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Front Porch: Grammar sticklers share some pet peeves

Teacher Penny Jansen, left, helps eighth-grade students Ernhel Tatunay, middle, and Lexi Tiffany diagram a sentence during a classroom exercise on Nov. 8 at St. Joseph’s Catholic School in Kennewick. In a “Front Porch” column, Stefanie Pettit fights the good fight for well-spoken English. (Bob Brawdy / Associated Press)
Teacher Penny Jansen, left, helps eighth-grade students Ernhel Tatunay, middle, and Lexi Tiffany diagram a sentence during a classroom exercise on Nov. 8 at St. Joseph’s Catholic School in Kennewick. In a “Front Porch” column, Stefanie Pettit fights the good fight for well-spoken English. (Bob Brawdy / Associated Press)

Thank you, gods and goddesses of grammar, for making yourselves known to me. I cannot express how warming it is to know that I’m not shivering alone out in the wilderness as I cringe when hearing those often-spoken, god-awful words (and all their variations) – “Me and Fred went to the mall.”

In August I wrote about the wretched grammatical and spoken-word pebbles in my shoe that drive me crazy, and you responded in such volume that I could barely keep up with timely responses. In the 10-plus years I’ve been writing in this space, only once or twice have I received greater comment than I did for this grammar rant. I feel such kinship with you, my fellow grumps in grammar, that I think it only fair that some of you get a chance to share your grammar gripes, too. And so …

Peggy wrote that it’s appropriate to note the “their-there-they’re” misuses, as well as the incessant misplacement of the word “like” – as in “Me and Fred, like, went to the mall where, like, we bought matching rings. It was, like, magical.”

Diana bristles over the “saw-seen” confusion, as in “I seen them coming.” Sam rankles at preposition-ending sentences such as “Where’s it at?” Marilyn admits she cringes when “I hear an otherwise charming young person say ‘I must have went.’ ”

Karen pointed to orientate (versus the correct word, orient), irregardless and take versus bring. Ron notes the often misuse of the apostrophe, providing these examples: “John has two car’s” and “The cat bit it’s tail.”

Another writer objects to the “good-well” issue. “Johnny is doing good.” Without deep-diving into adjectives, adverbs and rules of grammar, let’s just note that this sentence means Johnny is probably building homes for Habitat for Humanity or some other worthwhile thing. If he were doing some task in a commendable fashion, then he would be doing well.

While I took on upspeak, the practice of raising the intonation at the end of declarative sentence so it winds up sounding like a question, Frank expressed his concern for downspeak, in which a speaker takes a deep breath, begins speaking clearly and then runs out of breath near the end of the sentence. This abomination, Frank wrote, “results in a whispered mumble that is unintelligible, particularly to the hearing impaired.”

Frank also took on the filler phrase used by so many, “you know,” and how he’d like to respond when hearing it. He wrote: “Actually, I don’t know, and I was hoping that you would tell me instead of rattling off meaningless phrases such as this one.”

We grammar folk can get contentious.

Larry got into the weeds (and thank you, Larry, for knowing these things) when he wrote about “the use of the reflexive pronoun in place of the subjective or objective pronoun, i.e., ‘Tom and myself.’ I have been hearing this error spoken more and more often in the last few decades, even by those who should know better.”

Nancy asked if adverbs have become obsolete now. When she hears “drive safe” and “he played wonderful,” she wonders where-oh-where has the “ly” gone.

So many others have provided extensive lists of their own, but space is limited. I leave off with a few additional observations, beginning with Mark’s, who wrote that his British mother held a strict adherence to proper English, and, after she died, he found in her belongings a book titled “Will America be the Death of English?” Possibly so.

One more personal one from me – spelling, specifically the correct spelling of peoples’ names. An editor of mine when I was a young reporter at the Miami News told me that once you spell someone’s name wrong, it doesn’t matter what else you write about that person. If you get the name wrong, readers will wonder what else you’ve gotten wrong.

I don’t expect everybody to memorize all the possible spellings of a name, but if you know the person or have reason to write to or about him or her, spell it right. My own name is often misspelled, even by people I’ve known for decades. It doesn’t so much rankle me as it seems inconsiderate or inattentive or sloppy. Especially if we’re friends, it doesn’t seem too much to ask that you spell my name right.

OK, in addition to contentious, we self-appointed gods and goddesses of grammar can get pretty grumpy, too.

And one final note, Brian shared a list of mispronunciations that give him homicidal fantasies, including: “ekscape,” “impordant,” “Warshington,” “akshully,” “reconize,” “ath-uh-letes,” “eksetera,” “asterix” and oh-so-many more.

And he offered me this encouragement: “Keep fighting the good fight, even in the certain knowledge that it’s completely futile.”

Even though I make errors myself, purposely play a little fast and loose with grammar when I write and find some slang and made-up words fun to use – Brian, I shall endeavor to keep the grammar goddess torch lighted as long as I can. And, yes, I know I’m just barking at the moon.

But as the sun sets on the era of routinely learning the parts of speech, diagramming sentences and valuing cursive writing – oh you, my fellow linguistic curmudgeons, let us link arms as we slowly sink together into the tar pits of time.

Voices correspondent Stefanie Pettit can be reached by e-mail at upwindsailor@comcast.net.


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