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Warning: This column contains grammatic errata, etc.

Mon., Oct. 3, 2011

The woman on the phone was accusing me of gerund abuse.

At least, I think she was accusing me. She was a bit more passive than that. She just wanted to ask a question.

“Have we simply given up on the gerund?” she asked.

“Well, I’m not sure I …”

“No, I really want to know,” she said. “Do we no longer feel the need to use the gerund properly?”

“I don’t …”

“Because maybe the rules have changed since I studied English,” she said. “Have they issued a new rule about gerunds?”

I was at a loss for an answer, because:

• I did not know exactly which “they” would issue such a rule.

• I had not kept up on state-of-the-art grammar developments.

• I was a bit fuzzy on, what, exactly, constitutes a gerund.

For the record, a gerund is “a verbal noun ending in ‘–ing,’ with all of the uses of a noun but retaining certain characteristics of the verb.”

Hope that clears it up.

The only thing I know for sure is that readers absolutely hate it when us professional writers make a grammatical error – by which I mean readers love it. They live for it. It absolutely makes their day, which is why I said “us professional writers” in the above sentence instead of “we professional writers.” Consider that a gift.

In fact, today I am going to give you gift after gift by doing my second, and probably final, all-mistake column. Every sentence below contains at least one error of grammar, spelling, usage or syntax. Get out your red pencils and enjoy:

The trouble with trying to standardize any of our living, breathing languages, like English, is that it continues to evolve. Just when we think we have it nailed down, you find out it has literally shifted under our very feet.

Considering, for instance, the gerund.

Whereupon once we could all understand how to properly use the gerund and avoid the dreaded fused participle, we currently find nothing but rampant gerund chaos. There are gerunds with infinitives, gerunds with possessives and even some confused gerunds that seem to be transgerunds.

Thats why its hopeless to even imagine that an Official English Committee would be able to codify our glorious native tongue. How can we ever resolve such thorny dilemmas as, “Can we end a sentence with a proposition?” and “Does ‘i’ really come before ‘e’ except after ‘c’?”

I mean, such a committee would just be wierd.

Over the centuries, the beauty of the English language lays in it’s remarkable ability to adapt, to transform, to transvest. What may have been totally unacceptable in the previous decade suddenly becomes standard usage in ours, like using the word “awesome” as an all-purpose homonym for “great,” “terrific” or “not bad.”

Sometimes, words suddenly sprout an entirely unique meaning. I have recently heard people reference the word “takeaway” as meaning what they got out of a certain situation.

For instance, they’ll say, “Heres my takeaway from today’s meeting.”

“Hey, pal,” I want to say, “Unless, they were serving Chinese food, than that meeting didn’t have any takeaway!”

Yet thats your English for you. A word like “tweet” or “gay” can suddenly revolve into a word that means something 360-degree opposite from its previous nomenclature.

Oh, wait, my bad, I should have referenced Chinese “takeout,” not “takeaway,” but is’nt that also part of the glory of the Queen’s English? That you can just change three or four tiny little letters in a word and they make the hole word into something entirely else?

In closure, I would just like to interject that we must not emulate the French by trying to codify our language and, as it were, seal it forever in ambrosia. Therein lays the dearth of the language. It will become moribund and morose, such as Latin.

Specificly, we must create no shackles around the gerund, not ever. The gerund must be free to trod it’s own path through our marvelous English language, to grow, to transmigrate.

Yet, in warning, this does not also give us free reign to wantonly, repeatedly and vigorously abuse the gerund.

That, in a nutcase, is this column’s takeout.

Reach Jim Kershner at or (509) 459-5493.

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