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Monday, April 7, 2014

Who Are They?

They said to avoid Maple Avenue today.   (Who are they?  Friends?  Neighbors?  Newscasters?  Who?)

I heard the owl hoot from a tree nearby, but I couldn't see it.  (It?  The tree?  The owl?  An alien hiding in the brush?  What?)

Confusion can romp rampantly through an author's writing.  The indefinite use of pronouns is an evil demon.

English teachers across the country marking students' papers often shake their heads in the grading process and can be heard muttering, "Who are they?"  Clean up your writing and make your sentences clear by keeping the following rule in mind:

Rule:  In formal writing, avoid indefinite use of the pronouns, it, they, and you.

*Although the indefinite use of these pronouns in sentences like the following may occur in ordinary conversation, such use is not acceptable in most writing. 

1.  (Indefinite)  In this history book they refer to the Civil War as the War Between the States.
     (Better)        This history book refers to the Civil War as the War Between the States.

2.  (Indefinite)  In some nineteenth-century novels you are always meeting difficult words.
     (Better)        In some nineteenth-century novels, the vocabulary is quite difficult.

The pronouns above in the first examples have no clear antecedents. (The word to which a pronoun refers or whose place it takes is the antecedent of the pronoun.)

*Note:  Expressions such as it is snowing, it is too early, and it seems are, of course, entirely correct.

Remember to check your pronouns as you write or revise.  Make sure each pronoun has an antecedent, or otherwise, they will be coming to take you away!  

Friday, January 10, 2014

"Me and You and a Dog Named Boo..."

The opening lyrics to the famous song by Lobo begin, “Me and you and a dog named Boo, Travellin’ and livin’ off the land,” but they are incorrect.   The song ends, however, with apt advice -- “We’ve gotta get away and get back on the road again.”  Yes, we all need to get back on the road again and correct a glaring error in our speech and writing.  It's not so much a grammar rule as a rule of etiquette, along with an accepted convention of grammar.  It's considered polite to put the other person first.  (However, grammar does come into play when choosing between "me" and "I"  for the subject or objective case in a sentence.) It's not "Me and Joe are late for the meeting."  It's "Joe and I are late for the meeting." 

As in the lyrics Lobo sang, “Will power made that old car go,” we, too, need to use some will power and correct our flagrant mistake.  Ignorance is not an excuse.  Elementary children everywhere are taught this basic rule in schoolrooms across the country. It is not a difficult concept to learn to always put the other person first.  ("He gave the candy to Randy and me," not "He gave the candy to me and Randy.)
Too many parents seemingly do not encourage children in this day and age to be polite or to use proper language, and society perpetuates the uneducated, convoluted vernacular as witnessed by numerous television announcers, congressmen, and movie stars all caught on air saying, “Me and my friend…."  In addition,  the lyrics to many popular songs contain the same phrase.
Maybe some of you don’t care how you come across to others in job interviews or in conversations.  I, however, can’t sit back and take it anymore.  When one of the meteorologists in Columbus said, “Me and my family…” twice in a single broadcast several months ago, I felt it not only my civic duty to send an e-mail asking the broadcaster to correct his mistake, but I also felt compelled to continue helping other nincompoops in our country, one nincompoop at a time. 

It’s embarrassing when foreign exchange students arrive in America to study, and their English language skills are far better than that of most Americans.  We look like uneducated dummkopfs with the brains of potatoes. 

Please, if you’re guilty of saying, “Me and X… “ on an everyday basis, I’m begging you to correct this fault in your writing.  Otherwise, I may have to unleash the Special Grammar Forces with their dogs named Boo, and their tasers, to end this repugnant abuse of language.  

 Kenny Chesney – you’re up next for tasering with your song, “Me and You.”