Sunday, March 22, 2009

Grammar Pet Peeves

"There is a satisfactory boniness about grammar which the flesh of sheer vocabulary requires before it can become a vertebrate and walk the earth." -Anthony Burgess

I think I know why I watch T.V. so infrequently these days.

I abhor bad grammar.

The only thing more irritating to me than detecting faulty grammar in someone else's speech or writing is lapsing into grammatical error myself. Grrrrrrr.

I know I've taken some grammatical liberties in the informal writing on this blog. I write in incomplete sentences, start sentences with conjunctions, and cut a bunch of grammatical corners here and there, I'm sure. I can do that, but a journalist for a major periodical or on CNN shouldn't, nor should a head of state, teacher, or any person occupying some kind of leadership role and publicly exercising it.

Almost every time I watch anything on T.V. I find myself wanting to hurl a stuffed animal at the screen and ask, "Did you NOT pay ATTENTION in SCHOOL?"

"This is the sort of bloody nonsense up with which I will not put." -Winston Churchill.

Here are my top ten language pet peeves:

1. People saying "between him and I" or "between you and I" instead of "between him/you and me." UGH. Go get a copy of Warriner's English Grammar and Composition, please, which you should have studied in middle school, and learn to speak your native language correctly - especially if you have a reputation for eloquence, out-of-this-world oratory skills, and great writing (ahem, Mr. President).

2. "Different than." I know this is commonplace and universally accepted, but it grates on my nerves. Something is bigger or smaller than something else, prettier or uglier, older or younger; but something differs FROM something else. Than is used for adjectives delineating quantity, size, or degree; but this is different from that.

3. Failure to agree subject and verb, especially in a neither/nor construction.

  • "Neither Maria nor Carlos are here."
  • "Each of the girls sing well."
  • "Every actor playing these roles are expected to be different."
YUCK. Just corrected my latest mothers-in-medicine post for this very thing.  Shame!

4. Use of "would have" instead of "had," as in, "I wish he would've taken the trash out last night." UUUUUGGHHHH! Figure out what you want to say - "I wish he HAD taken the trash out last night" or "I wish he WOULD take the trash out some time before the four horsemen of the apocalypse appear."

5. Hearing people ask a patient to "lay down." Lay down what? Their lives? They don't need to do that. They do, however, need to LIE down.

6. Inappropriate possessives and other misplaced apostrophes. It's such a simple matter to see that "it is" can be contracted to it's, and that a dog scratching its hind leg is NOT scratching "it is" hind leg. My attending your birthday party when you're fifty also seems straightforward. I have to wonder, though - is the name of a nearby road "Soldier's Field" or "Soldiers' Field?" I've seen it spelled both ways. Does it belong to the generic soldier who represents all soldiers, or to a group of soldiers? (There's a similar problem with Professors Row at Tufts University.)

7. "Dangling" participles and clauses. I was just watching the opening episode of Season 3 of The Tudors, and I had to cringe when the character of Thomas Cromwell said, "Sir Edward. As the brother of His Majesty's beloved wife, Jane, it is His Majesty's pleasure today to create you Viscount Beecham of Hash in Somerset." Somebody please send me a diagram of THAT sentence. Oh no, wait - you CAN'T, because the anaphor and antecedent don't relate.

8. Misused/incorrect words. Irregardless is not a word. We don't loose our keys or turn prisoners lose; and I have one or two more things to add: we go to school, and we should have learned our grammar there, too. Don't feel badly if you didn't, though - just feel bad. We can all make fewer mistakes in our speech and writing if we spend less time ignoring them and more energy correcting them.

(Note: I am also irritated by the "evolution" of language to accommodate wide-spread incorrect usage that has become universally accepted. Such is the case with the word nauseous. When I was growing up I learned that nauseous doesn't mean "nauseated" but rather "nauseating" - so when people say anesthesia makes them nauseous, they're really saying it makes them make other people sick; but now the dictionaries declare that because the use of the word nauseous to mean "nauseated" is essentially universal, it's now the acceptable correct use of the word. C'est la vie. Grammatici certant et adhuc sub iudice lis est.)

9. Failure to include " also" in a not only/but also construction.

10. People saying "revert back" insead of "revert" and "The thing is, is that" to begin a sentence.

Runner-up: failure to make appropriate use of the subjunctive.

Perhaps some might call me a grammar snob or language elitist. So be it. I think we should CARE how we articulate our thoughts and use the tremendous gift of written and spoken language. I believe correct use of the English language promotes clarity and conveys the intelligence that has allowed its use at all. Sharing ideas is one of the most important things we can do; we should share them well.


Toni Brayer, MD said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
T. said...

Hi, Toni - hope you don't mind, I made an editorial change to the comment you left to make the rating a little more "PG" (for my kids, even though they rarely stop by).

Toni Brayer's comment:

"Good tips and I agree about proper language. That reminds me of my favorite language joke:

A young freshman was on the Harvard campus and approached a wise looking underclassman, "Excuse me, Sir,do you know where the library is at?"

The older student looked down his nose and replied, 'At Harvard, we do not end a sentence with a preposition.'

The freshman quickly responded, 'Oh, OK, do you know where the library is at, loser?' "

That one still makes me smile, Toni - though no one I knew as an undergrad there was quite so stuffy! Well, no, actually, there was one guy...he said he wrote a poem, and when I asked jokingly if it was in iambic pentameter, he answered in all seriousness, "No, it's in dactylic hexameter." :)

Anonymous said...

Pronouncing "Congratulations" as though the first "t" were a "d". The only way it is pronounced on TV is "Congradulations". Arggh!

T. said...

Yes, I can think of a number of annoying mispronunciations or "nonstandard" pronunciations: nucular for nuclear (right at the top of the list), reckonize for recoGnize, mis-chee-vee-us for mischievous...

Øystein said...

I Norwegian we don't cut up words as much as in English, but rather construct new long words of several words. In Norwegian, it's would for example be correct to write "localanesthesia" in one word instead of "local anesthesia". But as we are all influenced by English a lot, people often divide the words when they should be putting them together, leading to some strange sentences.

My favorite is a line that's on a brand of canned tuna. In Norwegian it says "Tunfisk biter i vann" which translates as "Tuna fish bites in water". It should be "Tunfiskbiter i vann", which is "Chunks of tuna in water". But as the word is divided, "biter" becomes a verb instead of a noun, with an entirely different meaning. It is thue though, they do bite in the water ;)

Another is "lamme koteletter" (English: "Paralyzed chops") which should be "lammekoteletter" (lambchops).

T. said...

Oystein, I love those examples! Reminds me of that book Eats, Shoots and Leaves.

Anonymous said...

I love this post!

I agree wholeheartedly with your Number One, but it has to be Number Two on my list.

My Number One involves a person saying, "I had went.." as in, "I had went to the store." Of course, it should be "I had gone," or "I went."

This is worse than fingernails going down a chalkboard! It may be a regional thing in my area of the South, or it may be more widespread than I realize. Unfortunately, I hear it several times a day.

Also, mixing up "effect" and "affect" in print elevates my blood pressure!

Anonymous said...

Few people seem to care much about technical aspects of American English anymore. I think this contributes to a lot of related problems: poor composition skills, general inattention to detail, and perhaps worst of all, imprecise use of language.

Time was when grammar and composition were treated as "of a piece" by evil and sadistic "old school" English teachers. But all those red marks undermined self-esteem, I guess. And adhering to stylistic orthodoxy was so confining for kids' imaginations.

Its a brav nue werld, T.

-Transor Z

T. said...

GCS15 - You reminded me of something I despise do much that I had to rewrite my list!!! Use of "would've" to mean "had." Your examples fray the nerves too, though!

Transor Z - say it ain't so. :)

I am STILL IN TOUCH with 8th grade English teacher. The impact of her teaching on my reading, writing, and intellect has been immeasurable. It was in her class that we first read Shakespeare (A Midsummer Night's Dream), To Kill a Mockingbird, and a number of other wonderful works. One of the memorable things she did, in addition to having us learn to diagram our sentences and pay attention to correct grammar, was having us keep a writing journal in which all the "red marks" from her would be positive comments; criticisms were reserved for our more "formal" work. That gift of writing space and writing time totally transformed my life. Thanks, Mrs. Riederer!

Jo said...

I concur with every word!

(1) If you take the other person out of the sentence in (e.g.) "with him and me" so that it becomes "with me", then it is obvious that it can't be "with him and I" - "with I" is completely wrong!

(6) This one is my all time number one pet peeve - it *isn't* potatoe's!!!

I, too, had a great English teacher when I was 11/12 - after every essay / piece of creative writing, he would, when handing back the marks, give back a piece of A4 paper. The first third was the common spelling mistakes throughout the class (anonymous, but with counts of how many times the specific mistake had appeared); the second third was common grammar errors; the final third was nice sentences / phrases - and these did have names next to them. It helpd to show you that you weren't alone in making mistakes, but that they were wrong! However, if you made the same mistake three times in separate pieces of work, then you *were* named and shamed!

Jo said...

And just in an addendum to my above comment - proof reading a document that is going to people outside the company.

First sentence that isn't preamble begins: "X propose it’s product..."

Four words. Two glaring grammar mistakes (numbers 3 and 6 on your list). I've got another 49 pages to read...

Anonymous said...

You guys should see the legal documents (court filings, contracts, wills) I see every day -- Oy!

Anonymous said...

One of my pet peeves I hear often on news programs is: "very unique". Something is either unique or it isn't.

Another that has decreased in usage, fortunately, is: "That joke is hysterical!" A person can be hysterical, not a joke.

P.S. I was, like, totally stressing writing this, freaked that you're gonna rap on my grammar mistakes. :-)

T. said...

Jo & Transor Z - Oy indeed!

Anon - LOL! I confess to being guilty of the use of "hysterical" in daily speech the way you described! I, too, was freaked out that in my rant about grammar mistakes I'd be committing loads and loads. I'm much more relaxed about informal things like personal blogs and blog comments, though. :)

Anonymous said...

I do agree with you. But i am disappointed when i speak to lawyers.....

Mark Pennington said...

Think you've heard 'em all? Check out these Top 40 Vocabulary Pet Peeves, but warning… you may cringe on a few that you have misused.

T. said...

Just "awesome" and "contact," actually, and I don't even agree with the quibble over the latter.

Mark Pennington said...

I couldn't resist... If you are grammatically challenged, or let’s face it, a grammatical snob who will catch the grammatical error in the title of this blog, you owe it to yourself to check out these grammatical pet peeves and tips at Top 40 Grammar Pet Peeves

Anonymous said...

I asked a woman at work if she had seen a certain car for which I was looking. Her response: "Oh, we been brought dat down."