Understanding and Using English

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By Dr Sarala Krishnamurthy

Last night when I was sitting and marking scripts of distance students of the Polytechnic who are doing their Professional Writing course, I realized that a number of them used the words “whereby” and “currently” in their answers. I decided to check and discovered that out of the 70 scripts that I had marked, 52 scripts had the two words in a wrong context. This means that about 75 percent of my students had problems with the usage of these words. I have also come across a wrong usage of these words in the spoken discourse. Some of the examples are given below:

– 1. Diagonal communication is a communication channel whereby there is no obvious line of authority. (should use where instead)

– 2. Communication is a transaction whereby participants together create meaning through exchange of symbols (sic). (should use where instead)

– 3. Our company faces difficulties whereby it was forced to reduce the
number of employees. (should use faced and when instead of faces and whereby)

– 4. I have three children. Currently my daughter is nine years old. (not necessary)

– 5. Working in your company has always been my dream. Unfortunately, currently I have been offered a position of a senior clerk in another company. (not necessary)

As you can see, these are higher-level users of the English language. In the three examples given above it is a plain case of wrong use of the adverb, whereby. In examples 4 and 5, it is overuse of the word, currently. These two words are misused, overused and abused by many people who speak English fluently.

Whereby is explained in the Cambridge International Dictionary of English as: by which way or method, and falls under the category of relative adverb. Some examples of correct usage are given below:

6. They have set up a plan whereby (by which) you can spread the cost over a period.

7. We need to devise some sort of a system whereby (by which method) people can liaise with each other.

I believe that the confusion arises because people don’t use the other expression, wherein, which means in which, in what, and in what respect. For example,

8. Let us not get into a situation wherein it is hard to decide what is right and what is wrong.

The other word current is a noun and is explained as: “of the present time” in the Cambridge International Dictionary of English. Examples of correct usage are:

9. Who is your current girlfriend?

10. Have you seen the current issue of the New York Times?

11. The word, “thou”, is no longer in current usage.

Current can also be used in different ways:

Current affairs which is political news about events happening now, e.g.
12. In some schools children study current affairs as a subject.

A current account is a bank account which usually earns little or no profit and from which you can take out money any time.

Current is a movement of water, electricity or air.

12. Some examples are:

– To swim with/against the current

– Direct/alternating current

– He was swept out to sea by the current

– Which way does the current flow in this coast?

– Switch off the electric current before touching the machine

If you swim/drift/go with the current you follow the ideas of most people.

Of course, I must point out that both these lexical items are not used as much as the word, “like”. It seems as if people of a certain generation in different parts of the world are afflicted by this contagion.

– Hmm..it’s, like, he had never met me earlier.

– I’m, like, hello, don’t you think I’m smart ?

It is evident that kids have picked up this expression from American TV serials and it is their way of being “cool”. I do not find too many older people using this expression. While I do not have a problem when the youth uses this kind of language in spoken discourse, what I find objectionable is when attempting to make a formal presentation, they use the word like indiscriminately. I remember counting the number of times one of my students used ‘like’ and it was 47 times (!!) in a brief presentation of 15 minutes.

There have been several arguments for and against standardisation of English and several dialectical varieties of English have gained acceptance worldwide.

But it is important to distinguish between a variation and wrong usage. Both whereby and currently used as given in the sentences at the beginning are examples of wrong usage. Like, I can live it (though I do not exactly approve)… But don’t use it in a formal speech or in a formal occasion.
(The author welcomes queries regarding the use of English.)

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