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.