Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

October 2, 2013

RAY MOSCOWITZ: Ammunition to guard against the 'language police'

Here are some grammar rules that can confuse.


MC Weekly

---- — You’ve probably noticed on Facebook (and perhaps other sites) that the "language police" are on duty.

One post says, “Irony is when someone writes ‘Your an idiot.’”

Another cites the lack of a comma in important places, using as an example, “Let’s eat Grandma.”

If you could not care less (notice that it’s not just "care less") about communicating properly, move along. If you do care, stick around. A few minutes with some common language errors, along with a few expressions that can be confusing, might be beneficial.

Affect and effect trouble people. Generally, affect is the verb, effect is the noun. “The weather did not affect the game.” “The weather had a significant effect on the game.” Effect can be used as a verb, as in bring about change.

Apostrophes can be rascals. Here are some basics.

Pronouns — his, hers, its, ours, theirs — do not require apostrophes. Most possessive situations need an apostrophe. The basic rule for forming the possessive involves a prepositional phrase. For example: The car of the woman. The woman's car.

Apostrophes are needed to show possession for these pronouns: everyone (everyone's), anyone, somebody.

A common mistake is using an apostrophe to make words plural, which is rarely correct.

For example, the plural for Jones is Joneses, not Jones's. The possessive for the Joneses would be Joneses' (you can add an s after the apostrophe if you wish).

Redundancy is a common writing error, such as “completely destroyed.” Destroyed means something has been wiped out completely, not partially. If a house burns to the ground, don’t write: “Fire completely destroyed the house.”

When it comes to driving offenses involving alcohol, it’s “drunken driving” — not “drunk driving” — to describe the charge. The adjective “drunken” is needed to depict the driving.

The next time you have an event for the first time, do not advertise it as the “first annual.” Delete “first.” If it's the first time, it can't be annual.

Flaunt and flout can be mistaken for each other. To flaunt is to show off, as in, "The Colts’ fans flaunted their Super Bowl victory." To flout is to defy, to scoff at, as in, "The player flouted the coach's authority by cursing him."

Do not write 8 p.m. tonight. That’s redundant. Make it either “8 o'clock tonight” or “8 tonight.”

Imply/infer can trip people up. A speaker implies, a listener infers.

In most instances, you don’t need “in order,” as in, “In order to ensure that its deadline is met, the company will increase its staffing.” Delete “in order,” and the sentence is still clear. Any time you can use fewer words without losing comprehension, do so.

Litany is often misused, as in, “The police provided a litany of offenses committed.” A litany is a prayer or repetitive chant. Use “list” instead of “litany.”

The media are plural.

“Notoriety” is constantly misused, especially on television. The word has a negative connotation, as opposed to “acclaim,” which is positive. Keep in mind that notoriety comes from “notorious.”

The use of “over” instead of “more than” is a common writing mistake. The words are not interchangeable. Over refers to a spatial relationship. More than is used with figures. Make it, “He has won more than 25 trophies.”

An expression that pops up periodically is, “Hoisted on his own petard,” which is another way of saying, “Caught in his own trap.” A petard is French for a small bomb.

You will see “quid pro quo” periodically in stories involving government and jurisprudence. Quid pro quo is simply Latin for “this for that.” For example: “During cross examination, Smith was asked if he was offered a quid pro quo to vote for annexation.”

Reluctant and reticent are not the same. If a person doesn't want to do something, he is reluctant. If a person doesn't want to say something, she is reticent.

Singular words — such as each, either, everyone, everybody, nobody, anyone, someone, somebody — cause subject-verb agreement problems. It should be, “Each of the boys was (not, were) given a trophy.” The subject is “each,” not “boys.”

Whether or not, in most cases, does not require or not.

Finally, keep in mind that airplanes zoom upward suddenly and rapidly, not downward.

Hope this helps.

Ray Moscowitz of Bloomington is a retired newspaper executive and former publisher of the Peru Tribune. Contact him at r.mosco@comcast.net.