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Homing in on grammatical gaffes.

Byline: Sid McKeen


Incredible. Every time I write about language abuse, I get swamped with mail from readers offering their own egregious examples. It happened again last week, after I reeled off 20 words I branded as most often muffed by journalists, who should know better. One response, in particular, so hit the spot that I decided to share some of it with everybody. It's from Guy Turcotte, retired after 35 years of teaching English at Mount Wachusett Community College in Gardner.

"I meant to write you a year ago when you indulged your [annual?] urge to scold the natives for their abysmal ignorance in the use of their native tongue-English [not Abenaki]," he wrote. "Permit me, please, to add a few odious examples of misuse which space constraints in The Telegram & Gazette, I'm sure, prevented you from listing:

"1) The ENTIRE population of the country, I'm convinced - with the possible exception of you and me - is attaching the contraction there's to plural nouns: "There's too many pythons in Florida, Honey."

"2) I think I see this error in print just about every day or so: "We are here for you with bargains galore everyday!"

"3) Fewer people, it seems, know the difference between when to use less and when to use fewer than live in Milbridge, Maine.

"4) I've given up trying to explain the correct uses of the verbs lie and lay. It gives me a headache and I have to lie down. [And forget about ever seeing/hearing lain used.]

"5) People who think that people come in amounts need to have my phone number so I can give them the gentle lash of my tongue.

"6) I think it was someone at the Pentagon or some Senator or Congresswoman/man who first used the malapropism precipitous [in the context of withdrawing American troops from Iraq] when the word precipitate [harder to say, after all] was meant. The press simply repeated the several instances of this gaffe and soon it was ubiquitous.

"7) People who ask, "Where's it at?" will never find it.

"8) I feel bad for folks who say they feel badly.

"9) "Please RSVP" is becoming a depressingly oft-repeated and irritating redundancy.

"10) "Anyways" is harder to remove than chewing gum from your sneaker on a hot summer day.

"What really depresses me most about most of the mistakes that I read or hear come from those who should, I believe, know better - the educated: politicians, journalists - especially journalists, for whom language is the very metier of their profession. It saddens me more than angers me."

Great. Just great. Thanks, Guy, and thanks to the many others who wrote, including all those suggesting worthy wince-makers of their own and the many who were alert enough to spot the indecorous Page 1 headline in this newspaper last Monday reading, "Microchip hones in on cancer cells." The oft-used but mistaken "hones in" instead of "homes in" was No. 6 on our little list of no-nos in last Sunday's edition and there it was, big as life, in my own paper the very next morning. The editors obviously don't read Wry & Ginger, several readers proceeded to tease me pronto by e-mail.

Oh no, say it isn't so!

Reach Sid McKeen at
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Title Annotation:COMMENTARY
Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Jan 9, 2011
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