It’s inevitable that a writer will write about words. There can be a zillion more important matters to write about, like, for instance, how do PACT Tests measure educational progress? But every so often the time comes for a good old-fashioned rant about how English is going down the tubes. About those PACT Tests. The gods of good English, Strunk and White, would have a hissy fit about PACT Tests. The T stands for Tests. So “PACT Tests” is like saying “Palmetto Achievement Challenge Tests Tests.”
    We need to either get rid of the T and call them PAC Tests, or get rid of the Tests and call them PACTs. But I’m under no illusions that’s going to happen. The phrase is already too ingrained.
    Another annoyance is “podium.” That little rascal is digging its way under our tongues like there’s no tomorrow.
It’s appropriate sometimes, of course. It’s fine to say “podium” when you’re referring to an actual podium – which is a platform or elevated area, kind of like what the conductor stands on in front of his orchestra.
    But the problem comes when people start using “podium” to refer to a lectern.
    Here’s a way to remember which is which. The lectern is the thing you put your reading materials on. “Lectern” comes from the Latin word for reading. Think lecture, lexicon, dyslexic.
    Podium comes from the Latin word for foot. Think pedicure, podiatrist, pedestrian. So a podium is a something that you put your feet on, not your lecture notes.
    To imagine it visually: You can plop a lectern down on a podium with no problem, but it would be exceedingly difficult to balance a podium on top of a lectern.  
    Or you can use my grisly little mnemonic. I imagine Hannibal Lecter addressing an audience from the lectern (get it – Lecter, lectern?)—then some ignorant soul calls the thing a podium, so Hannibal eats the guy’s feet.
Next on my hit list: “I” used where “me” is supposed to be. Some examples:
    “James gave Mary and I some shrimp.” (Should be me, not I)
    “John is going fishing with Susan and I.” (Should be me, not I)
    “Dan and Dawn had dinner last night at John and I’s house.” (For heaven’s sake, just say “our house”.)
I blame pop songs. When the writers are desperate for a good rhyme, they throw in linguistic perversions like “between you and I” and never mind the fact that the phrase will get stuck in the heads of many fine Americans. And it is also a matter of world peace, because it is a gross injustice to the non-native speakers throughout the world who are earnestly trying to learn English via pop music.
    Another explanation is the phenomenon called hypercorrection. It’s what happens when ambitious people try to convey their social superiority through their speech and they fail miserably. Can you believe they have an entire Wikipedia article devoted to this topic?
    Here’s how they define hypercorrection: “Usage that many informed users of a language consider incorrect, but that the speaker or writer uses through misunderstanding of prescriptive rules, often combined with a desire to seem formal or educated.”
    In short, some people try so hard to sound smart that they sound really dumb.
    Another example of hypercorrection is the rampant use of “which.” People can ruin a nice, decent sentence by replacing a perfectly adequate “that” with an ill-advised “which.” They like “which” because they think it sounds educated and “that” sounds common.
    Strunk and White advise the practice of which-hunting. This is a special ops technique to make your writing less annoying to educated readers. The object is to replacing defining whiches with thats, and to enclose nondefining whiches in commas. Or something like that.
    If that type of exercise fascinates you and you want to learn more, take a look at a book that tells it like it is: A Grammar Book for You and I – OOPS, Me!: All the Grammar You Need to Succeed In Life. It’s by C. Edward Good.
    It might seem silly to be preoccupied with these minor matters of language, but such is the stuff of formal education. If we can teach children to take delight in words, and to get their thrills from stringing them together in pleasing ways, our kids might start doing better on their SATs and their ACTs and, of course, their PACTs.
Or is it PACT Tests?