t’s been a while since I got on my high horse about the routine maiming of the English language by non-English majors whose job descriptions don’t require an in-depth knowledge of the Chicago Manual of Style. (People who aren’t me, in other words.) That’s because these proofreading pet-peeve entries are largely dependent on what I’ve been encountering out there in the wild, and it just hasn’t seemed worth my time or yours to call out yet another example of incorrect apostrophe usage. (Good God, I see that everywhere; what’s the matter with our schools these days, anyhow?)
In the last few days, however, I’ve noticed several examples of something a little more substantive: the frequent misuse of the word “breath” when the writer obviously means “breathe,” as in, “I can’t breath because the air pollution is so bad.” Specifically, I’ve seen this popping up on Facebook and also in the comments on the Salt Lake Tribune website, which leads me to wonder if this is perhaps a Utah-ism, like our preternatural affection for Jell-O. (That’s not a myth, incidentally; we eat a hell of a lot of Jell-O in these parts.) Even if it isn’t unique to this state, though, it certainly is prevalent here. Interestingly, this tic doesn’t seem to cross over to verbal speech; people don’t say “I can’t breath” when they’re talking, only when they’re writing. But writing, of course, is my professional purview, and it’s what drives me crazy when it’s done incorrectly.
So, let’s run through it, shall we?
Breath is a noun. It is the parcel of air that you inhale or exhale, as in, “I took a deep breath.”
Breathe is a verb. It is the act of inhaling and exhaling, as in “I breathe deeply.”
See? Easy, isn’t it?
You know, this actually reminds me of another Utah thing I may have written about before, the confusion between “loose” and “lose.” I repeatedly see people writing that they are “loosing their minds” or that they “feel like a looser.” Nope, sorry, kids. You lose your keys; that guy over there is a loser. However, your pants are loose because your diet is working. Get it?
And we have time for just one more thing, a funny typo that I caught at work this morning: someone wrote “protocol” as “proto-call.” As in the evolutionary precursor of a call, I guess, like smoke signals.
Well, I thought it was funny.
Today’s episode of The Bloody Red Pen has been brought to you by the number 1138…