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.

Myself
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.

Alright
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!

Get to Know a Typeface! Connecticut State of Mind

We recently received this question from Friend of IBD Patricia Perry through our Ask a Nerd! link:

I am a font nerd. I collect fonts much the same as other folks collect small china porcupines. I recently discovered “Connecticut.” I am in love with this font. Although it is not appropriate for every venue, I find its form and grace appealing. What are your thoughts on this cute little font?

To my knowledge, Patricia has never been in my house and I’m certain that she does not have a key to the safe in the basement, so I’m a little freaked out that she knows about my china porcupine collection. Nevertheless, Patricia is the one and only person ever to review our book on Amazon and she gave it five stars, so any question Patricia asks, we answer.

I had never heard of Connecticut as a typeface before (though I do know that there’s a suburb of New York City called Connecticut*). There’s not a lot of information about the typeface available online, but my guess is that it was designed by someone with artistic talents, but not much experience in typeface design. The first clue to this effect is that it’s available as a free download from a number of sites, including FontPark and Fonts 101.

I agree with Patricia that Connecticut is graceful. (I can’t believe I wrote “Connecticut” and “graceful” in the same sentence after this month’s college basketball championship.) The individual letterforms are great. They have an elegant, organic form, accentuated by tall ascenders, like those seen in the lower-case h and d in the sample above.

What bothers me is the way the letters interact with one another. You can see what I mean the sample above (which was created by a random text generator). The typeface is meant to emulate script writing, so it bothers me the way the letters don’t connect. This can be seen most clearly in the space between the i and s of is.

Look at the h and e in Shea. Not only does the terminal stroke of the h not connect with the e, but the angle of the stroke where the h would connect to the cross stroke of the e is different, so the illusion that you’re looking at handwriting is broken.

I would take Patricia’s comment that this typeface is not right for every venue one step further. I’d say that with this typeface, you have to not only choose the appropriate venue, but also use it in specific ways. I would definitely not use this typeface for large blocks of text at a small point size. But at a large size, short words, like my favorite Scrabble word Qi, emphasize the elegant, organic form while offering the opportunity to minimize the issues caused by the way the letters interact (if you’re only using this typeface for one or two words at a large size, you can take them into Illustrator and fix those issues).

There’s a lot to like about Connecticut (the typeface, not the cheating basketball team and its corrupt coach). Patricia’s affinity for its grace and elegance is certainly warranted. But as with many free typefaces that do not come from established, well-known typeface designers, it’s important to use it carefully and pay attention to the details.

And whatever you do, avoid the Merritt Parkway at rush hour.

*Note to Shea: This joke is funny because Connecticut is not just a suburb of New York, it’s its own state. I thought I’d explain, given how little time in your life you’ve spent in or near New York.

Kulula Airlines: Lessons from Flying 101

I’ve been traveling a little more than usual these days, so my nerves may have been a little frazzled when I boarded a plane in Denver earlier this month and saw the scene pictured here. As I stepped off the walkway and onto the plane, I noticed a very serious and technical-looking panel of knobs and buttons on which someone had crossed off the word “Auto” and scrawled “No!”

Granted, it was just on the walkway and not on the actual airplane, and you very rarely hear about fatal walkway incidents at airports. Still, it was jarring to see such informal communication here. This is a setting in which you’re hoping the technical equipment doesn’t need to be relabeled on the fly (so to speak). It’s the kind of thing that makes you wonder if there are parts of the plane held together with duct tape.

So I was a little skeptical when Friend of IBD Phil Broder sent me a link to photos of the airplane pictured above. Just as a matter of principle, the first thing I do whenever Friend of IBD Phil Broder sends me anything is go to snopes.com to see if he’s trying to set me up. Evidently, it’s true that South Africa’s Kulula Airlines has turned the exterior of one of its planes—called Flying 101—into a big typographic comedy routine.

The plane is covered with snarky labels like “front door (our door is always open … unless we’re at 41,000 feet),” “co-captain (the other pilot on the PA system),” “tail (featuring an awesome logo),” and my favorite, “black box (which is actually orange).” You can see detailed photos on Kulula’s website. The plane debuted in February of this year, and this is not the first time it’s been featured in a blog.

On its website, Kulula has this to say about its plane:

Flying 101 has flown around the world several times thanks to the power of email and internet. This plane was designed in-house by our graphic design team as part of our bigger strategy to demystify air travel and explain some of the unknowns around air travel and flying.

This speaks to two important aspects of visual communication: the value of humor and the power of the unexpected. In my experience, all viral internet phenomena can be categorized into three categories: humorous, inspirational, and adorable kittens. (This is why Rupert Murdoch has been trying for years to genetically engineer a humorous, inspirational, adorable kitten; if he ever succeeds, he’ll rule the media world.) The Kulula plane falls into the humor category, but not necessarily because the jokes are the funniest ever written. (And for the record, if they’re trying to demystify flying, I really don’t want to know where the black box is; that does nothing to put me at ease.)

The jokes on Flying 101 range from mildly amusing to chuckle worthy, but I don’t think Kulula is in danger of losing its in-house graphics department to jobs writing for late-night comedy shows. What makes people more likely to laugh at the jokes is their unexpected context. Most of us have never seen a joke written on an airplane, so we’re laughing in part out of surprise. Kulula has generated invaluable free publicity with the online buzz created by a series of jokes that are marginally funny by placing them in an unexpected medium.

The element of surprise is a powerful visual tool, and not just when it comes to humor. For instance, an interpretive exhibit about oak trees might jar its audience with a 10-foot-tall image of an acorn, a technique called scale shift. The use of an unexpected typeface or color, if implemented carefully, can be an effective visual tool. Merely placing part of a sign upside down—a technique called drunken accident—will likely catch the eye of a passerby.

Of course, sometimes the element of surprise is a bad thing—like when you’re starting a week-long trip on three hours of sleep and you realize that the technicians at your hometown airport are communicating to one another with messages written in crayon.