Latest 3 Things

Monday, January 25, 2010

3 Bad Accidence

I had no idea how widespread this problem really was until I casually posted on Facebook about my frustration with a day of receiving particularly bad grammar. This innocuous action touched off a firestorm of commiserating comments from friends with dozens of examples that were much more egregious than the ones I had cited. In this era of real-time spell checking and centuries of grammar expertise literally at our fingertips, writing like a poorly educated first grader seems more inexcusable than ever. I'm the first to espouse the virtues of forgiveness, but at some point, enough is enough.

Like it or not, you will be judged on the things that you write. And more and more, our communications, both business and personal are occurring in written form (albeit 144 characters at a time). There's never been a time when it's been more important to learn how to write in a way that doesn't make you look like a moron - and as it turns out, there's also never been a time when it's been easier. But to get you started on your road to grammatical recovery, here are the three most egregious grammar errors (believe me, there was a longer list to choose from):

1. Homonym Confusion. Now that you've come back from to look up "homonym", I think we can all agree that if you don't know that there are a large number of words in the English language that sound identical, but are completely different words in both spelling and meaning, you've got no business writing anything at all. Seriously, your inability to tell the difference between these words makes everyone think you're an idiot. What's more if you think there are only two versions of the word "to", you might be too stupid to bother counting any higher.

2. Two Words, or Not Two Words... that is the question. Let me be perfectly clear about one thing, just because your beloved spell check didn't catch a mistake, doesn't mean you didn't make one. The spell-check algorithm only makes one check with hyphenated words, and that is to make certain that the words on either side are spelled correctly. It therefore can't tell you that "week-end" is supposed to be one word, or that "thank-you" or "a-lot" should be two. As a general rule of thumb, hyphen are like guns: if you don't know how they should be used, you probably shouldn't be using them.

3. A Case Against Phonetics. There comes a time in every person's life when trying to spell something phonetically (when they haven't a clue how to spell it) goes from being an innocent mistake to being a reliable indicator of a single-digit IQ. That time was the fourth grade. With the world wide web being broadcast to every corner of the globe via satellite, and spell check being included on everything with a keyboard, the excuses for spelling like you did when you were writing primarily in crayon and punctuating your afternoons with "nap time" have all but vanished. Nothing invalidates the use of a fancy word like misspelling it, so just go with the words you know, or look the damned thing up. If you got it so wrong that even the spell checker can't help you, you probably shouldn't be using it anyway.

* * *

I'm confident there are more inexcusable and inexplicable grammar crimes out there than those I've listed here. All of them being committed every day, much to chagrin of you and I. For the record, if English isn't your first language, you get a pass on all of this. In my experience, however, those are the people least likely to commit these violations. No, these affronts to a decent secondary education are committed by people who look and sound just like you and me. And if you've just finished reading and still have no idea what I'm talking about, do us all a favor, turn off your computer and back slowly away from the keyboard. Nobody has to get hurt today.


Matthew said...

I'd like to offer 2 cases:

"Between you and I" vs. "Between you and me"


"Nauseous" vs. "Nauseated"

I figured out the correct usage of the first example by 8th grade, I think, but I was guilty of confusing "Nauseous" & "Nauseated" well into my 20's.

Just between you and I, I feel nauseated that I ever thought I might have felt nauseous.

Jen and Tonic said...

Loose and lose. This especially bugs me when some e-tard calls me a "looser"

Anonymous said...

I remember back when elementary school was actually known as GRAMMAR school, could that be the ground zero moment of the decline of western verbalization?

Very thought provoking and accurate stuff. I like it! Keep up the great writing.

Jenn said...

As a former English teacher, I'll say my biggest pet peeve is the misuse of "lay" and "lie." You can "lie" down. You can "lay" something, ie a direct object, down. You cannot "lay down" unless you're either making love to a duck in the present tense, or describing the act of lying down in the past.

Secondary pet peeve: "Lend" is the verb; "loan" is the noun. Stop using "loan" as a verb, people!!!

Glenn H. Truitt said...

Wow... great comments all.

@Matty - as always, thanks for the proofreading and great one with "nauseated"

@Tonic - I laughed for a good two minutes after reading the word "e-tard" ... Classic.

@Shar - I think you may be right... maybe we can start calling high school "high enough school"

@Jenn - I'll bet you can find someone "laying down" somewhere in LA - maybe Echo Park? And wouldn't it be a goose?

Danette said...

Love it! The list is way too long on this subject!!! List of 3 to the God only knows power!!! I have even witnessed someone using "are" for "our!" I mean really?!!!

Benn Sieff said...

E-tard! - Two funny. :)

Lucy said...

Love it!!! Keep up the great writing!!1

Anonymous said...

Excellent! I wrote something similar a few years ago regarding the uses of "to", "too", "your" and "you're". @Dannette "are" and "our", yes! I have been appalled by that one, myself!! :) Keep up the good writing, Glenn.

Anonymous said...

Um, William, it is "between you and me." Me is the object of a preposition here. Unless you are being facetious, in which case I apologize.

Also, I'm inclined to have some sympathy for poor writers. English grammar is very difficult, especially considering that there are a great many rules (don't split an infinitive, don't end a sentance with a preposition) that really have no justification, and have been widely ignored by good writers for ages. English spelling is even worse. That said, homonym confunsion drives me mad.

Anonymous said...

That’s hilarious!

Personally, I can’t take anyone seriously who doesn’t use the proper form of “their”, “there” or “they’re”.

You’re right about spell check. It won’t always save you. I once had a co-worker send me an email calling me a “doosh” bag and another who gave me an invoice that they had handwritten “payed” on top of!!


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