Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Pronoun Pain!

Talking on television without a script can be challenging.  We expect a professional newsperson, however, to do his or her best to correctly model simple grammar.

Gretchen Carlson, of Fox News, and her guest, swimming teacher Ilise Kohleriter, were interpreting video footage of a baby, Elizabeth, who was swimming competently in a large pool.  Our experienced host should have been able to smoothly grab the correct pronoun-- in this case, a word that stands for one baby.  

Gretchen asked, "Is this the same kind of program where you basically throw the baby into the water... and the baby just has to fend for themselves?"  (What? This hurts more than fingernails on a chalkboard!) 

The guest, later in the interview, made the same faux pas when she stated, "I think every child should learn to save themselves."

I'm not accusing Ms. Carlson of leading the swimming instructor astray-- Ms. Kohleriter may have been equally grammar-challenged.  However, had the host said, "...and the baby just has to fend for herself," perhaps her guest might have eased into the same pattern.  In any case, the television audience would have had one more opportunity to hear correct pronoun usage in a medium in which English erodes daily.

Monday, April 1, 2013

English is going to the dogs.

A scripted television ad for Purina Dog Chow shows a little girl kicking a soccer ball, as her dog runs around.  The child's voice says, "When I started playing soccer, I wasn't so good.  So, me and Sadie started practicing."

Why must the writers have the girl model poor grammar?  It would be so easy to have her say, "So, Sadie and I started practicing."  Oh, of course! The ad writers are probably young and grammar-impaired.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012


American English is declining rapidly and alarmingly, but speakers across the pond make grammatical errors, as well.

The first child of Prince William and his wife Kate will be born in 2013.

Speaking of the changes to succession rules to give royal girls an equal opportunity, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said, “Whether the baby is a boy or a girl, they will have an equal claim to the throne.”

“They” is not the appropriate pronoun, unless Will and Kate are expecting twins. “They” is not a neutral word to use when the sex of the individual is not known.  “They” is plural.  A better way for the deputy prime minister to have stated this exciting development would have been, “Whatever the sex of the baby, he or she will have an equal claim to the throne.”

Monday, July 9, 2012

Even the president of the United States must beware of grammar goofs.

"I believe it's time to let the tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans, folks like myself, to expire."  What is wrong with this pronouncement that President Obama said today?  I ask you, what is wrong with this PRONOUNcement?  It is, of course, the incorrect use of the reflexive pronoun, "myself."

Obama has fallen into the trap of thinking that using "myself" makes him sound more sophisticated and educated.  Sorry, Mr. President.  Myself is a reflexive pronoun-- Used correctly, you might find it in phrases such as "I did it myself" or "Most people like like to read novels, but I, myself, prefer history books."  The word you should have used is simple, little, ordinary me.

Me is the perfectly honorable, sophisticated, and correct word to use in your sentence.  "I believe it's time to let the tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans, folks like me, to expire." Me.  Me. Please remember... me.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012


I don't know how I found this, but I did:  A blog named No Bad Language (love it!), written by Vickie Bates. http://nobadlanguage.net/about-me/ I am a fan of anyone who promotes proper grammar  and clean language usage.  Vickie puts forth her opinion on the tricky showing of possessiveness when the possessor has a name that ends in letter S... or worse, double S, as I do.  
Vickie writes:

Excessive Possessiveness

Mills’s educational excellence is enhanced by its sylvan campus.

I fear this is one of those grammar strictures that’s broken so many times, it’s about to get dumped. Somewhere along the way, editors stopped doing their duty and allowed writers to hang an “s” onto possessives ending in “s,” so they work just like possessives that don’t have an “s” at the end.
The rule, in case anyone still wonders, is this:
Add ’s to possessives that don’t end with the letter “s” (except for “its”). Possessives that end with “s” simply take an apostrophe. For example:
Lt. Valeris’ alacrity enabled Star Fleet to deduce Ambassador Nanclus’ role in the assassination of Klingon Chancellor Gorkon.
In recent decades, the Associated Press Stylebook (a favorite of mine) allowed for the addition of ’s to possessives that end in “s” when the word is only one syllable. Therefore: 
Mills’s educational excellence is enhanced by its sylvan campus.
Where do you stand on slipping in a second “s”?  In my case, growing up with one rule means that when I encounter examples like the one above, I lose track of the point of the sentence and stop while my mind corrects the grammar. Plus, to my eyes, it looks wrong, that row of “ssssss,” like a cartoon-balloon for a snake. What do you think? Am I being too possessive of the old rules? Is the new usage more helpful? Does it make more sense?
Well, Vickie, I disagree.  
  I have a surname that ends in two esses.  To flap a mere apostrophe on the end does not do it for me.  When a speaker refers to the home of James Arness, it is natural and logical to say and write "James Arness's home."  The venerable Strunk and White's Elements of Style promotes the adding of apostrophe S.  The only being who routinely receives merely an added apostrophe is Jesus.  For some reason, "Jesus' name, Jesus' birth, Jesus' resurrection" is the way to go.  I guess He gets an exemption.  
Listen to speakers when they talk of the possession-hood of a person who has a name ending in S or SS.  Most of the time, you will hear repetition of the S sound.  Dennis's tennis shoes; Janis's songs (how is this any different from Janice's songs?); Moses's walking stick.  It is natural to say it, and it should be natural to show it with the addition of apostrophe S.  Let's keep in step with the pros and and consistently go with apostrophe S.  (Except for Jesus.  He can do it any way he wants.) 

Saturday, June 30, 2012

I hate

myself ! ...when it replaces "me," that is.

I read two novels recently, which I enjoyed very much. The first is The Crown, by Nancy Bilyeau. (2012) Ms. Bilyeau offers an historical novel involving nice nuns, bad bishops, Henry VIII, and other engaging players. Instead of endeavoring to write dialogue in sixteenth-century English, she allows her characters to speak in a way that is sensible and just slightly formal.  However, like their twenty-first century counterparts, her young men and women frequently use a reflexive pronoun when a nominative one needed.  There are many erring characters who say “myself” when they mean “me.”  Here is my favorite:

“Tell everything you know about myself.” Aagh!  How do editors miss bloopers like this?

The second book is The Lantern, by Deborah H. Lawrenson. (2011) It is a captivating page-turner, well-written and nearly grammar-goof free. The author creates a well-crafted mystery surrounding a decaying property in the French countryside. Her descriptive writing enables the reader to feel the sunshine, smell the lavender, sense the damp walls, and fear the unbalanced brother. The writing is so good that I almost hate to mention this mangled pronoun situation. Somehow, though, the editors failed to see this:

"When you first meet someone and they tell you stories about themselves, you have no reason to doubt these are true."

Someone linked with they and themselves? To make this sentence even more sinful, it is known to the reader that the someone in question is a male. There is no justification not to write:

"When you first meet someone and he tells you stories about himself, you have no reason to doubt these are true." 


Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Adverb Advice

I just heard two bad commercials, back to back:

"New Quaker Yogurt Granola Bars-- treat yourself good!"

"Get home safe."  (Smirnoff Premium Malt Mixed Drinks)

These are positive sentiments, poorly expressed.  If young people don't hear the language spoken well, they won't learn it correctly.