Edith here again, writing from a quiet retreat house on Cape Cod. As a child, you might have asked, “Can I go out and play?” Did anyone else have a stickler mom, aunt, teacher, or other grownup who responded, “You can, but you may not until you’ve cleaned your room/finished the dishes/done your homework.” You know the drill. The can/may difference is important to some people, or was.
So let’s talk grammar pet peeves on this hump Wednesday. Who has one? Which spoken or written quirks grate like beach sand between your toes when you hear them? Do you distinguish between written and spoken grammar? Opinions on the now somewhat discounted Strunk and White? Dish!
Jessie: I am not really one for pet peeves of any kind. That being said, I am always amazed when people say “I could care less” when what they mean is that she or he “couldn’t care less”. I just cannot understand why that mistake has made its way into the world.
Sherry: This isn’t a peeve, but when I was young one of the ways we learned good grammar was at the dinner table. If I said, “Pass the potatoes please,” my dad would pass them the opposite way from me. There was only four of us so it didn’t take long to get the potatoes but a reminder to say “pass the potatoes to me, please.” I also had a girlfriend who called often for me. She would say, “Is Sherry there?” If my dad answered he’d say, “Yes” and then wait for her to say something further like, “Can I speak to her?” One day she turned the tables on him and after he said, “yes” she said, “thanks” and hung up. It became a running joke for them.
Barb: One of my pet peeves is people who have grammar peeves, as such peeves are often emblematic of the worst sort of snobbishness. Many times the “rules” I see cited with these claims are rooted in some specific form of education, or the eccentricities of someone’s third grade teacher, or are plain wrong. As an example, I was going to say here that whenever someone modifies the word “unique,” it sets my teeth on edge. Unique means the one and only, therefore something cannot be somewhat or very unique. However, in preparing to post, I had a long, interesting read about “absolute adjectives” here. It turns out we modify these words all the time. While it is not logical to modify unique when it means the one and only, it is fine to modify it in its second and more common meaning of unusual or rare. So here I am, hoist on my own petard, and proving my own point about grammar snobs.
Liz: I don’t mean to sound like a grammar snob, Barb, I swear – but when people mess up “your” and “you’re” it makes me CRAZY. Also, random apostrophes. I see it all the time at work – for example, when someone is referring to a group of people by an abbreviation of letters and add apostrophes on even if they aren’t possessing something (AEs, SMAs, etc.) I can’t help it. It’s the journalist in me…
Barb: No worries, Liz. I don’t think the distinction between your and you’re comes from anyone’s third grade teacher’s eccentric view of the English language. I do hate it when my phone, which should know better, “suggests” the wrong word.
Julie: When I was in 9th grade Mrs. Mallow had us write our own grammar books. I think I still have mine. It was a great way to learn the “rules”. I am not a stickler, but I do appreciate knowing the rules so that I can break them. And I can’t end a sentence with a preposition even when it seems natural to do so.
Edith: Oh, good, I was hoping for a rousing discussion. One my little mantras to say after someone complains about an “error” in spoken English is to don my historical linguistics hat and say, “Just another example of language change in progress” – which peevers hate to hear. Barb, I’ve read long blog posts pointing out how many times Strunk and White violate their own “rules” – in their own book!
That said, we all have things that grate on our ears. For me, one is people not using “an” before a word beginning with a vowel sound. “A apple, a eggplant.” I want to shout, “An apple. An eggplant.” and then I hear myself uttering my own mantra. Nobody knows who and whom any more, but everyone used to. So many people hypercorrect and write or say, “Mark went with George and I” because they think it sounds more proper – when they would NEVER say “George went with I.”
Written language, of course, lags way behind spoken in change.Which is why, Sherry, see the your/you’re confusion in print is so glaring to people like us.
Readers: Grammar pet peeves? Favorite instances of language change in progress?