Mighty Red Pen

July 19, 2009

Please RSVP

Filed under: Pet peeves,Word wars — mighty red pen @ 6:06 pm

So here’s a question for you: Given that RSVP stands for répondez s’il vous plait (respond if you please), is it redundant to say Please RSVP, as many invitations do? MRP has been known to edit an invitation that include this phrase to say, instead, please respond.

And what’s your sense of using RSVP as a verb, as in Have you RSVPed to the party yet?

Er, please respond.

February 5, 2009

Sticklers of the world, chillax

Filed under: Grammar goddess,Pet peeves,Uncategorized — mighty red pen @ 8:47 pm
Tags: , ,

Lately, I just want to tell grammar sticklers of the world to chillax. Yes, I said chillax.

It seems that the hand wringing and hair pulling and the bemoaning the fate of mankind in the face of the rapidly approaching Four Grammarians of the Apostrophocalypse is getting worse as the days go by. But maybe it’s just me.

And although (well-documented) MRP is right there with those who believe that good grammar, spelling, and punctuation are important (well, I make a living at enforcing that belief and I do read usage guides for fun), I’ve been wondering if the “grammar nazi” approach—full frontal attacks against those who seemingly can’t figure out the rules of grammar—is really helping the cause.

I’m not talking about where we do it in the safety of our own blogs or in our jobs as copy editors, writers, or teachers. I’m talking about correcting your mom’s grammar over Sunday dinner. In “Correctiquette: Ready to Improve Someone’s Language? Hold On,” Erin McKean takes on the rising propensity among us word nerds for self-righteous indignation and self-appointed grammar policing:

Nowhere is the urge to be right more powerful, it seems, than when it involves other people’s language.

We’ve all encountered it, and we’ve all felt the compulsion to perform it – the quick aside (“Um, don’t you mean infer?”), the snarky online comment that ignores the substance of an argument in favor of pointing out a misused “that” or “which.” Some people proudly travel the country “correcting” road signs and billboards.

If you judge these correctors by their presumed intent—a helpful and permanent improvement in another person’s language—then most fail miserably. Why, then, do we do it? And when should we, if ever?

Maybe  the problem is that I’m reading too many blogs and message boards where commenters use pointing out grammatical or spelling errors (heaven forfend you should leave out an apostrophe!) to put others down. Check out Danny Brown‘s discussion about blog comments. McKean talks about online comments, too:

Online, of course, the urge to correct someone is magnified: The intermediaries of keyboard and screen seem to lend correctors a bravado they might lack in real life. So ask yourself: will posting a comment just to tell someone they misspelled “contiguous” really win anyone over? If you are correcting someone else just to prove yourself the smartest guy in the room, that automatically disqualifies you from the contest. Most annoying guy, maybe.

Along this vein, I read the article, “Fastidious Spelling Snobs Pushed Over the Edge: Books, Blogs and Obsessiveness Mark a Brand-New War of the Words,” with some interest (hat tip to Kasey). (Featured are two words nerds we admire here at MRP: Martha Brockenbrough of SPOGG and Mignon Fogerty of Grammar Girl.)

The general thesis of writer Diane Mapes is that today’s stressful climate is causing peevologists to step up their game somewhat:

Stress can affect how forgiving people are of spelling and punctuation errors, says Pauline Wallin, a clinical psychologist from Camp Hill, Pa.

“When people are under stress, they have less tolerance for minor frustrations,” she says. “Think of the harried mother rushing around trying to get her kids ready for school who loses it when one of them can’t find his homework. Spelling is something concrete and has a definite right answer so it does make you feel temporarily in control.”

But there are plenty of other principles at play as well.

An obsession with proper usage may be related to some kind of perfectionist streak, she says, or it could have to do with childhood patterns of wanting to please adults or teachers by doing things right. Putting somebody down by pointing out their bad spelling also could be a power thing. Or it could simply be part of the brain’s natural function.

The comments section of this article was a perfect example of how quickly the usefulness of a conversation around language can devolve.  In one hypercorrective comment after another, commenters delighted put each other down for typos and punctuation errors. They railed against friends, family members, and coworkers who constantly disappointed them, both in making mistakes and then not showing gratitude for being corrected. Where’s the dialogue in that?

To me, talking about language is fun. That’s why I write this blog, enjoy your comments, and read other word nerd blogs as often as I can. Spotting a usage error is amusing, reading an article about language is informative. But does it serve any purpose to personally go to town on people who have made a mistake? Instill fear in others that the grammar police have come to town every time you walk into a room?

January 9, 2009

Beware of editor

Filed under: At home with MRP,Pet peeves — mighty red pen @ 5:50 pm

Okay, I’ll admit it. I know it’s hard to believe, but MRP is not always sunshine and unicorns. Sometimes, I feel like this:

editor-cat

Hat tip to I Can Has Cheezburger and Emily.

December 11, 2008

No exclamation marks!!!

Mike Schwabenbauer really really hates exclamation marks!!!!

Hat tip to Molie for directing me to an article about this English teacher in Simms, Montana, who takes his job very VERY seriously. His particular peeve? Excessive punctuation, especially excessive exclamation marks. According to an article from the Great Falls Tribune:

“You’re not going to see me put four periods at the end of a sentence because I’m extra declarative,” Schwabenbauer said. “I’m not saying (exclamation marks) shouldn’t be used. They should be used properly and with restraint.”

Okay, point taken. And apparently, he’s really having an influence on his students, which is great. But not only does he correct his students’ papers, he goes around the school marking up posters that offend him. Apparently, he’s also taken his crusade to the streets:

He shops at Smith’s grocery store and noticed one of the signs on the express lane said “12 items or less!!” He said he contacted management to tell them about the error, but his comments weren’t well received at first. So he tried two more times.

“At first, I think they thought I was a little mental,” he said.

Schwabenbauer finally got a manager to change the sign, and he said he felt like he had achieved a small victory in his crusade.

Excessive exclamation marks are part of a larger societal problem that has led to the decline of communication between individuals, Schwabenbauer contends.

“When a reputable business does it, I feel like I have to say something,” he said.

Whoa there!!!!! Now, well-documented that MRP supports appropriate use of punctuation and so forth, but I generally recommend restraint when getting all up in other’s people’s business about their grammar and punctuation (unless I’m required to do so because it’s my, um, job). I’m also not sure that I agree that excessive exclamation marks are one of the Four Grammarians of the Apostrophocalypse, either.  So despite a general affinity for some aspects of Schwabenbauer’s spirited point of view, I had to applaud a little the gumption shown by some folks who found it within them to fight back against the Punctuation Police:

The ladies that work in the office posted a sign in the coffee room warning individuals they can share, but not to hog the food!!

Schwabenbauer then posted a sign with a quote from author Terry Pratchett saying “multiple exclamation marks are a sure sign of a diseased mind.”

The office ladies responded by adding a border of exclamation marks to their sign.

!!!!!! !!!!!! !!!!!! !!!!!!

July 4, 2008

Brick by brick

Filed under: Pet peeves — mighty red pen @ 7:27 pm
Tags: ,

MRP sees this sign on the way to work.

That’s right, every day with the random quotation marks on “asphalt paving” and the random apostrophe on patios.

Every. Single. Day.

February 6, 2008

Stop or I’ll edit!

Filed under: Pet peeves — mighty red pen @ 8:23 pm
Tags: , ,

Although, as the name suggests, Design Police is primarily geared toward designers, their pre-printed tabs useful for pointing out errors and peeves may come in handy for editorial types as well. For example:

designpolice.jpg

Comic Sans got you down lately? You’re not the only one. Design Police even has a couple of tabs for calling out illegal use of that font. You can also check out Ban Comic Sans for additional support.

Hat tip to the cinetrix and Moondog.

December 4, 2007

Comprise versus compose

Filed under: Pet peeves,Spellbound,Word wars — mighty red pen @ 5:44 pm

A piece came across MRP’s desk last week with a pair of examples of the common misuse of comprise where compose would be correct:

  • The sample was . . . comprised of 50 10th grade sections.
  • The team . . . was comprised of educators, policy analysts, education decision makers, and researchers and consultants.

Bill Walsh explains, “Nothing is ever ‘comprised of’ something. To comprise means ‘to contain or to embrace.’” AP Stylebook states, “Compose means to create or put together. It is commonly used in both the active and passive voices. . . . Comprise means to contain, to include all or embrace. It is best used only in the active voice.”

For example, to use comprise correctly, “The Mole’s book collection comprises several novels by Terry Pratchett, a first edition of Dune, and a worn copy of Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret.” To use compose correctly,  “The Mole’s book collection is composed of several novels by Terry Pratchett, a first edition of Dune, and a worn copy of Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret.”

At times like these, I like to end with the gentle wisdom of H.W. Fowler, who says sweetly, “This lamentably common use of comprise as a synonym for compose or constitute is a wanton and indefensible weakening of our vocabulary.”

December 3, 2007

How does your budget grow?

Filed under: Grammar goddess,Pet peeves — mighty red pen @ 7:42 am

A job listing sent to MRP a while back contained this line:

The Executive Director will oversee an organization with a current annual budget of over $250,000 and will be expected to grow CNW’s budget, reach, and influence considerably.

Using to grow as a transitive verb to refer to budgets or organizations rather than, say, vegetables is one development I’m just not ready to get on board with. I’d much prefer to see something along the lines of will be expected to help the budget grow or will be expected to increase the budget.

Let’s see what others have to say. Brians comments, “Business and government speakers have extended this usage widely, but it irritates traditionalists. Use ‘build,’ ‘increase,’ ‘expand,’ ‘develop,’ or ’cause to grow’ instead in formal writing.” The American Heritage Book of English Usage remarks:

Grow has been used since medieval times as an intransitive verb meaning “to increase in size, quantity or degree,” as in Our business has been growing steadily for three years. It has been used with an object since the 18th century, meaning “to produce or cultivate,” as in We grow beans and corn in our garden. But the transitive use applied to business and nonliving things is quite new. It came into full bloom during the 1992 presidential election, when nearly all the candidates were concerned with “growing the economy.” Business leaders and politicians may be fond of this usage, but should the rest of us? The Usage Panel thinks not. Eighty percent reject the phrase grow our business.

On the other hand, insists Jack Lynch, an English professor at Rutgers who keeps an online Guide to Grammar and Style, it’s a matter of taste, not of style:

The problem with this argument is that neither logic, nor grammar, nor usage bears it out. People have been growing corn and growing beards — both examples of grow as a transitive verb — since at least 1774: they mean “cause to grow” or “allow to grow.” There’s no logical reason why you can’t also grow the economy, or grow anything else you want to make bigger. The only unusual thing is that it’s being applied to something that gets bigger metaphorically, rather than literally.

But even he concedes, “I find it ugly, and avoid it myself.”

Whether you’re an irritable traditionalist or not, what do others think of it?

October 18, 2007

non-Smoking

Filed under: Overseen,Pet peeves — mighty red pen @ 7:27 pm

smoking.jpg

And MRP would thank you for not gratuitously capitalizing smoking.

********

Update 10/24: Just perused Bill Walsh’s comments on what he refers to as arbitrary capitalization in his book, Lapsing Into a Comma. He writes, “There’s nothing particularly evil about all this, and I would like to believe most of the perpetrators know deep down that it’s wrong.”

Wouldn’t we all?

September 27, 2007

No, really, you keep the car

Filed under: Overseen,Pet peeves — mighty red pen @ 6:21 pm

Gopher sends this tidbit, overseen in South Dakota.

you-keep-the-car.jpg

Unexplained quotation marks around You keep the car!

For more about ill-used quotation marks, visit The “blog” of “unnecessary” quotation marks.

Bonus MRP moment: A special thanks on this, MRP’s first birthday, to everyone who reads MRP, comments, shares ideas and photos, and generally supports me in this blog. It’s been a great year! Keep ‘em coming!

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