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.]