One day, some years ago, I was driving through Fernandina with my mom during an election period. I noticed signs along the road, “Elect So-and-so For County Commissioner,” and “Vote So-and-So Tax Commissioner.” I told my mom I would never vote for someone whose signs were grammatically incorrect. They should say, “Elect So-and-so County Commissioner” and “Vote FOR So-and-so FOR Tax Commissioner.”
My mom looked at me and said, “Do you make everyone around you crazy?”
Truth is, yes, I do. I am reluctant, and those of you who know me will be surprised at this, to correct my friends on their grammar and punctuation. Still, some mistakes grate on me (greatly). Here they are:
Under way is two words. The only time it’s (not its) one word is when it’s (again) used as an adjective: “The underway activities on the cruise ship.” I personally believe this is the most misspelled word in the English language.
All right is always two words. “Alright” may have been okay for a Who title, but it isn’t okay in written English. In the same vein, “altogether” actually is a word that means “entirely,” but it should not be used to mean “in a group.” Thus, there are altogether too many rules in English grammar, but those rules all together create a written language that is understandable.
No one nowadays uses double spaces between sentences. That is a holdover from times when there were typefaces that didn’t make it clear where the spaces were.
Then there’s “hopefully,” which means “in a hopeful manner” not “I hope.” So, “She watched the returns hopefully, as Obama pulled ahead in Ohio” not “Hopefully, Obama will win this election.” Hopefully is an adverb that modifies a verb.
On to plurals and their ilk. I like this one a lot (not alot) because sportswriters, except those in England where the rule is different, get it wrong all the time. Only in England is it all right to speak of Chelsea as a “they,” as in “Chelsea won their match against Arsenal.” Despite the fact that our language came from the English, we don’t consider a team to be a plural entity. Thus, Atlanta lost its game to the Dodgers. Of course, the Braves lost THEIR game to the Dodgers, because “Braves” unlike “Atlanta” is not a collective noun (collective nouns, such as “committee,” “flock,” “organization,” etc., demanding singular pronouns.)
Proper nouns are another tricky subject, made even more so (not moreso) by the plethora (an abundance) of apostrophe catastrophes in modern writing. Therefore, I live next door to the Dillards and the Joneses not the Dillard’s and the Jones’. That one makes my teeth hurt. But the house next door is the Dillards’ or the Jones’s. This is pretty much a matter of how it sounds: “The house next door is the Dillards’s” doesn’t sound right, nor does “The house next door is the Jones’.” In general, if the house next door belongs to a family whose (not who’s) name ends in an “s,” you need to add another “s” to make it sound right. Along those lines, you need to add an “es” to make that name plural: I don’t like the Ellises. I got my couch from the Joneses. But, I had dinner with the Dillards.
Quotation marks are likely the most misused form of punctuation. Quotation marks indicate spoken or written language. There is actually a website, probably more than one, devoted to quotation mistakes. (http://www.unnecessaryquotes.com) I actually took my editing pen to a poster that was hanging in various locations around City Hall:
Give to the City’s holiday charity fund. “Show You Care.”
Quotation marks are another punctuation rule on which we differ from our brethren across the sea (and up north). In most instances, U.S. writers are taught to place the punctuation inside the quotation marks: My favorite book is “To Kill A Mockingbird.” Whereas, in England, Canada, Jamaica and the British Virgin Islands, one would write “My favorite book is “To Kill A Mockingbird”. The latter may make more sense, but what can you do? Rules are rules.
Other words also have changed over time. Myriad, which I declare to be an adjective, actually started out as a noun meaning “ten thousand.” Consequently, it was okay to write, “I looked up at a myriad of stars.” However, at some point, the poets got hold of it and made it an adjective, eliminating “of” from the sentence, probably to serve the poem’s meter. I stand solidly with the poets on this. You can use myriad as a noun if you want, but if I’m editing your copy, I will change it. I’m mean that way.
There are myriad other rules: it’s, its; they’re, there, their; me, I; but the writers on this blog are pretty damn good on those. Some will argue that English is an adaptive language, that it can and should change with the times; that use makes right. In other words, if everybody spells “all right” “alright,” well, then, maybe we should just change the rule. I am opposed to this way of thinking because, well, if a rule can be changed just because a lot of people don’t know the rule, then what the hell is a rule for? That is not to say that I believe the language is static. Verbs, particularly, are ever-evolving. It wasn’t until I was in college (I think) that “party” became a verb, and, 20 years ago, no one would have had a clue how to “google” anything. Merriam Webster even accepted “ginormous” into its lexicon, even though “gigantic” and “enormous” are perfectly descriptive on their own.
So, pardon me if I seem didactic here. But (not beginning a sentence with a conjunction is a rule I do not subscribe to), I am the kind of person who circles mistakes in published works, so that any person who borrows a book from me will get a grammar and punctuation lesson. I am the kind of person who believes that there are myriad mistakes in modern writing, mistakes that even the would-be James Joneses of the world, when their best work was under way, would, I hope, not believe it all right to make.
Now, diagram THAT sentence!