Archive for September, 2009

Ouch! More grammar mistakes that hurt my ears and eyes

Saturday, September 26th, 2009

I am actually a “regular” person who flexes her English usage in “regular” conversation—especially to prove a point. I’ll occasionally say “ain’t,” use an adjective as an adverb, split an infinitive, and use “they” instead of saying “he or she.” I sometimes even begin sentences with “there is” and “there are.” But, I believe that writers—especially journalists—have an obligation to model good grammar to their readers. This admonition applies even more to their editors who should catch grammar mistakes.

I would like to say that most of the errors I catch are the result of sloppy editing in my local newspaper, the Jacksonville Times Union. Unfortunately, however, I see these mistakes in other places, and I hear them on television and radio news and talk shows, too.

My latest catches (I’ve italicized the mistake):

• “Even worse are situations where one person’s gift will be compared to another’s.” “Perplexed by a culture where soaking beans overnight seems like just too much planning…”

“Where” refers to “in or what place,” not a thing. Correct usages for these examples: “situations in which…” and “culture in which.”

• “The federal study of more than half a million men and women bolsters prior evidence of the health risks of diets laden with red meat like hamburger and processed meats like hot dogs and sausage…”

“Like” and “as” are not equal and cannot be exchanged as equals. Use “like” in comparisons when you mean “in the manner of” or “to the same degree as.” Use “as” when you want to show equality or in the function of. So, this sentence should have been written: “…with red meat such as hamburger and processed meats such as hot dogs…”

• “Terrie Brady…said the district should work hard to put expenditures like technology advancements and travel expenses on hold…” The rule on the use of “like” in this example is a bit different: Both “like” and “as” make comparisons, but “like” is used when making a single comparison, “as” when making a comparison to several things, such as in this example.

• “…Norman is feeling more optimistic about his ability to turn back the clock. Having a wife that knows all about once being the No. 1 player…” “That” always refers to inanimate things. Unless the writer believes that a wife is chattel, the correct usage should be “who.”

OK. Enough about “like,” “as,” “that” and “where.” Now, how about a look at a blatant proofing error. (Proofer, were you asleep on the job?”

A deck headline to a newspaper article read: “Residents are wary of an idea to change whom operates two courts.”

Ouch! “Whom” is the objective form of the pronoun. In this case, the word should be “who.” The entire phrase “who operates two courts” is the object of “to change.” This mistake is akin to those individuals who want to be “super correct” and say “between he and I.” Uh, uh. It’s “between him and me.”

Why is it important not to print grammar mistakes in the popular press? Well, to me it is obvious: When something appears in print, people (erroneously) believe it is true, accurate, and reliable. These grammar mistakes are none of those things and should not be perpetuated.

Until next time,

Linda Segall
Segall Enterprises: Writing and Editing Solutions