Of grammar, baseball & more

By Ron Leir

Seems that virtually every talk show you happen to tune in to, somebody being interviewed will be asked a question and, inevitably, will launch into a reply beginning with, “So ….”

It drives me nuts.

Why? There’s no reason for it.

To me, it’s a signal that the expert on the hot seat is fumbling for an answer so [correct usage] he/she prefaces his/her remarks by unnecessarily deploying that word to fill the space.

But don’t take my word. Here’s the explanation from a legitimate expert, Linguapress.com, talking about the rules of English grammar.

“The word so has five common uses in English. Very simply, we could express these by describing the five different functions in a few words.

So expresses consequence, with the general meaning of therefore; purpose, with the meaning of in order that; addition, with the general meaning of and also; a degree, as an intensifier with a meaning similar to very; and agreement or confirmation, with a general meaning of it is trueor it is the case.

At best, when the person starts speaking, the intent is to use so as a sort of shorthand for saying, “So here’s why this thing I’m about to describe is the way it is.” Or, “I realize that what I just told you doesn’t seem to make sense but now I will explain why it does by giving you the history of the case.”

But instead of simply directly answering the interviewer’s question, the expert offers, “So …,” as a defensive hedge before introducing a labored answer.

OK, enough on that but, before dropping the subject of proper grammar, let me throw out one another gripe about the misuse of the past participle.

Example: WFAN broadcaster Suzyn Waldman was interviewing N.Y. Yankees manager Joe Girardi about the team placing closer Aroldis Chapman on the disabled list and Girardi was saying that Chapman seemed OK and it was only after he “had went” to see the doctor that the team learned there was a problem.

So … (ahem!) it’s important to remember that Girardi spent 17 years as a catcher in professional baseball, with about half of that time as a member of the Chicago Cubs, and it’s perfectly logical to deduce that between getting whacked in the mask/head with wild pitches and/or foul balls and spending seven years in Chicago, Joe’s speech patterns may have been left somewhat askew.

Still, before we allow our crestfallen manager to slip away into the privacy of the trainer’s room, we should point out that Chapman probably had gone to see the doc, simply because gone needs an auxiliary verb (like, had) but went doesn’t.

Ultimately, no matter where Chapman went at the time, he’s gone now … for at least a month. If only the Yanks had gone to Cleveland and gotten Andrew Miller (season ERA .000, 22 strikeouts in 16 innings pitched). There, perhaps, went the pennant.

But let’s not dwell on tragic circumstances after having simultaneously celebrated the Yanks’ retirement of Derek Jeter’s No. 2 – (soon the guys enshrined will outnumber the active roster) – and Mother’s Day this past Sunday.

Let’s also cheer on those brave 10 Polish climbers who have pledged to scale the world’s second highest mountain, K2, in darkest winter. Good luck, guys!

And, back in academia, let us pay tribute to Villanova University in Pennsylvania – and to professor Judith Giesberg – for enlisting an archivist, genealogists at Mother Bethel AME Church in Philadelphia and grad students to collect and digitize thousands of old newspaper advertisements that were placed by emancipated slaves searching for their loved ones from whom they were forcibly separated prior to the Civil War.

Because their enslaved ancestors “were recorded as property, not people, prior to the 1870 census,” African-Americans “commonly hit a wall” in researching their family histories, the university noted.

Now, however, “the online database [that Giesberg’s team is creating] may one day reunite families,” according to Villanova.

And, as research projects go, that is an unusual and worthy goal.

Ron Leir | Observer Correspondent

Ron Leir has been a newspaperman since the late ’60s, starting his career with The Jersey Journal, having served as a summer reporter during college. He became a full-time scribe in February 1972, working mostly as a general assignment reporter in all areas except sports, including a 3-year stint as an assistant editor for entertainment, features, religion, etc. He retired from the JJ in May 2009 and came to The Observer shortly thereafter. He is also a part-time actor, mostly on stage, having worked most recently with the Kearny-based W.H.A.T. Co. and plays Sunday softball in Central Park, N.Y.