Thursday, July 27, 2006

the godmother is crabby

You thought the godfather was peevish. Now comes the godmother with a set of grammatical pet peeves.

I’m not talking about grammar in writing dialogue. Dialogue needs all the idioms, grammatical mistakes, and idiosyncrasies that the human tongue is heir to. But there are errors that writers make in narration and in the person of the omniscient narrator that can take me out of the story when I run into them. Instead of seeing through the words to the action, which I love, the mistake leaps out and shouts ‘Ooops.”

My personal list:

Imply and infer. If I say, “John is honest, um, a lot of the time,” I am implying John is quite dishonest. You are entitled to infer that I think that. A synonym for imply is suggest.

“Chaise lounge.” It’s chaise longue, meaning long chair in French. Yes, “longue” and “lounge” are anagrams. Therein lies the subtle, seductive, plausibility of “chaise lounge.” Eventually chaise longue may go the way of the snail darter, but why not be correct in the present day?

Lie and lay. I lie down on my chaise longue. I don’t lay down. I may lay my snail darter down on the chaise longue if I don’t mind being cruel to fish. Lie is intransitive; lay is transitive. To make matters more complicated, lay is the past tense of lie. Yesterday, I lay down on my chaise longue. Or would have, if I had one.

Riffle and rifle. I go to my file cabinet. If I let my fingers do the walking, I riffle through the papers there. When I stick paper in my print tray, I riffle through it first, hoping that will make double-paging and paper jams less likely. If a burglar comes in and steals the files from my file cabinet, he has rifled it. How won’t get anything valuable, but that’s his problem. A synonym for rifle is ransack.

And by the way, Sally doesn’t “go to the market with John and I.” Sally wouldn’t go to the market with I, would she? Worse is “Sally went to the market with he and I.”

Sorry to be crabby.

Ba-da-bing.

Barbara D’Amato

45 comments:

Sara Paretsky said...

Barb, A fun and funny column. Me, I hate people making mental notes, and also locking eyes.

Your sister crabcake

Anonymous said...

We are under siege, my friends. The other day, I was at lunch with friends and was teased for using the past participle "swum" in a sentence. They didn't think it was a real word. And for a second I believed them.

Thanks for reminding us that this stuff is important.

Maryann Mercer said...

Thank you for both the sage words and the humor. My high school English teacher was a stickler for proper grammar to the extent that I fear dangling participles and incomplete sentences to this day. :o) (This leads to incredible wordiness on my part.)
What do you think of the phrase 'stepping foot outside the door'? I didn't think any one stepped with anything other than a foot, but I've heard this several times. Redundant or just me?

N-Edwards said...

Thanks for the great post, Godmother! I was happy to read something I could relate to--some of the other posts seem to be only for writers! My sons, who grew up in the home of a finicky speaker, still say "Him and me went to the gym together," because they're more afraid of the ridicule of their friends than they are of the Wrath of Mom. (I hope I haven't made any misteaks in my post.)

D.A. Davenport said...

ORIENTATED!!! I hate it when someone misuses the word orientated, which seems to happen almost 100% of the time. Orientate means to face East. That's it! Period! End of discussion!
That may be the biggest pet peeve I have in the misuse of the English language. I even hear newscasters and public figures use it.
If you now infer that this drives me crazy, you would be right.

Barbara D'Amato said...

Thank you, Sara, anonymous, msaryann, n-e, and d.a. Maryann, how about "set foot" outside? That works.
Barb

maryann mercer said...

I knew there was a logical way to handle the 'step' problem. I'm also not fond of those pesky double negatives, like 'can't not'.
Thanks, Barb and have a great weekend!

Libby Hellmann said...

Quick story about "Orientate" (about which I share your consternation, d.a.) -- I was working in the creative department of a very large PR firm in my former life, and one of the account executives revised a script I'd written, changing "orient" to "orientate", not once but twice.

I learned quickly not to take it personally when I was edited. I also learned that being edited doesn't necessarily make it better.

dick said...

While we're at it, can be call a moratorium on "wolfing" of food? Even the best of yiz does it -- it gives wolves a bad name...

Julia Buckley said...

That's not crabby, that's just good grammar, and someone had to say it.

ab said...

Thanks for clearifying this, Barb! Especially the "me and I" part. Everytime I hear someone saying "Bob went with Joseph and I" I get confused. And this is used by people who are well educated and meticulous and, unlike me, speak English fluently. Like you, I wonder - they wouldn't say "Bob went with he", would they? So why the "I"? Thought I had missed something there. Seems I haven't.

Another crab person.

Anonymous said...

Are "then" and "than" interchangeable? For example, I would say "I went to the store, then I came home" or "I would rather have steak than fish." It bothered me a little when I saw someone continually use the words in reverse on another message board I read. When I saw the same misuse show up in two different novels, well, then, I became alarmed. Did I miss that part when I was taking English, that says those two words can be used interchangeably?

ab said...

They are two different words and don't mean the same thing at all, as far as I know.

Jon The Crime Spree Guy said...

However the most frightening thing about this post is that Barb does not have a chaise lounge chair.

I'm thinking birthday gift....

Francesca said...

Perhaps because we heard the unschooled use the objective case where the subjective should have been used (me instead of I, her instead of she), we have swung violently the other way, dropped the objective case altogether and, so as not to appear unsophisticated and unlearned, ironically always use the subjective, whether it is correct or not.

Anonymous said...

Resurrecting this topic...

Something was brought to my attention recently.

It had to do with keeping company.

Everyone says:

'May I keep you/him/her/them company?'

Why do we say this?

Should it not be:

'May I keep your/his/her/their company?'

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