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Thursday, 13 October 2005

The Crabby Old (Grammar) Lady

Back at the dawn of the personal computer era accompanied by the advent of word processors that check spelling and grammar, there was quite a bit of hand-wringing over the future of writing. It seems nonsense now, but it was supposed then that people would never learn to spell for themselves, grammar rules would be forgotten and the ability to write well would just go to hell.

Surprise, surprise. On millions of blogs, ordinary folks who are not English teachers or professional writers are, in general, writing quite well with or without the spellcheckers turned on. It is a fact of the blogosphere that when posts are laden with typos, misspelled words and poor grammar, the thoughts therein become suspect and the blogger is ignored. So the pressure toward language competence, in Crabby Old Lady's reading experience, has been effective and those early naysayers proved wrong.

Nevertheless, Crabby has become increasingly annoyed of late with five grammar errors that commonly turn up in otherwise well-written stories. Yes, she knows – picky, picky, picky. But really now - what would all the backsliders do without Crabby to show them the light and the way?

Duck tape. No, no, no, quacked Crabby. It is not duck tape. There is no such thing. It is DUCT tape. [UPDATE: See Comments below.]

Cite/site. We do a lot of CITING on our blogs – that is, we quote and link to other sources or examples. A site, for those who are definition-challenged, is a physical place or location. And on the off-chance anyone is further confused, Crabby reminds them that the homonym sight refers to vision.

Who/that. Crabby knows this is hard to believe, but more often than President Bush says "trust me," sentences like this one turn up: Neil Armstrong is the first man that stepped foot on the moon. Wrong. Good grammar requires that it be, Neil Armstrong is the first man WHO stepped foot on the moon. When referring to a person, the pronoun is who. Inanimate objects get that. And animals? Take your pick; Crabby has no opinion although her cat Oliver and all his feline blogging friends, definitely fall into the who category.

One of the only. Some grammarians defend this phrase as being idiomatic and it is so common, Crabby may be one of the only people alive who cares. That second clause is incorrect. It's nonsense. Only refers to one or sole and has no meaning. It references a plural noun so the correct phrase is, “…Crabby may be one of the FEW people alive who cares.”

Reason why. Unless you count the confusion between of few and less (which she discussed in a previous grammar lesson), nothing gets Crabby Old Lady’s knickers in a twist more than reason why. It is so nearly universal that many web grammarians use the phrase to explain some other point of grammar: “The reason why,” they say, “ the pluperfect tense is needed...”

When the experts don’t know the rules, it’s enough to make a Crabby Old Lady weep in frustratioin. The reason (without why) is that the phrase, reason why is redundant. You can say, “I’ll tell you the REASON” or “I’ll tell you WHY,” but not “I’ll tell you the reason why.”

Crabby has a theory about the ubiquity of "reason why". It may be out of fashion by now, but every mother in her youth used this particular redundancy as a threat: "You'll clean your room right now, buster, or I'll know the reason why."

Crabby will now return to her cave wherein, as a distraction from the disturbing political news and rumors dished out daily, she ponders the minutiae of life.

[EDITORIAL NOTE: Tomorrow, Crabby's friend Ronni will follow up on the Reagan Library story.]


Posted by Crabby Old Lady at 03:00 AM | Permalink | Email this post

Comments

Crabby, you've unleashed the prissy editor wannabee in me, and I predict in many others. My favorites along the lines of "reason why" are "past history" and "future plans." Also, hearing even the most educated people (Bob Woodward recently) saying they "feel badly." I'm always tempted to ask, "And do you ever feel sadly or gladly?" There, I've gotten that off my chest and feel better already. I just started reading "Bill Bryson's Dictionary of Troublesome Words," so there may be more prissiness on the way.

PS Ronnie: (apologies for the forum but my email has momentarily died on me!).
'When the experts don’t know the rules, it’s enough to make a Crabby Old Lady weep in frustratioin' - typo!
Please feel free to delete this posting! :o)

I try, Crabby; but then I get into my rant and the best intentions in the world go right out the window.

Sophy: Crabby Old Lady did that on purpose, you know, to see if anyone would catch it. :-)

Ronni - by all means mention to Crabby that the pedant in the corner did indeed! hahahaha...
So SO with her though - and I have to say I've never forgotten the woman who lived close by once chastising my 7yo self for using 'got' in a sentence (as in 'I've got to'). "There is no such word!" she imperiously informed me and I've endeavoured since to try not to use it unless I absolutely have to - or should that be unless I’ve got to!!!

Grammar has always been a big deal to me too Ronni. I notice these things and often mentally edit pieces I read. I actually DO edit a certain daughter's blog....per her request. But honestly, she's always been stellar about grammar...that's her background. I wind up fixing typo's or a missing word here and there because she was tired when she posted something and didn't catch it. The examples you mentioned are great...cripes, I might even been guilty of incorrectly using one or the other of them. Thanks for the tips.

Oh boy, now I'm paranoid...

It's "be guilty"...not "been guilty."
(Typo)

Hi Ronni: My personal pet peeve is the phrase "that's a whole nother story.

What a "nother" exactly?

But I have to tell you you're in error on the duck tape thing. I just saw this on TV the other day...it was originally invented during WW II and its original use was as a multi-purpose manufacturing tape. It was called duck tape because of its waterproof quality and because it was made with cotton duck fabric. A company than trademarked the brand Duck Tape which still exists.

Post-war it began to be used to tape ducts (A/C and other kinds) and got its more general name.

Both uses are acceptable.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Duct_tape

Crabby rocks and Elisa stole my thunder. I have some Duck tape in my basement.

Take Care
Michael

I can't take the use of "over" for "more than"! i.e. There were over 10,000 people at the demonstration. Also the use of "less" in place of "fewer"! i.e. There were less people at today's demonstration.
Glad you brought this up Crabby.

Crabby Old Lady stands corrected on Duck Tape and was most interested to be informed of the history. That's what she gets for relying on another's word and not doing her homework.

I have a friend who "hangs pitchers" and another friend who, when she goes to a hotel, tells me, " she stood there."

By the way, I like it when Crabby Old Lady gets her knickers in a twist. She is so funny!

Millie

You hit my hot buttons, Crabby. Who/that is one of them, as well as reason/why and back/again. I may not always remember to use them properly either, but they annoy the heck out of me when I read them elsewhere.

My father is a former English teacher and a grammarian - I can still hear him instructing me during a meal conversation at age 7, "Do NOT use a double negative!" Still, even he admits that yesterday's bad grammar is today's common usage. Bill Bryson wrote a terrific book on the subject of the English language, "Mother Tongue" that looks at how English usage has changed through the centuries.

By the way, for Sophy, "got" is a word. See http://www.answers.com/get&r=67, the past tense of "get".

Efficiency in our usage of words has gone-to-hell-in-a-hand-basket. (Aside: never did learn what a hand-basket is) One that I continually fight myself is starting sentences with BUT and AND. But I will probably continue erring on that. And maybe nobody will notice.

Thanks Elise! Though Im thinking nearly 30years of paranoia may take some getting over :o)
Winston - [But/And] That is one habit I know I'll NEVER break!

I wrote something similar but more pedantic on my blog last night, entitled "Language Rant".
Nice to see someone who feels the same as I do.

Shoot me now. I wrote "reason why."

Blame it on the bossa nova.

Won't happen again!

My perennial complaint (that no one listens to) is the phrase "hone in," as in "the reporter honed in on the story." It's "home in," from homing pigeon, I suppose, but very few people use it, much less hear the distinction, and no nit-picking grammarians address it.

What about that all-time favorite -- should it be you or I -- as in, "As George was saying to Harriet and I..." This country may have lost its credibility but it will NEVER lose the impact a preposition has on this phrase!

My two pet hates:
- Myriad of
- Comprising of

Then there's pour/pore (don't get that page wet! and it could be especially dangerous to pour over your computer!) and hordes/hoards (are you talking about the Mongols or their gold?) and "tow the line" (which sounds like something from the Erie Canal). I adore this website, where you can find almost all of them.

Oh, I just followed a link to this one, which is also great. "Post-dramatic stress syndrome" indeed!

This is exactly what makes me shudder when I think of returning to the world of corporate marketing. People writing that So-and-So "lead the meeting," exhorting people to "join together as a group," and lauding their companies as "second to none" always trigger a migraine. It happens almost every day. I won't even get into the jargon and moronic emails. Corporate Stylebook? What's that? Anyone who got an "A" on a book report during sophomore year in high school fancies himself or herself to be a Writer (with a capital W, of course). There is no hope of enlightening them, especially if they outrank you. It's depressing. But I don't think I need to worry about dealing with that. No one wants to hire a writer over the age of 50 anymore. We know too much.

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