Friday, May 25, 2012

Grammar - Pet Peeves Sound-off
The verbal fisticuffs started with a simple comment. The writer expressed her chagrin at an author’s persistent use of the non-word “irregardless,” and the battle was on: "irregardless" vs "regardless, "altogether" vs "all together." Several rounds involved dialect as opposed to "proper" English. There was even some sparring over the use of slang as opposed to "ordinary" language. Accusations flew, suggesting those who clung more strictly to a Strunk and White version of grammar were elitist.  

This battle was waged on a recent LinkedIn discussion. Shortly after it began, I offered a comment or two then sat back and followed as new remarks were added day after day after day. At last count, there were seventy-six comments added to the thread, enough to weave a virtual rope. The influx has finally tapered off, but the debate still continues and, no doubt, always will.  

What constitutes proper grammar is a topic that may rank right up there with religion and politics. The word alone elicits moans and groans. It causes eyes to roll and eyebrows to arch. It almost invariably causes conflict.
Like everyone else, I've got personal pet peeves when it comes to grammar. Here’s an example of something that makes me cringe: He poured himself a cup of coffee. Arrrrgh! That and countless other variations of it make their way into writing every day. In actuality, he didn't pour himself; he poured a cup of coffee for himself. Do I understand the meaning of the first version? Sure I do, but the writer might just as well write: Throw me down the stairs my shoes. Frankly, I don't want to read that either. 

I think we, as writers, should be aware of and use “proper” grammar when it’s appropriate. On the other hand, I think fiction writing has its own set of ground rules. Weird analogy or not, like a centerline down a highway, I see quotation marks as the indicators of what we are and aren’t allowed to do in that regard. Unless it's first-person narration, anything outside quotation marks needs to adhere to proper usage. As for anything inside quotation marks, whether it's slang, dialect, or dropping 'g's, whatever your characters choose to say, however they choose to say it, anything goes, because it’s the writer’s job to make dialogue sound natural no matter how grammatically incorrect it may be. It just has to be kept in line with the character's background, education and personality.  

Let me share a laugh aimed at grammarians everywhere. This is from a birthday card I received from a good friend and member of my critique group. Picture two women chatting at a table.

First woman: "Where's your birthday party at?"
Second woman: "Don't end a sentence with a preposition."
First woman: "Okay. Where's your birthday party at, bitch?"

What are YOUR pet grammar peeves? Post them here. Let’s hear 'em!


  1. "Irregardless" makes me want to do physical harm to people. Also, "conversate."

  2. Conversate? That's a new one for me! I should be grateful. How funny. Thanks for sharing that pip, April.

  3. Business signs with a willy-nilly attitude toward apostraphes. (Yes, I know that's a fragment.) I admit to not catching my own errors when I'm writing a first draft, especially if I'm particularly intent on describing an action scene or a specific setting. Businesses, however, who post signage should be more careful about proofreading.

    I love that you've started a blog, Marjorie. Good luck with it!

    1. Signage is bad enough, but it bothers me even more when there are similar mistakes on TV ads. I don't know if it's a case of careless proofing or no proofreading at all. Good hearing from you, Donna!

  4. Ooo! This is worse. How about when daycares or children's organizations purposefully misspell their own names. Like Kids Klub or even Toys-R-Us with the backwards "R". What were they thinking?

  5. I suppose it's a way of making their names stand out, but that's a good point.

    As long as I'm here in the comment section, allow me to bring up another of my grammar peeves. "There's" is a perfectly good word, but more and more I notice it being used with plural nouns when "there are" is needed. i.e. There's a million reasons. There's three of them. There's more. Ugh!

  6. Just checked. The LinkedIn grammar discussion is now up to 90 comments! Phew!

  7. "He poured himself a cup of coffee." I don't understand the peeve here. It sounds completely natural (and, I can't find any objection to it in any usage books). "Himself" simply functions as a reflexive dative pronoun. "He poured me a cup of coffee" vs "He poured a cup of coffee for me": they mean the same thing, and both have been grammatical for centuries (since around the 12th century when the explicit dative case began disappearing from English).

  8. Hi Allen,

    I think sometimes a particular usage becomes so commonplace that it's accepted as the norm regardless of propriety. No one has trouble understanding the meaning of "He poured himself a cup of coffee." The point is: what is it he poured, himself or coffee?

    I'm going to push my luck and give another example of improper wording that's been accepted for ages. 'Til death do us part. Everyone's heard it; everyone accepts it and understands what it's SUPPOSED to mean. But shouldn't it be "NOT until death do us part"? It's been said and accepted for so long, nobody gives it another thought. Well, since I brought it up, I should say 'almost nobody.' And how about: "I couldn't care less." Over the years it's morphed into "I could care less." That implies the opposite of what the speaker intends it to mean, but you hear it all the time. Furthermore, people don't give it a second thought. Argh!

    Pour yourself a cup of coffee while I go pour one for myself, Allen. I'm open for friendly rebuttle.

  9. Currently, it is variations of 'It peaked my interest.'
    I have seen 'peaked' used on a journalists blog in the last couple of weeks. The blog was about writing. But that's not the only place I have seen it used; it seems to crop up quite often. I want to just leave a comment saying, 'Piqued', but I feel it would be rude. I even wondered if 'piqued' had been changed in the dictionary in the last few years, and I was the one using an incorrect word.

    1. No, it's not you! It should definitely be "piqued" in that sentence. It's a homonym, a word that shares the identical pronunciation with another word, which has an entirely different meaning and spelling. Not long ago, I messed up by using "vile" when I meant "vial." Thank goodness a member of my critique group caught it. I know the difference, but I typed it without a second thought. That journalist might appreciate your "catch" if you mention it tactfully. Then again, maybe not. Your call! LOL

      Speaking of "tactful," here's another homonym that gets interchanged too often: discreet/discrete. That's one I'm adding that to MY list.

      Thanks for sharing, SW! Drop by again anytime.

  10. I love your humor about the problem. I certainly try to follow the rules unless I'm writing dialogue, but know I fall short at times. Have you read "Eats, Shoots and leaves?" It is a very funny little book on punctuation. I don't know if the author has written one on poor grammar but if she has it would be worth reading. She uses humor to get her point across and I think that makes it much more enjoyable to learn from than the English teachers I had in school:)

  11. I fall short, too, Barbara. I have the bruises to prove it! Ain't none of us perfect, eh? LOL

    Eats Shoots and Leaves is terrific. And I agree; if English teachers were more diligent about making the study of the language more enjoyable than dry and dreaded, students might actually speak gooder English. (Just teasing!)

    I'm really glad you brought up Eats Shoots and Leaves. Maybe someone will see your comment and read it. It's not just informative, it's downright enjoyable.

    Thanks so much for joining in, Barbara!

  12. nice posting.. thanks for sharing.