Take heart, Gentle Reader! Author and recovering print & broadcast journalist Sarah Scott is here to
rap all our knuckles, er, to provide a pep talk on proper English. “Read & Lerrn”: that’s my motto!
Sarah Says —
What grammar goof sets your teeth on edge, makes you seethe with snobbish intolerance? If you’re coming up with nothing, then you might want to stop reading at the end of this sentence. If you are in the other camp, the one pitched on the temple grounds of correct usage of our mother tongue, then please read on and offer your own grimace-inducing examples in the comments section below.
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Before I list mine, let’s begin with the (yeah, yeah) agreement that English isn’t sculpted in marble, never to be improved upon, revered in its fixed state forever. We all know that what once was acceptable (e.g., “ain’t” and double negatives) is no longer considered appropriate. It’s also true that the stickler choice isn’t always the best. If I were to say, “It’s not I,” you might well think I am a pompous tush, with said tush as stiff as a week-old cadaver’s. “It’s me,” just sounds better, doesn’t it?
That caveat out of the way, I offer my grammatical equivalents of nails on a blackboard:
1) “More unique” or “rather unique” or any qualifier at all before unique. Either it is or it isn’t.
2) “More (or most) importantly” rather than “more (or most) important” in a sentence such as this: “Most importantly, we have to consider that we should be grateful people still use the spoken word to communicate anything at all these days.” Most important, it’s not an adverb we’re after.
3) Okay, here’s a really picky one. I was reared to make a distinction between “healthy” and “healthful.” (And I was reared to say one rears children and raises tomatoes.) Back to my whine. A human being is healthy, because his or her diet is healthful, full of vitality. I suppose a carrot could be both healthful and healthy, depending on its condition.
4) “Who” when “whom” is warranted. This blunder appeared in a recent online article in The New York Times: “Ms. Lazarus, who [sic!] New York magazine called ‘the Martha Stewart of weed baking’ makes confections….” Perhaps this writer should be excused for delving too deeply into the subject matter. Some grammarians claim this one doesn’t matter anymore. My retort: for whom?
5) “Less” when “fewer” is correct. The most pervasive usage of that goof, of course, is at any grocery store’s checkout section: “Express Line: 12 or Less Items.” If anyone knows of a grocery that uses “fewer,” please gladden my heart by telling me. I’ll write the manager a thank-you note.
6) This last one probably is on your list too. It’s the one NPR’s listeners chose as their most detested grammar peeve. Yep, it’s using “I” instead of “me” as the object of a preposition. “Would you like to come to dinner with Jim and I?” “She sat next to Mary and I.” “Could you bring around the car for Ed and I?” Sadly, the mistake is made by people who want to sound intelligent and literate, poor dears, and are convinced “me” is substandard English. These well-meaning folks would never say, “Come to dinner with I” or “Sit next to I.” In a phone call not long ago, I heard myself say defensively, “That will work for my husband, and it will work for me too,” just so the customer service guy on the other end wouldn’t think I was ignorant and stupid to boot!
If you’ve read this far, you too might be aware of a recently published book by Mary Norris, copy editor for The New Yorker, titled Between You & Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen. It’s said to be as funny as Eats, Shoots & Leaves by Lynne Truss, but presumably with fewer punctuation errors than that book on punctuation contained.
My blog host Anesa might want to throw in a few of her own grammar gripes in the comments, and I know we both want to hear yours. As for any errors you might find in this guest blog that you think are my failings, they were inserted by the NSA during email transmission.
Sarah Scott is the author of the mystery Lies at Six: “A thriller’s pacing. Vivid Southern locales. Witty dialogue and wry observation about what passes for news on TV…and truth in our lives,” available as an e-book and in print. She lives in remote Ashford, WA, at the entrance to Mt. Rainier National Park. Her husband Bill Compher has been recognized worldwide for his imaginative treehouse designs: Visit cedarcreektreehouse.com for lodging and tour information.