Thursday, November 15, 2007

Back To The English Language - Choices, Options and Decisions

As hinted in the subtitle of this little blog, every once and a while, I like to sound off on the English language. It's as least as interesting as all the different programming ones :)

I'm just coming off a long day of work after a long night of fighting a cold and watching a lot of bad TV. The topic for today is something I notice constantly, but never really say anything about, because the misuse of the meaning of these words is so commonly traded, it seems odd when a screenwriter or news anchor uses them correctly.

I can't tell you how many times I'll be watching a movie and some guy (usually a tough guy - the hard ass) will be putting the press on his nemesis-of-the-moment and he'll say something like "Listen, Pal. You've got two choices. We can do this the easy way, or the hard way." Something like that. Feel free to embellish with expletives.

So, then, I think a passive "what the.." and let it go. I mean, no one wants to hear about it every time it happens - because it happens all the time! I don't expect the victim on the TV screen to correct some hooligan's English, but somebody needs to sit all these screenwriters, commentators, and other people whose job it is to "speak" to the general public, down in a room and not let them leave until they understand the meaning of certain terms. Of course, we'll have to excuse the one's who are clever enough to point out that their characters only speak that way because everybody else in the world does. Sadly, it's called authenticity ;)

What I'm saying is, the victim here doesn't have two choices. Only one! He does have two options, however. He must choose between those two options, make a decision, and select the one that will propel the plot in an interesting direction; or, at least, keep him from being beaten too badly.

I would actually like to a see a scene where some rough slouching beast of a bad-guy says something like "All right, buddy (as a blogger's side note, I think it's strange that bad guys are always so chummy with their prey. Do they need friends that badly? They should try being nice ;) - Starting again - "All right, buddy. You've got two choices. You can either do this the easy way or the hard way and you can either eat your beans or take a vitamin supplement." More confusing? Yes, but at least the guy really has two choices.

I'd imagine it would be really hard to sound cool responding to that multiple-threat. Who's got a snappy comeback for two completely unrelated evaluations? "Oh, I think we're gonna do this the hard way, my friend... and pass the beans!"

That's enough for now, but keeps your ears open, pay attention to the words fictional characters, newsfolk and even our governmental leaders use when they speak. Always be asking yourself: Are these multiple choices or one choice composed of several options? Is someone making a choice (actively constructing a set of options), or are they making a decision? Once they've decided, can they still choose?

Consider the meaning of these three words and their derivitives - Choice - Option - Decision . Once you and your friends have agreed upon the definitions (after consulting a dictionary or Strunk and White), turn on the TV and slam a shot or beer every time somebody completely mangles the meaning.

Warning: If you engage in the above activity, you may not be able to drive home safely at the end of the evening. If you are watching CNN, you may not be alive after an hour or so ;)

, Mike