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Correcting Your Behavior Since 2017

Prep School

I tell you, writing this blog sometimes feels a bit like herding sheep . . . or perhaps like playing Whac-a-Mole. Just as I straighten out one rampant faulty practice, another surfaces. It’s one of the reasons that telling people what they’re doing wrong is a full-time job, albeit a self-appointed one. It’s not that I’m picky; it’s that people keep doing things the wrong way. Frankly, I hold little hope for the world when at last I shuffle off this mortal coil. I’m quite certain everything will go to pot in short order. I’m just glad I won’t be here to see it.

What am I on about this week, you ask? Well, it’s a matter of a certain teeny tiny preposition and its improper pairing with a certain noun. The word may be a small one but, like the vertebrae in one’s spinal column, a tiny misalignment can cause serious problems down the line. The phrase to which I’m objecting is the vulgar and ignorant “on accident” (it pains me to even type it), which suddenly seems to be popping up everywhere.

“On accident”? What the devil is that? I’ll tell you what it is: incorrect. These two words simply haven’t been assigned to each other. It’s nonnegotiable: “On accident” isn’t a legitimate phrase. While this odd coupling seems to have sprung up only recently, it’s possible the beastly false phrase has been floating around in some quirky local vernacular for quite some time. What’s certainly new, however, is its proliferation. Somehow, it’s wormed its way into the mainstream. I’ve recently heard it coming from educated people, some of whom speak for a living. The other day, I even heard it on NPR—NPR, for heaven’s sake. I apologize; I should have suggested that you sit before reading that, as I’m sure your mind is reeling from the shock of this revelation, as was mine. The little bastard has breached sacred ground.

Unexpected mishaps occur by accident. Not on accident, for accident, through accident, of accident, or unto accident. The phrase is and always has been “by accident.” Now, yes, it’s odd indeed that events that don’t happen by accident happen on purpose, as opposed to by purpose. But that’s how it is. The Curmudgeon doesn’t make the rules, nor do I claim that ours is a consistent or logical language. I say only that we must adhere to the traditions or risk sounding like illiterate boobs.

If you know someone who has been brainwashed into this particular cult, please perform an intervention at once. At the very least, mock them openly. It’s for their own good. “On accident” is a gateway error. Before you know it, these people will be saying they’re “through the moon” with joy. They’ll be leaving things “in the wayside,” finding themselves “up a quandary,” or “over the river without a paddle.” During the holidays, they’ll go “in vacation.” And when someone “adds insult toward injury,” they’ll be so mad, they’ll go “on the roof.” I tell you, if we allow "on accident" to take root, linguistic chaos lays in wait. We must fight it.

Well . . . I’m glad we had this little talk. Now, let’s just wait and see what fresh hell next week brings. I’m sure someone will be up to something, and I’ll be dutifully taking to my keyboard to plug another hole in the dam.

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