May 30, 2020
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Entertainment in finding grammatical errors

In the frigid doldrums of winter, when the entertainment value of listening to the basement furnace kick in and watching the heating budget go up in smoke gets old, I fill the void by jotting down strange things I have heard on radio or television and clipping weird grammatical constructions from the morning newspaper.

A couple of times a year I purge the collection and start over again. Call me Mr. Excitement, if you will. But it beats the thrill of periodically rearranging the snow in my dooryard after Highway Snowplow Guy has sealed me off yet again from the outside world.

To meet my recommended daily dosage of sports, I have watched a ton of college basketball on television, getting psyched for the annual wall-to-wall March Madness basketball extravaganza that will eventually produce a national champion.

My notes show that in addition to confirming a long-held suspicion that many referees have never met the blatant palming-of-the-ball rule violation that they couldn’t ignore, the endeavor has enlightened me about a couple of things.

One is that the sportscasting crowd apparently has a rule that no 3-point basket can ever be simply made or scored by a player. Seemingly without exception, the shot is “knocked down.” A layup is never “knocked down,” nor is a soft little hook shot from the paint. But a 3-pointer? Nearly always. I have no idea why. Perhaps the affliction has something to do with how far from the hoop the shooter is standing when the ball is heaved.

Nor can I say why it is that sports announcers broadcasting games played indoors inexplicably continue to say of a player who has fallen to the floor that he has fallen to the “ground.” Nothing new there. Except that last November, according to my notes, a sportscaster calling a National Football League game between the New York Giants and Atlanta — a game presumably played on the actual ground — described a player as having fallen to the “floor.” I recall thinking at the time that we’ve come full circle with this particular annoyance, and it’s probably time to cast it upon the scrap heap of tired sports cliches.

There are other nits to pick, outside the sports genre. Self-absorbed cable talk show hosts post some newsmaker’s quoted remarks on a screen and read them to the audience, often adding or deleting words — sometimes changing the thrust of the quote — and they seem not to notice what they’ve done.

A televised man-on-the-street ambush interview produces lines such as, “Anyways, all’s I know is my taxes are too high,” and the national cringe factor jumps a couple hundred points.

A local television reporter announces that selectmen in two area towns are “dialoguing” about a mutual problem, and I wonder if that might be better, or worse, than just plain talking about it. A national television reporter refers to those who died aboard the USS Cole off Yemen at the hands of terrorists a few years ago as “soldiers” rather than sailors, and the sorry trend toward referring to everyone, in whichever branch of military service, as the generic one-size-fits-all “soldier” continues.

In broadcasts a few days apart late last fall, a couple of network reporters flubbed the dub, to use an old Yankee-ism, earning a place in my folder. One reporter spectacularly misplaced his modifier — my old English teacher would have said he dangled it — to come up with a clunker that began, “Billed as the biggest earthquake to hit America, the people were …”

“Submerged under 10 feet of water, the couple had little choice but to move,” declared the fellow’s colleague in commenting on the flooding of homes down south. I don’t believe that one came out quite as the lady had hoped. I pictured a couple, clad in scuba gear, swimming from kitchen to living room below the high-water mark and leaving a trail of bubbles while discussing whether they should choose to surface and head for higher ground.

Not long ago, I heard a candidate for governor of Virginia talk about his constituents having “less choices,” rather than fewer choices. I momentarily wished I lived in Virginia so I could vote against the man on that count alone.

Fortunately, the sound of my furnace clicking on snapped me back into the real world. Buck up, sport, it seemed to say. Official spring is but a couple hundred gallons of $3 heating oil away.

BDN columnist Kent Ward lives in Limestone. Readers may reach him at

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