FRIDAY FRUMP: Language lapses

Virtually every day, I spot some purported professional misusing the English language.

The most recent example came in the mail (!) from Alaska Airlines (NYSE:ALK) in the form of a flyer inviting me to apply for the airline's affinity card, which it promised “will take you further than you ever imagined.”

Here's what's wrong: “Further” refers to an extension of time or degree. “Farther” refers to physical distance. “It will help further your travel agenda” works; taking you “further than you ever imagined” does not.

A plea to Alaska's PR and Marketing departments: PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE find SOMEONE who has passed high school freshman English and have them proof-read your collateral materials before you send them out.

Later that same day, I saw a Facebook ad for dress shoes that the manufacturer claimed were more comfortable than sneakers.  They looked good, but were they?  Let's see what people say in the comments.

While some made positive remarks, one person said, “I got them and the soul separated in three days.”  Were the shoes raptured, or…?

But my favorite pet language peeves center on the verbiage used in airports and on airplanes. 

For example, I overheard a passenger standing at the ticket counter as the agent rebooked his flight. As he received his new ticket, he asked a telling question.

Passenger: "Is my frequent flier number in there?"
Agent (looks): "No. What is it?"
Passenger: "I don't know; I don't use it that much."

Doesn't that contradict the notion of "frequent" flier?

A few moments later, a gate agent said, "Once again, ladies and gentlemen, this is the FINAL BOARDING ANNOUNCEMENT for Flight..."

Apparently, he was just teasing when he said the previous announcement was the "final" announcement.

Aboard the plane, the flight attendants said, "We have an EXTREMELY full flight today." The term “full” is an absolute; either a container has additional capacity or it does not. Sure, you can OVER-fill something, but that means something is spilling out of the container. I have yet to be on a flight where a passenger occupies one of the overhead luggage bins or where more than one person is stuffed into a seat (though I’ve occasionally felt like it).

If every seat will be occupied, the plane is simply “full.” One might accept "completely full" for its additional emphasis, but "extremely" is just plain wrong.

Flight attendants often announce that the plane will be taking off or landing “momentarily.” “Momentarily” means “FOR a moment,” so using "momentarily" in this situation implies that the plane is either going to take off then land in short order, or perhaps that the pilot intends to practice touch-and-go landings. The term for which they’re grasping is “in a moment.”

Flight attendants do offer food and beverage "service," but they are not "servicing" their passengers; they are "serving" them. To "serve" means to do something for someone, while to "service" means to do something to something (or, horrifyingly, someone). Think "having the car serviced."

Toward the end of the flight (NOT "towards"), I’ve heard them announce that the captain has turned on the seat belt sign and that passengers must remain in their seats “for the duration of the flight.” The word “duration” means “the length of.” As the majority of the flight has already passed, they mean – and should say – the “remainder” of the flight.

There are exceptions, of course. During a flight on now-defunct Virgin America, a flight attendant used the correct terms instead of "momentarily" and "duration." When I asked him about the choice of words, he told me that the script he was supposed to use had those words but they "didn't seem right to him," so he unilaterally chose to change them. Good for him!

Which leads me to my concluding comment aimed at other F/As: If these terms are in your scripted cabin announcements and those are written by your airline, I respectfully suggest you consult your resident grammar guru and correct this butchery of the English language. If, on the other hand, the language was scripted by some bureaucrat and mandated by the FAA, then you have my understanding as well as my complete sympathy.

It is truly amazing how often our language is misused and abused.

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Photo by Carl Dombek
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