Being a stickler for proper grammar and usage

January 14, 2012|Linda Duffield

Hanging in the back of the newsroom, near a copy machine, is a piece of paper with this heading: Tips for proper English.

There are 28 of the unattributed tongue-in-cheek "tips," and most of them should make anybody who cares about the English language laugh — or cringe.

Following are some of them:

  • Be carefully to use adjectives and adverbs correct.
  • Always avoid alliteration.
  • Never use a long word when a diminutive one will do.
  • Remember to never split an infinitive.
Or, my personal favorites:
  • Don't use no double negatives
  • The passive voice is to be avoided
  • Verbs has to agree with their subjects.
Amusing, sure, but sometimes humor isn't far from the sad truth.

Before I go any further (not farther), I have a confession to make.

I work on a newspaper, and if any group of people should be made up of sticklers for proper grammar and usage, it's a bunch of reporters and editors.

Yet we get calls, letters and emails from people who catch us in grammatical gaffes.

So I confess, we make mistakes. Usually, it's not that we don't know better. (At least I prefer to believe that.) I tell myself it was the heat of the deadline moment, or the mind glitch or maybe, just a typo that resulted in the embarrassing misuse of some element of our native tongue.

Probably on any given day, it could be any of those, or maybe it's just that English isn't the language it used to be.

We hear how it's a living thing, evolving with changes of usage.


Maybe it's the abbreviations of Twitter or the informality of emails that have prompted us to ignore the niceties of our language.

If you want an example, consider the use of "fun" as an adjective, as in "I had a fun day."

Now, Webster does allow as to how "fun," which is more properly used as a noun, can be used informally as an adjective, but good grief, don't you think "fun day" sounds terrible?

Another example — bring and take, used interchangeably. It shouldn't be, but there you have it. You hear it used improperly all the time on television, even on news shows by professionals who should know better, and in everyday speech. (BTW, you take something from here to there, and bring it from there to here.)

OK, I admit, I have my pet peeves, grammatically speaking.

At the same time, I admit to having my own Achilles heels, linguistically speaking.

I have no problem with affect or effect, with bring or take, with it's or its.

But please, don't ask me to figure out lay and lie.

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