Grammar Pet Peeves: It’s All Right

You know what I think? People love grammar. With that, more grammar pet peeves!

Have Went
More and more often these days, I hear people say have went when they mean have gone. I don’t mean to overstate this, but this is one of those grammar mistakes that makes me want to stab myself in the neck with a fork—though it’s not as bad as Shea saying “Go Yankees” in his Southern accent. The past participle of to go is gone, which you would use with auxiliary verbs like has, have, is, am, etc. The simple past is went, which should not be used with an auxiliary verb.

So you would say, “I went to Yankee stadium and was surprised that they did not have grits at the concession stand.” Then you would say, “I should have gone to a Houston Astros game instead.” Every time you say “have went” instead of “have gone,” a little part of grammar enthusiasts dies inside, even if they don’t hear you say it. It’s like a disturbance in The Force.

Capitol Building
The dictionary definition of the noun capitol (lower case, with an O) is “a building occupied by a state legislature.” So the phrase capitol building is redundant, because capitol by definition is a building. It would be like saying, “I live in that house building” or “I’m going to see a baseball game in that stadium building.”

Similarly, the proper noun Capitol (upper case, still with an O) refers specifically to the building in Washington DC where Congress meets. So if you write, “National Capitol Building,” you’re being triply redundant, since Capitol by itself is already the national building you’re talking about. (If you click on the image here, you will see that Wikimedia user Scrumshus committed this error in the caption. Nevertheless, thank you, Scrumshus, for the copyright-free photo.)

Capital (with an A) can be a noun or an adjective and it means a lot of different things (it’s a little like Smurphy that way). As a noun, capital can be an upper-case letter, money, or a city that hosts the government of a political region. As an adjective, it can mean important, super-duper, related to money, or fatal.

In the most recent installment of Grammar Pet Peeves, Friend of IBD Greg wrote this in the comments section:

Why no mention of the most annoying (and unfortunately most popular) grammar flub out there: “myself”? What can we do about people’s obsession with this word?

Whenever I hear people say myself when me or I would work, it makes me think of the Austin Powers quote, “Allow myself to introduce…myself.” (For the record, Austin’s first myself is incorrect; the second is correct.) Here’s my theory: People are unsure about the appropriate use of me and I (which I wrote about back in the first installment of this series), so they use myself instead, just to be absolutely sure that they’re wrong.

If you’re in court, you might hear a mobster say, “He would not give the money that fell off the back of that truck to myself,” when what he really means is, “He would not give the money that fell off the back of that truck to me.” You might also hear him say, “Tommy and myself broke that jerk’s thumbs,” when what he means is “Tommy and I broke that jerk’s thumbs.”

As a reflexive pronoun, myself is correctly used as an object of a verb. For instance, “I hate myself for rooting for the Yankees” or “I smacked myself with a hammer.” Or if you are Austin Powers, “Allow me to introduce myself.”

A preposition is something you should never end a sentence with.
Also in the comments of the most recent installment of this series, Friend of IBD Betty wrote, “I dislike sentences that end in prepositions.” Betty’s phrasing here is perfect, because while some people are surprised to learn that it is grammatically correct to end a sentence with a preposition, a lot of people simply don’t like it. (Betty didn’t say it was wrong; she just said that she doesn’t like it.)

The Grammar Girl blog lists the rule that you should not end a sentence with a preposition as one of the top 10 grammar myths. Author Mignon Fogarty explains it like this:

Here’s an example of a sentence that can end with a preposition: What did you step on? A key point is that the sentence doesn’t work if you leave off the preposition. You can’t say, “What did you step?” You need to say, “What did you step on?” to make a grammatical sentence…. Yes, you could say, “On what did you step?” but not even grammarians think you should. It sounds pedantic.

I reference Grammar Girl a lot in these pet peeve posts, and I wonder if you feel, as I do, that Grammar Girl (on the right) is the secret, daytime alter ego of the esurance girl. Or possibly vice versa. At any rate, the point is don’t be afraid to end a sentence with a preposition.

It’s hard to call this a pet peeve because I just learned about it, but it’s interesting (to me, anyway), so I thought I’d share. It seems that alright is not a word. Or to be fair, if it is a word, it’s recognized in most style guides and dictionaries as “nonstandard,” which means, “You can use it, but if you do you’re stupid.” We’re so accustomed to seeing words like altogether and already (which are indeed words), that we took the two-word phrase all right and made it alright. Again, there’s a good post on this on the Grammar Girl blog.

So now the stodgy prescriptivists (“Without grammatical structure and rules, language will cease to exist”) and the free-love descriptivists (“Language is a like an organism, man, and it can’t be restrained”) can argue over whether alright gets to be a word.

Well, alright, it’s a capitol idea for myself to stop now, because I have really went on. ‘Til next time!

Avoiding a Cheesy Cinco de Mayo

Have you ever wondered how something gets so far from its original intent that it really loses its meaning? I was reminded of this issue this week with two separate incidents.

While refueling my vehicle, on Monday morning I found myself in a conversation at the gas pump with a young man about the death of Osama Bin Laden. The young man I was talking to was nine years old on September 11, 2001 (I wasn’t for sure that he was actually old enough to be driving in the first place) and has a different way of looking at the events of that day and how he connects those memories to what happened to Bin Laden. Okay, this topic is way too serious for this not-so-serious blog. I know that the last thing you want to read here is my political commentary that could follow this example. Let me provide a second example that revolves around the less complicated topic of cheese dip.

The second event was the battery of emails that I have been receiving from On the Border, a chain restaurant that offers Mexican-type cuisine that is actually more like American-Mex that happens to be surprisingly delicious. I managed to get on their email list by being tricked into giving up my email address in exchange for free queso. It was a moment of weakness. The emails have been inviting me to return to On the Border to celebrate Cinco de Mayo. Enjoying most things with mayo, I was seriously considering it.

Looking past the images of ice-filled buckets of “Mexican-type” beer I was looking for deeper meaning within the designs to develop a better understanding of what Cinco de Mayo is actually all about. I had a feeling that it was about more than cheese and cervesas (though that sounds like a perfectly acceptable holiday). Being a dumb American, it would have been easy for me to just accept this version of Cinco de Mayo and the carb-induced stupor that it could create and go to On the Border.

I knew there had to be more meaning behind it.  So my next step was Wikipedia. (I forgot to use the adjective lazy along with dumb above.) At least it was a start and at least my intentions were honorable, right? After leaving Wikipedia, I found myself reading several other online articles about the Battle of Puebla and how the under-armed and out-manned Mexican army defeated Napoleon III’s French forces. Who doesn’t love an underdog (that’s why I pull for the Yankees). I found it even more interesting and meaningful to me as a dumb, lazy, southern American that the battle had direct impact on the American Civil War, when the Mexican army was responsible for stopping Napoleon III from supplying the Confederacy with supplies that France had hoped would split the Union. Now that’s a reason for a holiday. I’m glad I didn’t accept Cinco de Mayo at face value.

On a much smaller and simpler scale I have seen interpretation in the form of programs, events, and designs perpetuate inaccuracies and still be widely accepted.

Special events at interpretive sites can move in directions that you never expected unless you have clear instructions for vendors, performers, and interpreters. Cinco de Mayo is not the first holiday that is drastically different from original concepts. You can take a look at how we celebrate religious holidays in the United States such as Christmas or Easter and realize their departure from the intended. Concessions are often made at events and festivals to meet specific needs and wants of visitors. True interpretive events should be managed different from that of festivals as to not confuse visitors or spread inaccurate messages.

Living history programs are an easy place for myths to be extended for the sake of adding character to the person being portrayed. If the story is not interesting or dynamic don’t transform it into something that it isn’t by adding character. Also be aware of your surroundings (competition and peers). I’ve seen many of the exact same type of living history programs presented all across the country because of limited amount of authentic living history supplies readily available through vendors.

Fire making is often over programmed because of its allure and the importance to survival (plus it is really cool thing to do in a program). I’ve seen the same period fire making kit come out of the same period haversack many times in different places. Creating fire in a program is great but by taking the tangible steps of making fire beyond the act itself and by relating it to something that the visitor can connect with (like a characters favorite time of night sitting around the fire with their family sharing stories or that fire was an opportunity for a child to do something important for his family) makes a demonstration a program. Me lighting our gas stove to melt cheese for dip has little value to you.

Non-personal media that has period or cultural-based graphic design elements needs to be carefully considered as well so that they don’t turn into something that looks like it came from a clip-art search. Decisions on how you plan to use elements such as colors, icons, imagery, and text should be weighed against their value of supporting the purpose of the piece. Oh yeah, and how those elements are used should also aide the communication and interpretive process. Don’t take the easy cheesy route.

Happy Cinco de Mayo! Oh yeah, did you know that Cinco de Mayo translates to May 5th?

More Grammar Pet Peeves

As you know by now, the first two installments of Grammar Pet Peeves (Part 1 of Literally Millions and Part 2 is Comprised of Five Points) went viral. That is not to say that they got a lot of hits, but they did make a lot of people sick. In an effort to redeem myself, I give you more pet peeves and the first-ever installment of “Two That I Had Wrong.”

Friend (or possibly Nemesis) of IBD Phil Broder asks:

What’s the proper usage of that/who? Is it “I am the person who edits a magazine” or “I am the person that edits a magazine”? And does it make a difference if the subject is human or not? “I have a dog that likes to sleep by the fireplace” or “I have a dog who likes to sleep by the fireplace”?

1232732_65680757I like that we’re taking requests on “Grammar Pet Peeves.”

The commonly accepted rule here is to use who when you’re talking about people and that when you’re talking about things or stuff, though there is some wiggle room (see the “Grammar Girl” link below). I’ve never heard a discussion on this rule as it relates to animals, so I’d say if you like animals and think they have personalities and feelings, use who; if you dislike animals except when you’re eating them, use that. (I have a dog who licks my face when I get home. I have a chicken that will be great breaded and fried.)

There’s a good post on this topic on the website Grammar Girl: Quick and Dirty Tips.

AlotAlot/A Lot
Unless you are talking about Alot, a town in India that is home to a temple of the Hindu deity Shiva, a lot should be two words. For instance, one could say, “You must have a lot of time on your hands if you’re reading this blog.” Just as you have a dog instead of adog, you have a lot of something instead of alot of something.

Very Unique
There are no degrees of uniqueness. Something cannot be kind of unique or very unique. Being unique is like being pregnant. You might be two-weeks pregnant or nine-months pregnant, but either you’re pregnant or you’re not. This explanation from Washington State University puts it better than I can:

“Unique” singles out one of a kind. That “un” at the beginning is a form of “one.” A thing is unique (the only one of its kind) or it is not. Something may be almost unique (there are very few like it), but nothing is “very unique.”

So Fun / So Much Fun
In this instance, so is an adverb that modifies the adjective much, which modifies the noun fun. An adverb cannot modify a noun, so when you say, “Reading about grammar is so fun,” what you mean is “Reading about grammar is so much fun.”

Two That I Had Wrong

None Is / None Are
Frequently, we get notes wrapped around bricks and thrown through our windows that say, “Dear Shea and Paul, none of your posts are funny.” For a long time, I thought, the joke’s on you, Mr. Angry Blog Reader, because what you mean is “None of your posts is funny.” Well, it turns out that Mr. Angry Blog Reader is also correct, because both forms are acceptable. Also, we’re not funny.

I was one of those folks who thought that because the word none derives from not one, it is necessarily singular. Turns out that both structures are accepted and have been used since the days of Old English. There’s a good post on this on The Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation. (There are still some sources that insist on none being singular, but they are in the minority.)

Again, for a long time, whenever I heard people use loan as a verb (“I loaned Shea $4 in 2003 and still haven’t seen a penny of it”), I’d smile smugly and correct them in my head. (I’d think, “They meant lend. I should write a blog about this!”) Well, unless those folks were British, I owe them an apology, because in American English, loan is a verb as well as a noun and has been for a long time.

British grammar and many American nerds hold to the rule that loan is a noun only (“I took out a loan at the bank”) and that lend is a verb only. So if you’re writing for an international audience or for whatever reason trying to impress nerds, use that rule, but common usage in American English allows loan to be used as a verb.