If I were to go round claiming that the square root of 100 is 15 or that the Battle of Hastings took place in 1783, I’d quite rightly be thought a fool. What’s more, I’m fairly sure most people wouldn’t hesitate to inform me of my ignorance.
So why is it that when it comes to the English language many business folk seem to think that getting it wrong makes them sound impressive?
And that, rather than being corrected, they are invariably emulated by their colleagues to the point where those of us who favour correct usage begin to doubt our own opinion? (Well, almost.)
Nowhere is the tendency to equate ignorance with eminence more acute than with prepositions. Prepositions are those small but essential linking words that convey ideas such as direction (“toward”, “through”), location (“on”, “out”) and time (“during”, “after”).
Let me give you an example. If I were say to you: “I’ll arrive into the party at nine”, you’d probably do a double take. In fact, you’d quite possibly find yourself reassessing your view of me as a native speaker of the English language.
And yet I was on a train recently when the conductor announced: “Ladies and gentleman, we will shortly be arriving into Euston.”
Does anyone in the real world ever say they’re arriving into Euston? Don’t trains normally arrive at their destination?
Now I know that prepositions are difficult to master in most languages. Indeed, on the many occasions I find myself daydreaming of Italy, I always have to think twice about whether I’d like to live “a Roma” or “in Roma”.
But I don’t believe that the announcement on the train had anything to do with a shaky grasp of English prepositions. I believe it was a very deliberate attempt to sound more formal and impressive by choosing the longer word “into” over the shorter, correct word “at”.
This word “into” seems to hold a similar attraction for those working in large corporations, who have a tendency to use the rather obscene-sounding phrase “report into” to describe their lines of accountability.
Why would anyone choose to “report into” their manager when the less yucky “report to” worked perfectly well for so long? I guess that, to those with less sensitive ears than I have, there’s something rather thrusting about “into” that makes it sound more dynamic than the correct preposition.
But it’s still wrong – and I’ll keep correcting you until you get it right.
This post is the first in a series of posts on the misuse of prepositions – coming soon “around”.