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Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Grammar and Usage Peeves

As I was typing today, my fingers accidentally stuck an apostrophe in a plural word. I caught it instantly, breathing hard. It is one of my pet peeves. I'm starting to see it everywhere, as in, The Markowski's went to the store or Stock up on the advantage's of insurance. Aarrgh.

Apostrophes are used for contractions:

it is = it's
is not = isn't

Apostrophes are used for some possessives:
Mary's ball, The Fratellis' horses, the nation's president, the Markowskis' house or George Markowski's house

Apostrophes are not used for possessive pronouns:
his horse, her horse, its mother

And apostrophes are certainly not used for plurals.

Here's a usage blooper I caught in a news article the other day:
It doesn’t take a musical scholar to deduct all of this wasn't as 'artistically significant' as what came after.

Ouch! We deduct charitable donations from our income taxes, or deduct the cost of goods sold from the sales price to calculate our profits, but we deduce conclusions from evidence using our reasoning processes.

Here are a few more things I'm seeing everywhere lately.

troop: Since when did troop come to mean an individual soldier? Troop is a collective noun. Like Girl Scout troop. If you say "five troops were injured in Afghanistan today," that's really more than five individuals.

I think perhaps our news people are shying away from soldier. Or is it that they're trying to be gender inclusive? Well, soldier or sailor can be either. How odd would it be if we said, "George is an army troop"? But that's what we're implying when we talk talk about troops as individuals.

momentos: No such word! Keepsakes have to do with memory. Thus even if they are fleeting keepsakes, they are mementos.

graduate high school: Graduate is not a transitive verb. It does not take a direct object. Thus one "graduates from high school."

decimated: I'm thinking that people are confusing decimate with devastate, as in this quote from CNN: "Australia's raging wildfires have decimated massive spans of land."

Decimate actually implies a much sparer kind of destruction. OK, we don't have to limit its use to exact 1 in 10 destruction as its origins specify. To decimate derived from the Roman custom of killing one in ten rebels in the army. But decimate certainly implies a more selective destruction.

I'll bet the rest of you have some pet peeves, too. Let's air them out!


Kathy Amen said...

The apostrophe is what makes me see red the easiest. And these mistakes are EVERYWHERE! Do NO English majors have editing jobs anymore?! Or, worse thought, do they not teach this sort of thing to English majors anymore?

Unknown said...

For me, it's the fairly common and completely predictable misuse of their/there/they're. I dunno why that one bothers me more than any of the homonym misuses, but there you have it.

Also increasingly I've noticed people misspelling ridiculous as rediculous and that one makes me froth at the mouth.

Anna said...

Argh... those rogue apostrophes drive me insane also. I drive past a sign nearly every day that says "Truck's Entering Road" and have been SO tempted to take a marker with me and stop to FIX it, especially since the trucks and construction crew have been finished for a long time and haven't begun anything in the other section of the lot!

The other one that hasn't been mentioned that I see misspelled all of the time that makes me want to yank out my hair is "loose" for "lose". What really amazes me is when I see a lot of these errors in business emails! You shouldn't have to be an English major to spell and punctuate correctly if you have graduated from high school!

Thanks for the opportunity to vent, Carol! :)


carolwriter said...

Oh, yes, loose and lose. That one drives me wild, too!

Anonymous said...

Spiralnot, apparently you're not alone...

A Zorro for our times
By adamg - Sun, 07/15/2007 - 6:26pm.
Kate calls herself the Grammar Vandal and goes around with a pad of sticky commas/apostrophes to put on local signs that need them. She reports how this recently got her into a spot of trouble with Tufts police, who didn't take kindly to her (or the tall guy who agreed to help her) adding an apostrophe to a sign reading "Professors Row:"

... Cop (yelling): "What are you doing?"

Me: "Just fixing the sign."

Cop: "What are you doing to it?!"

Me: "Officer, this is incorrect grammar. Oh, and I don't even know this guy! I pulled him off the street!" ...

Gabby-Lily Raines said...

I have to agree on all counts - whether it is bad grammar or bad punctuation.

I'll admit that I make mistakes every so often and I try to catch them as I go along (though I'm sure I do miss some along the way).

Having said that, I've helped run several writers boards over the years and there was nothing so tempting (still isn't) as that admin "edit" button whenever I see a grammar mistake - along with the mental rant that makes me want to shake the offender and tell him/her to go re-learn (or in some cases learn) grammar. Nerf bats rule!

Cat said...

The one that makes me cringe and dive for a red pen is "continues on." And I've seen some pretty big-name people use those words that way. If I put the book down suddenly and pound my fist on the bed, that's almost certainly what I've found.

Dad pretty regularly tears apart the local newspaper. They've had some pretty awful (and sometimes unintentionally hilarious) grammar errors over the years, but I can't remember any right off the top of my head. (It's a small town paper, not really sure why he expects any better.)

Gabby-Lily Raines said...

Over past couple of days I was reminded of another usage "peeve".

I freelance as a proofreader/editor, and most of the stuff documents I proof have, so far, been done by non-native English writers. Overall the language and grammar is not too bad (especially my current client), but if there is one thing I would dearly love to do is cut the word "the" out of their vocabulary.

I understand that English is not their first language, but shouldn't a hint come through if enough "the"'s have been edited out?

carolwriter said...

The "the"s comment reminds me of an early critique I got from a contest entry. "Honey, use the search function on 'that' and remove at least three-quarters of them."

One of the most useful pieces of writing critique I ever got.

whiplash said...

Another pet peeve is the so-called Oxford Comma...in a list with three or more items, it is the comma preceding the conjunction such as "a, b, and c" - another is related, and best described as the ambiguous use of punctuation in sentences, well-covered in the book Eats, Shoots, and Leaves.

But I agree - grammatical errors in writing are to reading what chug holes are to a freeway.

Mark Pennington said...

Top 40 Grammar Pet Peeves
If you are grammatically challenged, or let’s face it, a grammatical snob who will catch the grammatical error in the title of this blog, you owe it to yourself to check out these grammatical pet peeves and tips at Top 40 Grammar Pet Peeves