Tag Archives: grammar

Reign maker

Thank you, Mitt Romney, for raining on my wilting blog.

If you hadn’t noticed, the Word Nymph’s crop of lexicological sustenance has been as dry as the American plains. Until today.

The presumptive GOP nominee has given us occasion for instruction on a homonym we haven’t addressed in this place. In announcing his selection of a running mate, Romney’s press release said of Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.):

“He is Chairman of the House Budget Committee, where he has worked tirelessly leading the effort to reign in federal spending and increase accountability to taxpayers.”

Did you spot it?

Reign in federal spending. Wrong. It’s rein. As in a strap controlling an animal.

Perhaps Mitt was going for the pun. Or maybe his error was hopeful of his intent to reign in the new year. That’s reign, as royalty on a throne.

We see the spellings of these often confused.

It’s rote to me, but here’s a little clue to help get it straight:

Rein – think of Rudolph the Red-nosed reindeer

Reign – pertains sovereign occupation of the throne. Sovereign has a g in it; so does reign.

Keep ‘em coming, Mitt. It’s been a long drought.

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Bieber peever

Dear Justin,

I love ya, kiddo. You have a sweet smile. Your music is catchy enough. You’re tight with your mama.

Since you first made the scene, your mother has been right by your side. I’ve read that she took over your schooling when you were on the road. I admire that. But you’re eighteen now. It’s time you took responsibility for your education.

I was encouraged to hear you tell the ladies on The View that you looked forward to continuing to mature and learn. You seem to be a grounded, smart, reasonably articulate young man and, quite likely, you have plenty of smart, articulate people working for you.

Here’s the thing.

It’s your new hit single, “Boyfriend.” You know, don’t you, dear, that “If I was your boyfriend” is incorrect? Not incorrect in the musically acceptable ain’t-got-no way. Incorrect in the it-sounds-right-to-me-and-anyhow-that’s-what-everybody-says way. I’m disappointed that your mother, your fellow songwriters, producers, agents and marketeers didn’t advise you to change one simple word, just to make you sound like the smart young man you probably are.

Justin, in case your lessons skipped over the subjunctive mood, or you missed my blog post on the topic, it’s not “If I was your boyfriend.” It’s “If I were…” As in “If I Were a Rich Man.” That one ought to be easy for you to remember.

When your ditty, now #11 on the Top 40 charts, comes on the radio, I change the station. When Jazzercise plays it during my leg routine, I burn extra calories by fuming over the horrid grammar.

If I were your mother, I’d take a red pen to your little opus. Okay, I’d be willing to overlook all of your colloquialisms. I’d even let you rhyme “go” with “before.” But I’d ask you set a good example for your young fans and get the big stuff right:

“Boyfriend”
Written by Mike Posner, Matthew Musto, Mason Levy (edited by the Word Nymph)

If I was were your boyfriend, I’d never let you go
I can take you places you ain’t never been before
Baby take a chance or you’ll never ever know
Ive got money in my hands that I’d really like to blow
 Swag swag swag, on you
Chillin’ by the fire why while were eatin’ fondue
I dunno about me but I know about you
So say hello to falsetto in three two

I’d like to be everything you want
Hey girl, let me talk to you

[Chorus]
If I was were your boyfriend, never let you go
Keep you on my arm girl, you’d never be alone
I can be a gentleman, anything you want
If I was were your boyfriend, I’d never let you go, I’d never let you go

Tell me what you like yeah tell me what you don’t
I could be your Buzz Lightyear flying across the globe
I don’t never wanna fight yeah, you already know
I‘ma make you shine brightly like you’re laying lying in the snow
Girlfriend, girlfriend, you could be my girlfriend
You could be my girlfriend until the —- world ends
Make you dance do a spin and a twirl and
Voice goin’ crazy on this hook like a whirlwind

I’d like to be everything you want
Hey girl, let me talk to you

[Chorus]
If I was were your boyfriend, never let you go
Keep you on my arm girl you’d never be alone
I can be a gentleman, anything you want
If I was were your boyfriend, I’d never let you go, I’d never let you go

[Bridge]
So give me a chance, ‘cause you’re all I need girl
 Spend a week wit your boy I’ll be calling you my girlfriend
If I was were your man, I’d never leave you girl
I just want to love you, and treat you right

[Chorus]
If I was were your boyfriend, never let you go
Keep you on my arm girl you’d never be alone
I can be a gentleman, anything you want
If I was were your boyfriend, I’d never let you go, never let you go

Na na na, na na na, na na na
Ya girl
 Na na na, na na na, na na na ey
 Na na na, na na na, na na na ey
 Na na na, na na na, na na na ey

If I was were your boyfriend

What?! Your mama didn’t teach you lie versus lay?

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Civics meets syntax

Even before the 2012 election process begins in earnest in a few days, I already have indigestion.

It used to be that this Beltway baby salivated at the onset of an election year, and all the intellectual and ideological meat it served up. I don’t know anyone who’s hungry any more, except maybe television stations with ad time to sell.

I count myself among those who have lost their appetite from the shallow rhetoric and competitive sparring—and I suspect that’s just about everyone.

However, my particular beef has to do with (surprise!) language. Perhaps my ear is too acutely attuned to misuses, but I’m aurally assaulted day after day, not just by the candidates but those who cover them. Considering the fact that we’re in this for the long haul, I’d like to see us clear a few things up:

“Congress and the Senate” is incorrect. “Congress” and “the House” are not one and the same. Congress is composed of both parts of our bicameral system–the Senate and the House of Representatives.

Congress did not “adjourn” in December. A Congress adjourns just once, at the end of a two-year Congress. Members “recessed” until 2012, when the second year of the 112th Congress begins.

“Re-doubling” is re-dundant. According to some news outlets, the primary season has this or that candidate “re-doubling his efforts” in this or that state. Unless the pol is quadrupling his efforts, this is incorrect.

“We” is not the candidate. Candidates of both parties are equally guilty of the relatively recent practice of pluralizing themselves in speech. If the United States were governed by a monarchy, this might be a “royal we,” but we are not.

Have you noticed this? The candidate refers to himself, or occasionally, herself, as “we.” I can assume “we” refers to his campaign team, his administration, his volunteers. He’s being nice. He’s being inclusive. “We” is fine when he refers specifically to the campaign team.

But to say “We are the candidate who will [reduce the deficit, reform Social Security, insert the promise of your choice]” is not just incorrect, but absurd. It makes me wonder if pluralizing the pronoun is a scheme intended to spread the blame when the electoral matter later hits the fan.

Come to think if it, I might just vote for whoever refers to himself as “I.” (Just as long as he doesn’t use it as an objective pronoun.)

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Write me a letter

All right, wordies, who’s up for a Word Nymph challenge?

Here’s the background:  This week I wrote my first letter to the editor of The Washington Post. That’s significant considering I’ve been reading the Post since I could read. In fact, I still have the Sunday edition my father bought the day I was born. It’s also surprising that I only now penned my first gripe, considering the nitpickiness of my nature.

Like many newspapers, the Post has suffered sizeable cutbacks in recent years, many of which have hit the editing team. Up to now, when I’ve noticed an occasional typo or less occasional grammatical, spelling or punctuation error in my hometown paper, my reaction has been more sympathetic than critical.

However, last Sunday, an erroneous subhead provoked my inner schoolmarm. I fired off a pithy primer on subject-verb agreement that I thought might have a chance of being printed, if not in the daily Letters, then surely in Saturday’s “Free For All” space, typically set aside for granular grievances.

I awoke today—Saturday—with the excitement of a child on Christmas morning, and ran out to get the paper. I flipped directly to the editorial pages. Nada. I wondered: Was my letter too nitpicky? Too esoteric? Not well written enough?

Here’s the challenge:  1. Read the following headline, along with its subhead (sorry, I can’t find a link to the original editorial). 2. See if you notice the grammatical error. 3. Submit, in the Comments section below, your pretend letter to the editor, using fewer than 200 words (mine was 106). The best submissions will win a prize and the opportunity to help me the next time I’m stirred to speak up. Extra credit goes to anyone who can furnish the link to the editorial.

Picking on Catholic University
A complaint of bias against Muslims seem frivolous.

Go.

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Poof!

“The man turned his friend into police.”

I won’t name names, but this item caught my attention this morning.

Why did the man make news, because he betrayed a friend or because he worked an act of magic?

Tip of the day: Know the difference between “into” and “in to,” between “onto” and “on to.”

No one wants to be turned in to police, but it might be fun to be turned into police.

That’s all for today. Would anyone care to offer more examples illustrating the importance of a space?

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Dunce upon a mattress

Several readers have asked me to discuss the difference between lie and lay.

I hadn’t obliged until now, primarily because I thought it obvious. Also, the worst offenders either don’t read language blogs or don’t care enough to bother. But maybe there’s room in the middle for a refresher.

Raise your hand if you know the difference between lie and lay.

You’d think mattress marketeers would know.

There’s a mattress commercial running lately that encourages shoppers to come in and “lay down.” ARRRGGGHHH!

I recently saw mention of another manufacturer’s product, called the “Lay Down and Sleep.” ARRRGGGHHH!

One of the oldest mattress retailers is known for its jingle, which begins “Lay on it …”

 
ARRRGGGHHH!

Now, I know plenty of people who “lay down” when they’re tired, “lay on the beach” on a sunny day or “lay in bed” on Saturday mornings. As I type this, even spell check is cringing.

I hate to have to even say it, but it’s lie. When we recline, we lie down—usually on a mattress.

I admit, it gets confusing when the past tense comes into play:

Present tense = lie (She lies awake at night.)
Past tense = lay (She lay awake last night.)
Past participle = lain (She has lain awake since midnight.)

When do we use lay? When there’s an object involved. We lay something down. We lay down the law. We lay a book on the table. Now I lay me down to sleep (technically, it should be reflexive, I lay myself down to sleep, but that spoils the meter of the prayer).

The tenses of lay are as follows:

Present tense = lay (Every year I lay a wreath on the grave.)
Past tense = laid (She laid a mat at the front door.)
Past participle = laid also (The hen has laid an egg every morning this week.

Dear readers (you know who you are), did I explain this clearly, as you requested?

Dear offenders (you know who you are), would you consider making better word choices?

Dear mattress makers (you know who you are, though chances are you’re not reading this), are your marketing agencies asleep on the job?

Maybe instead of “Lay on it, play on it,” they could sing “Lie on it, cry on it,” Lie on it, sigh on it,” “die on it,” “get high on it,” “eat pie on it,” WHATEVER.

To be fair, as lie versus lay goes, there’s bad behavior beyond the bed business. Just listen to some of your favorite songs and you’ll find some doozies.

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Never let it rest

On several occasions recently, I’ve made a mental note to look up a specific rule of grammar pertaining to comparative and superlative adjectives. As is often the case, once I go searching, I find it’s not that easy.

In elementary school, these adjectival forms were presented in a nursery rhyme beginnig with “Good, Better, Best.” If it weren’t for the fact that I often hear the superlative used incorrectly, I’d say there’s no need for a refresher. (Better, the comparative, pertains to two items, as in “She is the older of the two children.” Best, the superlative, pertains to three or more, as in “He is the tallest boy in the class.”) I’ll come back to violation peeves in a moment, though I’ve griped before.

Here’s the use about which I was uncertain. Maybe you know.

Is it “one of the more…” or “one of the most…” and is there a difference? Finding a definitive—and authoritative–answer has taken deep mining.

To the ear, or my ear anyway, “one of the more” seems incorrect, simply because there are likely more than two nouns being compared. Without thinking too hard, I’d be inclined to say “one of the most.”

In fact, I was editing something yesterday when I came upon “one of the more” and changed it. Oops?

As I always do, I combed through my various style guides and grammar books and found nothing firm on the subject. However, I did read through volumes of online debate.

Some of the word usage bloggers insist that “one of the biggest” is absolutely incorrect, but I found their logic a bit flimsy. Others argued to the contrary.

I invite your comments on the subject. Does either comparative or superlative prevail when following “one of the” and why? Your opinions are welcome, but I’d really appreciate it if you’d cite your sources. Please don’t support your position with the notion that the other one sounds funny. We all know there are plenty of correct phrases in English that sound funny. As much as we might wish otherwise, not sounding funny is no basis for grammatical correctness.

Back to basic comparative and superlative, I wish people with two children stopped referring to one as the oldest and the other the youngest, when one is the older and the other the younger. Easy enough.

One blog I read cited lexicographer H.W. Fowler‘s assertion that exceptions can be made for idioms. I’m not sure I buy into that.

For example, if comparative (the –er form of an adjective) applies to only two, then why do humans put our “best foot forward?”

Likewise, why do we strive to have “the best of both worlds?”

This is one of the things that most keep me up at night. Or is it more?

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