Tuesday, September 12, 2006

What Happens When Amateurs Use Language

I think you should have to have a license to use the English language. It's so badly abused.

I've been alternately amused and puzzled by the man in a particular radio ad, who states that "I am the father of two small girls, and a wife of sixteen years." Is he a father and wife? Is he the father of a wife? Who can tell?


Pavlin said...

Let ma ask you a question: is it correct to say "a wife of sixteen years"? I understand that it means age of their marriage but do you say so in English?
Thank you.

Elf said...

Good question; made me think about how to answer. Yes, we do say so in English. I wanted to expand on that, and I'm not finding references to back me up in what I'm going to say here, so you'll have to take this as an educated observational guess from an American English speaker. It seems to me that that phrase is most often used with a qualifer as to whose wife--"Anglica is my wife of 16 years," "Sriniath leaves behind a wife of 16 years," or, what he should have said in this case, "I have a wife of 16 years." The phrasing, though, isn't typically used in casual conversation. It's a slightly stilted, formal, official-sounding phrase that most often appears in, say, news stories, obituaries, or other biographies. In normal conversation, we'd more likely say, "I've/we've/Jane and I have--been married for 16 years," or even "I've been married to Jane for 16 years."