That’s why we have The Associated Press Stylebook, Webster’s New World Dictionary, The Elements of Style, Roget’s Thesaurus and their online iterations. Problems occur when writers and their editors ignore these easy-to-use resources.
Fact is if you write emails, letters or reports (or deliver speeches or make presentations) it’s important to have mastered your native language and all of its weird nuances.
Thanks in part to my Catholic-school roots, grammatical and punctuation errors in speech and print irritate me to the extreme. They happen all the time: Poorly worded newscasts read by people who should know better; expensive signs that flash punctuation errors; misused words in newspapers and magazines, despite their paid proofreaders. And don’t get me started on menus!
My fourth-grade teacher Sister St. John-of-the-Cross is rolling in her grave.
The humorist “Weird Al” Yankovic offers his unique take on grammar and punctuation in a recently released song, “Word Crimes,” based on Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines,” that mocks common errors.
“To learn some grammar/Now, did I stammer
Work on that grammar
“You should know when ‘It’s ‘less’ or it’s ‘fewer’
Like people who were never/Raised in a sewer”
Even the pros get confused, which is why the Columbia Journalism Review published a recent column, “Plural Problems,” reminding professional writers and editors that merely adding an ‘s’ to something doesn’t make it a proper plural.
CJR noted that words already ending in ‘s,’ such as grass, require ‘es’ to make ‘grasses.’ Words that end in ‘o,’ like ‘buffalo,’ require ‘es’ to make ‘buffaloes.’ And words that end in ‘f,’ like ‘leaf,’ require you to change the ‘f’ to ‘v’ and add ‘es,’ to make ‘leaves.” And so on.
If that weren’t enough to muddle your brain, consider apostrophes. Mark Nichol, writing recently in PR Daily, notes that erroneous use of this punctuation mark is widespread.
Plurals, pronouns, separate and shared possession and possessive forms of surnames are just the beginning. Nichols notes, “Possessive nouns (such as ‘theirs’ and ‘yours’) never include an apostrophe. The possessive pronoun ‘its’ does not take a pronoun; the contraction ‘it’s’ (meaning ‘it is’) does.”
Yes, writing and speaking proper English is difficult, but “Weird Al” warns us: “Don’t be a moron/You’d better slow down/And use the right pronoun/Show the world you’re no clown.” Watch the video, Word Crimes.