with kids at daycare. I backtracked and thought about how Mom stayed home with me for many years, which could help explain this strange urge I have to correct other’s speech patterns since Mom speaks well. (Well, not good, but that might be another column!)

My wife’s aunt and uncle posted a cartoon on my Facebook page of an English teacher being arrested for changing a “Got Milk?” sign to proper English: “Do you have any milk?” That’s what I feel like doing too often, and I am guilty of correcting kids’ language frequently.

Hey, you can talk how you want, but it frightens me when I ask students to listen to what they say, and they tell me it sounds perfectly fine to them. I guess some of them are destined to be baseball coaches some day!

Word of the Week: This week’s word is muzzy, which means blurred or indistinct, as in, “The ballplayer’s language was muzzy, leading people to miss his use of a contraction instead of a lack of a helping verb.” Impress your friends and confuse your enemies!

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