Ouch!

I can accept bad grammar from those who don’t know any better — such as small children or individuals who are learning a new language or even people who have not been priviliged to have had a good education. But my tolerance runs short when persons in a role-model position (such as the President of the United States) or in a position of written trust (such as newspaper reporters) misuse the language.

I recently witnessed the commission of a grammatical mortal sin in the lead paragraph of a newspaper story published in the Jacksonville (Florida) Times-Union. It was a wire story from McClatchy Newspapers (which owns the Times-Union). The story reported on a fire at a church Gov. Sarah Palin attends in Wasilla, Alaska. The story began:

“WASILLA, ALASKA — Whomever torched Gov. Sarah Palin’s home church tried to start fires in several places about the building … ”

Did you catch the gross error? I hope so. The first word in the sentence should have been “whoever.” This word is used as the subject of the sentence (nominative case, to be technical); whomever is only used¬†in the objective¬†case, as “She questioned whomever she met.”

Shame on the writer of that article! Double shame on the newswire editor who let the story get out with the error! And triple shame on the local newspaper editor who allowed it into print!

Sometimes people misuse grammar when they are trying to “put on airs.” Sometimes, they misuse it because they remember hearing “something” about a rule of grammar and do not want to make a mistake. For example, I hear people — including our President Elect — incorrectly say, “between she and I.” (President-Elect Obama has said, on many occasions, “Between Michelle and I.”) The correct usage is “between her and me” and “between Michelle and me.” Why? Between is a preposition, and words following a preposition must be in the objective case. Hence, the correct words are “her” and “me.”

No one is perfect, even with respect to grammar. I make errors when I speak and probably when I write, also. I hope they are little mistakes, though — ones that don’t cause people to cover their ears.

The problem with published mistakes of grammar is that the writer forgets the power of the printed word. After all, if you see it printed, it must be true! At least, that is the public’s perception. So, those of us who write and publish shoulda tremendous responsibility to publish the truth, even down to the grammar we use.

If you see any grammatical errors in the magazines and newspapers you read, let me know. I think we need to bring them to light.

Until next time,

Linda Segall
Segall Enterprises: Writing and Editing Solutions
www.SegallEnterprises.com

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