Merge etiquette

I was on a highway this evening, in rush hour, driving a route I take three or four times each week. In one stretch, there are three lanes, and the leftmost lane is an exit lane to one route, while the center and right lanes merge into one lane that feeds onto the main route through town. The lanes are marked so that the right lane is the one that ends, and the center lane is the one that remains.
In practice, how this works is that the well-behaved drivers move into the center lane, while those who cannot read signs seem to accumulate in the right lane. Once they put their phones down long enough to notice that their lane is coming to an end, they often merge fairly smoothly into the center lane. It is the left lane that drives me batty. Cars race along in that lane, some of them actually headed for the exit, and the majority angling to dive into the center lane, ahead of the countless cars they just passed. A few of the cars have out of state tags, and it is quite likely they do not know the traffic pattern and their behavior is an honest mistake. Most of these speeding cars do have local tags, and you know they drive this route every bit as often as I do. They zoom past, no turn signal, no brake lights, and then right as the dashed white line turns solid, they veer right – just as you knew they would – and barge their way into the flow of traffic. Some drivers see them coming, and tighten ranks in a way that is very understandable yet not at all safe. Some drivers are literally blindsided by these cars, and the brake lights flick on as they dodge these line jumpers. Every time I sit there in the middle lane, I wonder what goes through these people’s minds?
Presumably they do not like waiting in line, but of course, that statement applies to everyone on the highway. Presumably they are busy, they have places to be, they have jobs to get to, families to care for, comfy chairs on which to sit, and again those statements apply to everyone on the highway. Do they not think of this at all? Do they consciously think they are better, their time more valuable than all the sheep they pass? Do they feel bad as they do this? Do they sneer at the chumps?
As wrongdoing goes, I realize this is small change. Most of the time, these people hurt no one, although they do often endanger others with their impatient maneuvers. Yet I cannot help wishing there was a state trooper lurking where he could ticket this behavior. These drivers are so selfish, so self-involved, and their driving speaks so loudly to their unwillingness to behave in a civil manner. When people decide to live together, part of the compact they make should include respectful behavior that exhibits the equality and respect we would all choose to have afforded us. The Golden Rule at work, right?
There is no greater point here. The world has its share of jerks, and this does not constitute some powerful new observation on the human condition. Still, it saddens me each time I sit there in the middle lane, watching the jerks get where they are going more quickly than I am because they cannot be bothered to wait their turn with their fellow citizens. I think it reflects a thread in American society that is broken, a lack of civility that is a symptom of much bigger problems with how our society chooses to live with itself.
What examples of selfishness and incivility do you see in your daily lives, and do you think these behaviors speak to any deeper trend?

Pet peeve: insure vs. ensure

I have been very restrained, and have managed to endure the last few months with no additions to my pet peeve collection. You may be thinking, “how did he ever make it through the last few months of election coverage and financial meltdowns without any pet peeve updates?” and that is a fine question. The short version is that I have dozens of them, but I could not figure out how to give voice to them while remaining civil enough to post, so they had to find other, saltier venues.

So I am turning to a simpler source of frustration – the incredibly widespread misuse of the word insure when people mean ensure. Yes, I know there is an assure issue, too, but the insure-when-you-mean-ensure is the one that bugs me.

Some of my language peeves are idiosyncratic, I know this. Things like my choice to use the word data as a plural form, and to use datum as the singular, even though the world has decided to treat data as a singular and condemn datum to oblivion. My archaic usage makes sense, but I am the first to realize it is out of step with common usage, so I bite my tongue and leave well enough alone.

Not so with the ensure/insure confusion. Briefly, here are definitions of the words at issue:

insure,, -sured, -sur·ing, -sures.

    1. To provide or arrange insurance for: a company that insures homeowners and businesses.
    2. To acquire or have insurance for: insured herself against losses; insured his car for theft.
  1. To make sure, certain, or secure.

ensure, tr.v., -sured, -sur·ing, -sures.

To make sure or certain; insure: Our precautions ensured our safety

Both of the above definitions point to a usage note under the entry for assure, which reads:

Assure, ensure, and insure all mean “to make secure or certain.” Only assure is used with reference to a person in the sense of “to set the mind at rest”: assured the leader of his loyalty. Although ensure and insure are generally interchangeable, only insure is now widely used in American English in the commercial sense of “to guarantee persons or property against risk.”

Hateful, moronic poppycock! Unconscionable tripe! Generally interchangeable!? Inconceivable.

Let’s see what others say on this pivotal issue…

Back in February, Minnesota Public Radio noted: When talking about insure and ensure, the word assure inevitably enters the mix. Fowler’s Modern English Usage says that assure, ensure and insure ‘have intersecting paths in contexts involving aspects of certainty, assuredness and security.’

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston addressed this head on in August here. I agree with her distinctions exactly, and admire her steely discipline not to fall for the “generally interchangeable” hoo-hah.

August must have been a big month for this, as the Grammar Girl tackled it as well. Amazingly, they come to the same conclusions as Lynn above, and also avoid any linguistic relativism. Bravo.

If you poke about in Google on this topic, the top hit comes from, and their entry is pretty good. They are on the slippery interchangeable slope though, but they do note that the Associated Press disagrees with their cavalier, trendy usage. Good for the AP.

I could go on and beat this horse further, but I will restrain myself and leave it at that. I assure you this is not my last grammar gripe – the rampant misuse of English today ensures it.