Grammar Pet Peeves: It’s Been a While

It has been more than a year since I’ve written about my grammar pet peeves. This is because every time I write about grammar, I make some horrendous mistake like using the wrong your or there, or spelling grammar as grammer. Nevertheless, I’m going to venture into a few points that I’ve been noticing lately.

Have vs. Have Got
If you watch a lot of Monty Python or, alternatively, are British, you frequently hear have got when it seems have would suffice. (Those of you not on government computers will see what I mean in the YouTube video above.) Certain grammar purists and other nerds insist that have got is redundant and annoying. But many people with friends and social lives feel that have got is one of those idiomatic phrases that has so permeated (or, as my horrible boss at my previous job used to say, impermanated) the language that it’s now acceptable. In fact, some, like the authors of the Grammar Girl blog, suggest that have got adds emphasis that have lacks.

Since you most often see have got used with a contracted form of have, (“I’ve got this mole I think I should get checked out”), I think that have got is acceptable in informal settings, like in a blog or at the dermatologist’s office. While I’d steer clear of have got in formal writing, it’s undeniable that without the phrase we wouldn’t have The Beatles’ “She’s Got a Ticket to Ride,” Monty Python’s French castle guard’s “He’s already got one” (above), or Shea’s landmark two-part blog series, “I’ve Got Problems.”

Awhile vs. A While
This recently came up on a friend’s Facebook page. She just put it out there: “use of ‘awhile’ versus ‘a while’. discuss.” And people did. This is what my friends are like.

Anyway, a while is a noun phrase that means “an amount of time”; awhile is an adverb that means “for an amount of time.” When you use the noun (It’s going to be a while before we regain the readers we lose because of this post), it’s two words. When you’re modifying a verb (I need to think awhile), it’s one word. So you’d be correct to say, “I need to think awhile” (modifies the verb to think) and, “I need to think for a while” (for an amount of time).

Hyphenated Adverbs
In a comment on the first Grammar Pet Peeves article, Friend of IBD Scott Rogers wrote this:

A pet peeve of mine … is the hyphenated adverb. The hyphen in “a series-deciding blown call” adds precision to a sequence of modifiers. The hyphen in “an obviously-fair line drive” adds no clarity, since the basic rules of English grammar make clear what is being modified by “obviously.” Now that people are getting better about plural apostrophes (“Fresh Egg’s”), I’m noticing many more hyphenated adverbs in signage (“Organically-Grown”).

I’d have rephrased this comment and claimed the thought as my own, but Scott used baseball-related examples and everything, so how could I improve upon it?

The Designated Hitter
Speaking of baseball, can we all agree that the designated hitter rule in American League baseball is an abomination? All it does is keep a bunch of fat, old has-beens in the league a few years longer to collect stats. (Thanks to The Baseball Stadium Connoisseur for the baseball card image of first-ever designated hitter Ron Blomberg).

Oftentimes
Oftentimes
is indeed a word. It’s in the dictionary, Shakespeare used it, and most importantly, it has its own entry on WikiAnswers. That said, I find it redundant and I hate it. Any time I see oftentimes in text that I’m editing, I change it to often or frequently. Then, just out of spite, I find the author’s iPhone and covertly set his alarm clock to go off at 3:00 in the morning.

April 4 vs. April 4th
This is more personal preference than grammar, but whenever I’m editing, I find myself deleting the suffixes people tack on the end of numerals in dates. What’s the difference between April 1st-4th and April 1-4? To me, the first is visually cluttered, the second clean and clear. When we’re speaking, we may say “April first through fourth,” but when you’re conveying information visually, clarity and simplicity should take precedence.

I use those -th, -rd, -st suffixes on numbers exclusively when I’m referencing that number in a sequence (for example, this is the 1,000th time you have rolled your eyes while reading this stupid blog).

Loose vs Lose
These are different words. They mean different things. I don’t know what else to say on this one.

Caps Lock
We all know that writing in all caps is bad form. When I stumble across anything other than an acronym in all caps, even a single word, I change it to lower-case italics, which achieves the same emphasis without looking disruptive. According to a story on ABC News, Google broke new ground when it released a netbook computer that made it difficult to activate caps lock.

While I applaud Google for trying to stop people from being jerks by writing in all caps, I don’t think there’s any feature in the netbook’s Chrome operating system that prevents people from writing blogs, so clearly there’s work to be done.

Also in this Series

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Clip Art Ruined Eric Bruntlett’s Triple Play

Major League Baseball has been around for more than 130 years. And in all that time, there have been only 15 unassisted triple plays (where one defensive player makes all three outs in an inning on one play). Only twice ever has an unassisted triple play ended a ballgame, including the most recent instance, August 23 of this year, when Philadelphia Phillies infielder Eric Bruntlett accomplished the feat against the New York Mets. (Click here to see video of the play.) So roughly once every six and a half decades, baseball fans have the opportunity to witness this remarkable event.

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NY Post / August 24, 2009

The day after Bruntlett’s game-ending triple play, The New York Post honored the occasion with a clip art-addled diagram that my friend Scott Rogers described as “USA Today-riffic.” When I posted the diagram to my Facebook page, it got a mixed reaction, ranging from sarcastic (“This made me feel like I was there”) to earnest (“I like it. It worked for me!”) to humiliated (“I’ve been avoiding going up stairs all day”). That last one was from a Mets fan who works for the Rocky Mountain Bird Observatory, downstairs from NAI.

Early in my NAI career, I wrote an article for Legacy magazine called “Why Clip Art is Evil.” I implored interpreters not to rely on generic, soulless, prefabricated images to represent their sites or organizations. I went on and on about the importance of finding or creating just the right image rather than selecting the closest fit from a preset collection. This is the problem with the Post’s triple-play diagram.

My main hang-up with the diagram is the imprecise nature of the illustrations, which amount to clip art. I wasn’t in the room, but I’d be willing to bet that the designer for the Post had access to a bank of images of baseball player silhouettes. Three of them are okay (the two baserunners and the pitcher). However, the illustration of the batter, Jeff Francoeur, makes it look like he is standing behind home plate and has just hit a line drive into the first-base dugout rather than up the middle of the field.

Even worse, Eric Bruntlett, who in a frenzied few seconds made baseball history, is illustrated in a passive crouch as if waiting for a throw, perhaps ready to tag a baserunner (also, he’s facing right field rather than home plate). It may seem nitpicky, but the diagram takes an amazing baseball moment and sucks the life out of it. A different approach or closer attention to detail could have helped maintain the sense of the moment.

I think the notion of illustrating the unusual play with a diagram is a good one. It appeals to a different learning style than the verbal description in the accompanying article and lets fans see the relative position of all of the players involved. What I object to is a national publication using images that are almost but not quite appropriate. It smacks of laziness. I think a better option would have been to use the same arrows and typographic descriptions, but with photographic images of the field and players.

NAI’s Ethan Rotman has promised to use this image in one of his workshops to see how it might have been done differently. I’ll be sure to report back on what he comes up with.