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Happy National Grammar Day!

Published: Sun, March 3, 2013 @ 12:00 a.m.

By Todd Franko (Contact)

Monday is a special day, and it has nothing to do with which government services are shut down.

Or is it “what” government services are shut down?

Regardless — Monday is National Grammar Day.

It’s a day to celebrate the craft of the language we speak and right. (Er, write.)

We deal with the language 24/7 at The Vindicator. And as you see every day, we’re not perfect. As the self-appointed language police, we do blush when we err.

Many of our imperfections come simply from the fact that we publish a small novel every day — live, on deadline, with the threat of watching “Duck Dynasty” if the paper does not get to your door on time.

I’ve not totaled up our daily word production, but rest assured: 1) I can expertly say it’s way more than 10 words per day, and 2) Never are the words used the same way as the day before, unlike manufacturers of, say, cars or chalupas.

That excuse aside, we work hard at being good grammarians. Under the umbrella of grammar are so many things about how we speak or write. Whether written or spoken, language abuse is as tough on us as McDonald’s encountering Wendy’s or Dave Betras encountering humility.

I am not the best grammarian in our office, and we do have some great ones. I reached out to them this week about grammar and language, and you’ll read their thoughts in a minute. But I have things that jump out at me.

I celebrated a relative this week when they said they were coming to the end of their “fiscal” year. I said congrats for that, and they were puzzled. I said I hear too many people call it the end of their “physical year.” There certainly is a physical year, and I suppose with some budgets and spending, people do buy and spend on a physical calendar. But more times than not, it’s a fiscal calendar.

(Just in that above sentence, I reminded myself of another common miscue: it is never “more times then not.”)

My son came home with a pretty cool homework assignment this week. In helping him, I read the instructions, and he was required to have a number of resources “sited” in the report. It was restated again: “All information ... must be sited.” It’s “cited.”

I have a friend who says “supposed-blee” despite there being no “b” in the word.

As grammar police, we can obsess, too, on smaller nuances. They’re not necessarily an offense to the English language such as the above examples, but issues for some:

I can’t stand “clean up.” Can’t it just be “clean?” In self-editing a few paragraphs above, I guess I could have written “totaled our daily word production.” The use of “totaled up” should be as useless to me as “clean up.”

Managing Editor Mark Sweetwood is among many grammarians who hate “hold a meeting.” We simply “meet.” They also like to cling to the literal meaning of “hold,” which is to grasp something in your hands, and that certainly is a tough feat for a meeting.

Regional editor Ernie Brown cringes at some of the everyday things that come up aplenty:

Its and it’s: “Oh the pain to read ‘The board continued it’s plan to make a full recovery.’” If you’re to use the apostrophe, you need to be able to say “it is” in the instance.

Affect and effect: Effect, as a verb, means to cause. Affect, as a verb, means to influence. “The game will affect the standings” (not effect).

There, their and they’re: “I cringe when I see an email or sentence that says: ‘There favorite player is LeBron James.’ Ouch.”

Aid and aide: Aid is assistance; an aide is a person who serves as an assistant. “‘He used a pulley to aide his new invention.’ Wow.”

The conversational abuse of the language is tough on us.

It’s even tougher in social circles as some use — or misuse — is generational and cultural.

The use of “you know” that is prevalent among teens and young adults is a problem for some.

One staffer seized on the Pittsburgh-area distinction of “yins” or “yuns.”

And whites and blacks will likely forever debate the creation and usage of “aks” and other similar words.

What are your pet grammar peeves? (Or is it “grammar pet peeves?”)

In fact, take a rip at our edition today (and this column, I imagine), and note some of the grammar issues that drive you nuts.

To stoke your knowledge and the conversation, I suggest the following sites (not sights):

www.nationalgrammarday.com promoted by “Grammar Girl” and SPOGG — the Society for the Promotion of Good Grammar.

The Poynter Institute’s Monday celebration, “Celebrate Grammar Day Webinar.” Go to www.newsu.org/Celebrate-Grammar-Day-2013

Our in-house dean of journalism might be Editorial Page Editor Dennis Mangan — a Vindy veteran, historian and prince of practicality. He vented on grammar, launching into it via the use of “toward” and “towards:”

“Although some authorities hold that the words are interchangeable (or that one is simply the American standard and the other British), an ‘s’ on the end of ‘toward’ drives me to distraction. Maybe because as journalists, we were schooled to use the shorter version of a word whenever possible.

“When I came to The Vindicator, local style was to use ‘employe.’ I want to say that we finally joined the rest of the English-speaking world and accepted the second ‘e’ in the late 1970s or early 1980s.

“And wasn’t it U.S. headline writers who shortened ‘Viet Nam’ to one word?

“In that spirit, it’s ‘toward,’ not ‘towards,’ for me.

“Just try and make me use ‘towards’ — which raises another hackle:

“It’s ‘try to make me.’

“Although I won’t even try to analyze the grammar behind those constructions — or should it be constructs?”

Wow ... On Monday, we’ll be giving Dennis some space.

Todd Franko is editor of The Vindicator. He likes emails about stories and our newspaper. Email him at tfranko@vindy.com. He blogs, too, on Vindy.com. Tweet him, too, at @tfranko.


1bobhogue(102 comments)posted 3 years, 4 months ago

I agree with all of these observations, and I would add:

"your" vs. "you're"

"definitely" vs. "defiantly" (or other variations)

As for "clean" vs. "clean up," I usually think of "clean" being applied to something fairly small, like cleaning a plate or cleaning a window. "Clean up," on the other hand, seems to imply something of a larger project like cleaning up a room or cleaning up a park. Also, I think the addition of "up" gives the implication that the cleaning includes the picking up or gathering up of items in addition to more surface-related cleaning like washing, rinsing, or dusting.

Anyway, thanks for an interesting and thought-provoking column. I cringe at the misuse of English, especially as it appears on Internet postings.

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2Millerh113(217 comments)posted 3 years, 4 months ago

You did not mention the most common error in the English languag: The confusion and misuse of the two verbs, Lie, lay, lain and Lay, Laid, Laid. steming from the fact that the irregular past tense in the first verb is pronounced and spelled the same as the present tense of the second verb. Tv newsmen and women as well as the Vindy are guilty of this error on a regular basis. Also, don't confuse Usage with Grammar. Grammar has to do with structure, usage with preferences.

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3VINDYDOG(1 comment)posted 3 years, 4 months ago

"Bad Grammar"? The Vindy sets the standards.

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4kurtw(1821 comments)posted 3 years, 4 months ago

Good column. I like what you say about "the craft of the language we use" because the use of the word "craft" really puts everything in its proper perspective. Using words correctly is, really, no different than carpentry or cabinet making- the art of "joinery"- making things fit. The Behavioral Psychologist B.F. Skinner suggested as much when he wrote: "language is just a highfaluting tool- like hammer and nails for the carpenter".

I like that analogy because it's so concrete. It gives hope to those of us still struggling to express ourselves. I know how to drive nails...

P.S. Also, I like your description of what it takes to produce a daily paper- "we publish a small novel ever day- live, on deadline...". Whew! I know I could never do it: just thinking about it makes me want to curl up in the fetal position!

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5kurtw(1821 comments)posted 3 years, 4 months ago

For: Vindydog
Re:"Bad Grammar?" The Vindy sets the standards.

You're absolutely right- but it's not the people getting paid to write who make all, or most of the mistakes- it's the amateurs (myself included) who post every day who do that.

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6dreamer716(2 comments)posted 3 years, 4 months ago

I'm no expert, but one that has annoyed me forever is the use of "that" when referring to a person. "A man that is in charge", rather than "A man who is in charge". The quick and dirty rule is to use "who" when talking about a person, and "that" when talking about an object. You wouldn't say "I saw a tree (or building, car) WHO was amazing". Unfortunately, I see and hear it everywhere and from many people.

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7kurtw(1821 comments)posted 3 years, 4 months ago

There's another facet of the whole matter of English grammar that needs to be examined closely: isn't the imposition of "rules of grammar" judgmental and, actually, highly authoritarian?

Wouldn't it be better- fairer- if, instead of imposing hard and fast rules on everybody, we allowed people to make up their own rules of English usage as they went along?

If we did that, it would really mirror and, sort of, consummate, the Social Revolution of the Sixties which tried to eradicate Authoritarian Power Structures that suppressed human individuality (and made everyone "plastic" and conforming- like in the "Ozzie and Harriet" Eisenhower Era).

The new rule of English Usage would be called "Situational Grammar"- just like "Situational Ethics"- which have already done so much to elevate and ennoble American Life. Hey, Give it a Shot, what have we got to lose? Traditional Rules of Grammar- what are they? Just relics of a dead past- no more relevant than traditional rules of morality.

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