January 28th, 2004
Seen and saw / to golf or to play golf?
by Barbara Wallraff
Dal Ahrens, of Plymouth, Mich., writes, “I have broken many difficult bad habits in my life, but the following is proving to be the most difficult by far: I use ‘seen’ when I should use ‘saw,’ and ‘got’ when ‘have’ is appropriate. I am from a small Midwestern town where these two verbal faux pas are actually considered charming. My parents, friends, etc., are all guilty. I’ve been trying for two years to correct this but have failed miserably. I truly believe this problem has cost me a promotion. Is there a technique that can help me break this awful habit? I would be so grateful if you could save me from myself.”
First, count your blessings: At least you don’t have a snooty wife who nags you. Or if you do, she’ll solve your problem in no time!
Jack McKenna, of Clifton Park, N.Y., writes, “My problem is with the way people use the word ‘golf.’ Golf is the name of a game. It seems to me that ‘I go to play golf.’ Why do people say and write ‘I’m going golfing’? It drives me crazy! If that’s acceptable, why don't we say we are going ‘tennising’ or ‘basketballing’?”
Not only do we “play tennis” and “play basketball”; we “play Ping-Pong,” “play cards” and “play Monopoly” too. But I’ll bet you wouldn’t mind if I went “swimming” or “kayaking” or “bicycling” or “ice-skating” or “pole-vaulting.” Our language treats games differently from activities—even activities that can be as athletic and competitive as any game.
© Copyright 2003 by Barbara Wallraff. Reprints require prior permission. All rights reserved.