Going on Blooper Patrol
We (Edith Hope Fine and Judith Josephson) are the Grammar Patrol. Both of us taught for years and are now writers, with thirty plus books between us, including our two popular grammar guides, Nitty-Gritty Grammar and More Nitty-Gritty Grammar. For close to twenty years, we taught writing and grammar basics and now we blog about grammar for writers.
Thanks for sending in written and spoken bloopers. This week we explore common grammar errors, ones that can make bosses, teachers, audiences, and email and letter recipients wince.
One eFrog Blog reader sent a lovely cartoon picturing a gentleman ordering dinner in a posh Italian restaurant. He tells the waiter, “I’ll have the misspelled ‘Ceasar’ salad and the improperly hyphenated veal ‘osso-buco.’” Delicious. (Caesar. Ossobuco or osso buco.)
But here are a couple of true stories from the Grammar Patrol.
Judith spotted a ten-foot-high billboard in downtown Los Angeles that read, “Slow down unless your planning to become a hood ornament.” (Should be “you’re.”)
Several years ago, a physical therapist told Edith, “Lay on your side.” And that’s when it happened. Edith’s mouth opened and before her brain went into gear, out came, “Lie.” She was so embarrassed. Fortunately, this young woman was a professional, completely open to understanding why thinking “recline” works for “lie” and “place” or “put” works for “lay.” Edith reminded her of the old saw, “Hens lay (eggs); people lie.”
This lay/lie mix-up goes right along with the caption of a glorious photo seen recently in our local paper. Picture a cow basking on a waterbed. We’re not kidding here. Farmers report that cows’ health and the quality of their milk improve with use of waterbeds. The caption under the happy cow picture noted that “Waterbeds take pressure off their body when they lay down.” Two bloopers. First, it’s “their bodies” (plural) or “her body” (singular), but Elsie was lying down, not laying down. Reclining. Happily.
Homonyms, too, cause stinostifications. Take “peak,” “peek,” and “pique,” for example.
A travel magazine cover read, “Let New England peak your interest.”
Pique! Do mountains have peeks? No. Peaks!
Do babies play peak-a-boo? No. Peek!
Is it any wonder that English is a challenge?
Consider the full-page ad in a major newspaper: “Local Piggly-Wiggly closing it’s doors forever.” Or this from a bank: “You agree to indemnify, defend and hold harmless the bank and it’s officers . . .” (Both should be the possessive “its.”)
Check out these subject/verb agreement problems:
Edith spotted this sign posted outside a San Diego restroom.Having those products in our store are essential. Having (it) is
There’s a lot of infectious organisms on these stethoscopes. There are
Let’s see how Dagwood and his crew meets the demand for fried turkey next Thanksgiving. (they) meet
Oh, those pronouns. They cause bloopers galore.
Which one is right in these five sentences? (Don’t peek. Answers below.)
1. This means a lot to my friend and I/me.
2. I hope that my husband and I/me can visit Hawaii.
3. She/Her and I love roller coasters.
4. He/Him and Allan had fun at the game.
5. Here’s a photo of Tom Hanks and I/me.
How did you do?
1. me (Object of preposition “to”)
2. I (“My husband and I” is the subject of a clause.)
3. she (Part of the compound subject of the sentence)
4. I (Same deal: part of the compound subject of the sentence)
5. me (Object of the proposition “of”)
Seriously, we hear this last error a lot: “Here’s a photo of Tom and I.” No! It’s a photo of Tom and me!)
How about some spoken bloopers, such as those heard on the radio, TV, and in daily speech?
“Let this music of Mozart envelope you.” What? Mozart in an envelope? No way. This should be envelop (en VEH lop). Note no “e” on the end and accent on second syllable.
For et cetera, etc., do you hear “eck cetera,” when it should be “et,” which means “and” in Latin?
For nuclear, avoid the egregious “NOO cue ler.” Say “NOO clee er.” There is no “cue” in nuclear.
How about “Where’s it at?” Mama mia! Bag that ending preposition. Just say, “Where is it?”
Correcting bloopers we hear and see is not our policy. But here’s our true confession: We do correct spelling and grammar bloopers in library books and sometimes even on menus. Lightly. With pencil. That’s just between you and us (not “between you and I” or “between you and we”).
That’s all for now from the Grammar Patrol. Keep those bloopers, pet peeves, and other grammar queries coming!