Category Archives: Grammar

by

Editor Needed

squirrelIn a junior-high-school grammar lesson about misplaced and dangling modifiers, I was given this memorable sentence to correct: “Clinging to the side of the aquarium, Mary saw the starfish.” Poor Mary. It is exhausting to be asked to hang onto an aquarium wall that way.

I was thinking about that sentence recently when my sister, a lawyer, sent me a provision from the New Jersey Administrative Code. She and her husband are trying to deal with the squirrels in the attic, and so she had checked the …

by

Them, Themself, and They

stan carey conspiracy keanu reeves meme - singular themself as a descriptivist plotThe Lingua Franca bloggers Allen Metcalf and Anne Curzan have written about the American Dialect Society’s laudable selection of singular they as Word of the Year. But they, like most commenting on the topic, have not addressed a pressing and, to a large extent unresolved, issue: the word’s corresponding “emphatic and reflexive pronoun” (in the words of the Oxford English Dictionary).

Dennis Baron and others have shown that they has been used to refer to singular nouns for centuries; the emphati…

by

Grown-Ups Deserve Better

grammar4grownups

Square Peg, part of the Random House group, is a publisher located at 20 Vauxhall Bridge Road, London. Kyle Books is another publisher, headquartered at 192-198 Vauxhall Bridge Road, London. The two sets of staff could walk along Vauxhall Bridge Road to have lunch together and discuss upcoming titles. But it looks as if they don’t, because in 2012 they each put out separate books under the same title, Grammar for Grown-Ups.

One was by Craig Shrives, formerly a British military intelligence offi…

by

So They Say

As readers of Lingua Franca know, they won big last year. First it was reported in The New York Times as a substitute for he or she for those who identify as transgender, and thus do not want to be pinned down as either he or she:

  • They took up their pencil and began writing their answer.
  • They got behind the wheel and drove off.

Second, and more widespread in its potential impact, a newspaper, The Washington Post, began to allow “they” (and “their” and “them”) as pronoun reference to a person…

by

Our National Anthimeria

6a00d8341c4f9453ef01a73d6f4c92970dThanks, Nancy Friedman. Some time ago, I read a blog post by the naming consultant about the trend of anthimeria in advertising — that is, using a word as a different part of speech than normal, as in Turner Classic Movies’ “Let’s Movie” and Nutella’s “Spread the Happy.” (Movie, a noun, is being used as a verb, and happy, an adjective, as a noun.)  Friedman has collected examples for a long time, and a couple of months ago I started following her lead.

All I can say is, enough already. Ads using…

by

Thinking Swiftly

Tom_Swift_and_His_Wizard_Camera_(book_cover)Remember Tom Swifties?

I had forgotten that fad of the 1960s that took its inspiration unwittingly from the adverb-laden Tom Swift stories for boys earlier in the century. The challenge was to find an adverb that punned on a character’s remarks, as in these examples from Merriam-Webster:

“I can’t find the oranges,” said Tom fruitlessly.

“Don’t you love sleeping outdoors?” said Tom intently.

“Let’s gather up the rope,” said Tom coyly.

But I was reminded of them memorably when I had the pleasure o…

by

Witnessing a Rule Change: Singular ‘They’

They mugI have a new favorite mug. It was given to me by the graduate students in the Joint Program in English and Education (JPEE) and celebrates my advocacy of singular they—with the explanatory footnote.

But when can we stop including the footnote?

We got one step closer two weeks ago, when Bill Walsh, chief of the night copy desk at The Washington Post, sent an email to the newsroom announcing some changes in the style guidelines. In addition to eliminating the hyphen in email and endorsing the spel…

by

‘People of Color’

It’s slightly surprising that The New York Times Manual of Style and Usage, by Allan M. Siegal and William G. Connolly, still (even in the 2015 Kindle edition) turns its nose up at the phrase people of color:

people of color
Except in direct quotations, the expression is too self-conscious for the news columns. Substitute a term like minorities or, better, refer to specific ethnic groups – black and Hispanic authors, for example.

Some copy editors think the phrase has moved into the mainstream a…

by

Proven Winners

Does it matter if things have been proved or proven? I ask this as a grammatical question, not a philosophical one about the nature of evidence. Does it matter if one uses proved or proven as the past participle of the verb prove?

If you’re in the it-doesn’t-matter camp, you’re not alone. But the it-does-matter camp is not deserted (yet).

Bryan Garner is one of the folks in the latter camp. In Garner’s Modern American Usage (third edition), he writes, “Proved has long been the preferred past par…

by

Approaching Partial Zero

article-2308472-19445226000005DC-578_634x487

 

When I first heard of a partial zero-emissions vehicle (or PZEV, a fun acronym to say), I wondered if it was a line from a joke. But no. It is a line from a vehicle category designed to circumvent requirements like California’s demand that zero-emissions vehicles be produced by a certain date. There are technical specifications for a PZEV that have to do with exhaust emissions and fuel-system emissions. For a language columnist, however, the interest lies in the modified absolute.

Sticklers l…