Broken vs. Broke

In honor of my daughter’s 18th birthday, indulge me by letting me transport you to a moment of parental pride.

About two years ago, we were attending a commencement ceremony, and the faculty was delivering speeches before handing out the diplomas.

The English instructor got up to deliver a five-minute talk. He was telling a story about how no one in his family would own up to breaking a lamp. He said, “No one would say how the lamp got broke.” (Note: this was the ENGLISH instructor!)

I believe I clenched in my seat. Then, from two seats over, my daughter leaned over and whispered, “Bro-KEN. He should have said ‘bro-KEN’.” I relaxed in my seat. Yes. Yes he should have.

Just a few days ago, I was watching TV and a local commercial went by. Again, I clenched. I hit pause and grabbed the camera.

At this local mechanic’s shop, they may have thought it was funny to play off the overused, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

But I doubt it.

This commercial is a symptom of a larger malaise that is affecting this part of the country — people simply don’t care. I care, though.

Maybe you don’t care if your mechanic knows the difference between broke and broken in a grammatical sense. Do you care if he’s smart enough to hire an ad agency that doesn’t make him look like an uneducated buffoon? I’d like the person who gets under my car to say, adjust my brakes, to be reasonably intelligent, and someone I can trust.

Broke can mean the past tense of break (I broke the tie-rod). It can also mean devoid of cash (The State of Michigan is broke).

Broken, on the other hand, can mean shattered, interrupted, or a variety of other meanings.

Let’s agree not to contribute further to this overwhelming malaise that encourages people to take part in linguistic laziness. Take a stand, and if it’s broken, say so.   

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