I really wanted to do a rant today
Grammar Police Badge
, but although I’m stubborn and opinionated, I don’t think I can muster enough enthusiasm today for a rant. The topic today is grammar, spelling and punctuation. And what’s happening with it even in arenas where there used to be standards. I may be a lone voice crying in the wilderness, but I shall persevere….
This is the best Grammar Police badge I have found on Google. (Interesting side note: the site I
stole borrowed this image from used the word “it’s” incorrectly. Hmm. Maybe I should rant….)
Yes, I’m talking about what’s happening to English spelling, grammar and punctuation. I have no problem with people who know what they’re doing, and misuse the language purposely* (let me clarify: when I say “English language” here I’m speaking of North American English, the generic kind taught in schools that almost nobody speaks—similar to BBC English in England); I’m speaking of English transmogrified by ignorance or apathy or a combination of the two plus lack of thought. I’m not talking about “Engrish” or its many variations (although attempts by foreign writers to write correctly in a language they obviously don’t know can be funny, I always wonder how well I would do writing in Chinese, for example, before I condemn them).
*Picasso could paint cubistically because he knew the rules, and knew what rules he was breaking. I give writers the same latitude in my mind.
I take my cue from Lerner and Loew’s Henry Higgins in My Fair Lady (who differs a bit from the Shavian professor), when he says, “Why can’t the English teach their children how to speak? Norwegians learn Norwegian; the Greeks are taught their Greek…”; he goes on to say, “In America, they haven’t spoken it for years!” (Although we will concentrate here more on written than spoken English.)
Let me just list some of my least-favourite errors as they occur to me; that is, in no particular order:
It’s. Usually incorrectly used as “belonging to it,” as in “The dog was wagging it’s tail.” Folks, this word ALWAYS means “it is” or “it has.” Period.
Your and You’re. The first one means “belonging to you.” The second one means “You are.” No exceptions. “Your right” instead of “You’re right” means you’re wrong.
Their and They’re. Same as above, substituting them for you. I’m seeing this on the interweb a lot lately.
To and Too. (These words are usually accompanied by two, but I figure if you use “two” in place of the other “too” your “to” stupid “two” live.) Obviously, the previous sentence should be “two,” “two,” “you’re,” “too” and “to.” To means “toward,” basically. Too means “also,” or “as well,” or “in addition,” or “overly”… look it up! Two is a cardinal number following “One.”
Than and Then. The first is a conjunction, usually used in a comparison. “I’m bigger than you.” The second one means “at that time”; i.e., “I was younger then.” Again, I’m seeing a substitution of “then” for “than” in internet usage a lot. “I’m bigger then you.” Wrong!
Everyday vs. Every day—this is becoming more common every day. “Everyday” is an adjective, folks. “I wore my everyday clothes.” “Every day” means every single day in a sequence of days. I see lots of ads saying “Low prices everyday”—which is wrong. Try “Low everyday prices” instead.
Lie and lay—this should be so simple even a child can do it, but most people get it wrong. Listen, “lay” is a transitive verb, and requires an explicit object! If you use lay, it must have a stated object. Songs that got it wrong: (1) Bob Dylan’s Lay, Lady, Lay is wrong. “Lay across my big brass bed” has no stated object. Had he said “Lay yourself across…” he would have been right. (2) Melanie’s Lay Down (Candles in the Rain) is partly right: “Lay down, lay down…” is wrong, and “lay it all down” is right! (You must have a stated object, not an understood or implicit one, between “lay” and “down” to be right.) Tell your dog to “lay down” and you’re wrong; tell him to “lie down” and you’re right! Simple, yes?
Alright or all right? As far as I know, “alright” is not a real word. It’s not all right to use it.
Less or fewer? Simple. “Less” is for amounts; things than can be measured but not counted, also for liquid measures. (And very, very occasionally because it sounds better.) For things than can be counted, use “fewer”!
Amount or number? See above. You never have an amount of people, for example. If you cannot count, use amount (again, also for liquid measure).
Sink or sunk? We all know the Milton-Bradly slogan: “You sunk my battleship!” Is it right or wrong? This one is wrong, wrong, wrong. We used to be taught 3 tenses in school (I’m talking grade school, not high school or university here): sink (present tense), sank (past tense) and sunk (past perfect tense). “I’m gonna sink your battleship because you sank my battleship. Yes, my battleship was sunk!” That’s how to use them. This also works for “drink” but not for “think” unless you’re making a joke. “I thunk it was Joe.”
Different from or different than or different to? Well, most people aren’t taught this one. Brits use “different to”—which is fine for them—but we should be using “different from” rather than “different than” (unless we’re saying “differently than”). It is acceptable to use “different than what,” but “different than” without the “what” is wrong, though you hear it all the time.
Yeah or yay vs. ya, yah, yea or variations thereof. I guess I’m wondering how do people graduate from high school without learning the most common three- or four-letter words. “Ya” or “yah” (or “yeh”) are often used in pulp dialogue, but have no real English standing. “Yea” is really old school: “Yea, though I walk through the valley…” and does, in fact, mean “yes”—but who are all these prophets using it on the internet? For “yes,” you should really say “yes,” or “yeah,” or even (if you’re German or Scandihoovian) “Ja”—but not “ya” or “yah,” for Yahweh’s sake!
Punctuation is pretty simple for most usage. Since most internet users only write what, 140 characters, or on Facebook, a few sentences; most of those aren’t even run-on. For those of you who grew up in the modern age (i.e., untaught in school or at home), a run-on sentence can be characterized as two separate stand-alone sentences joined by a comma. “I went to the woods with my dog, we had a good time.” Those are separate sentences and can stand alone (but would sound a bit choppy if written so); therefore, you use a semicolon. They are related enough in content that the second sentence can stand as a dependent clause like so: “I went to the woods with my dog; we had a good time.” (To simplify even further, you could use “and” instead of the comma or semicolon, but it sounds rather childlike to these ears: “I went to the woods with my dog and we had a good time.”) Simply put, if the part after the comma makes a complete sentence, you’ve usually got a run-on sentence. Try one of the remedies listed.
Quotation marks seem to baffle most people. I include commas and periods used with quotations marks (which I’ll call “quotes,” for convenience, from here on in) in that bafflement. Look, folks, we’re in North America. Check either your Chicago Manual of Style, your Strunk & White or, if you’re Canadian, try the CP Manual of Style. We Norteamericanos do it differently than do Brits, as far as the quote marks themselves. Here, we use double quotes almost exclusively; there, it’s the reverse—though they call them “inverted commas.” General rule of thumb: single quotes go inside double quotes. If there are no quotes within quotes, use double quotes. Newspapers generally opt for saving space and use single quotes in headlines, though really, how much space are they saving? And why do we use quotes? We use them when we’re citing someone else’s exact words, whether in speech or in writing. We can also use them to indicate that a word or phrase is not being used in strict dictionary definition, or to suggest something wonky about a word or phrase.
Quotes with other punctuation… Americans generally do it differently than do the British as well. Canadians waffle a lot, though the CP Manual of Style (I’m depending on memory here, as I can’t reach my copy right now; my office is currently torn up as a result of plumbing repair in the adjacent bathroom) says, that most punctuation goes inside the quotes. Question marks and exclamation points go inside the quote if they’re part of the quote; outside elsewise. In spelling, btw, Canadians emulate Brits in using “our” instead of “or” and “s” in most words containing “z.” But often they don’t understand that Americans deliberately changed their spelling in response to breaking away from being British. Americans wanted to be distinct and different.
An ellipsis is three dots. No more, no fewer. You can have an ellipsis followed by a period, which means the sentence is over. Supposedly, an ellipsis is only used to indicate omitted text; I use it a lot to suggest ambiguity, which is not supported by most English professors. So sue me already. Call me
Subject/object agreement is becoming harder for people to keep straight in their minds while composing sentences, apparently. I see sentences like “A boat full of passengers were sunk” in the newspapers. The subject is “boat,” not “passengers”! The “of” in this sentence makes the passengers part of a dependent clause. It’s becoming increasingly hard for people to figure this out. I don’t know why.
Misc. errors: I’ve seen people using multiple exclamation marks to try to add extra emphasis. Also underline and bold—in what should be typesetting! Ditto multiple question marks. Underlining is used in typewriting. Pretty much alone, folks. It’s not used in typesetting, which includes making posters on a computer using proportional type. Underlining came about because typewriters couldn’t do italics. Please use italics, bold or both to add emphasis. And let me say this: extra question marks or exclamation points are just plain wrong!(!!!) (Several prime examples are on the bulletin boards in my doctor’s office: there are multiple posters made up by the nurses with bold, italic and underlined passages followed by multiple exclamation marks. And nearly every line in the whole poster has these emphases—then they follow these errors by manually highlighting many of the emphases! When every line is emphasized, it means no line is more important than any other, even with extra exclamation points. Please don’t try these at home, folks.
I have seen it written by some so-called “experts” that language is fluid and evolving, and therefore there are no rules. Don’t believe this horsepucky, folks. Try turning in an essay in school full of common English errors and see what grade you get. Try putting in a resumé full of the same and I can pretty much guarantee you won’t get that job. People judge you all the time; why give them another opportunity to misjudge you? Excuses don’t work, in my opinion. I’ve heard ’em all: “I’ve got dyslexia”; “My spell-checker doesn’t work”; “It’s too much trouble and nobody cares”; “The copyeditor was supposed to fix that”; “I don’t have time to check my typing on the internet” and so on. Look, I’ve given some basics in under 2000 words here. How hard can it be? How much time can it take?
I really and truly don’t understand people who don’t even try to do something correctly. As they say, “You only get one chance to make a first impression” and “If you have time to redo it, you had time to do it right.” Hey, looks like I got up enough enthusiasm to do a rant anyway! Let me know what you think (but be aware you probably won’t change my mind if you want to argue. On the other hand, give me enough evidence and I can often be convinced to change my mind).