Mighty Red Pen

October 8, 2007

Tomayto, tomahto

Filed under: Grammar goddess,Wordsworthy — mighty red pen @ 5:30 pm

In one of those funny little coincidences, I saw this headline the other day —

Couple trapped in sunken vehicle die

— just as I was reading Patricia T. O’Conner’s lively little book, Woe Is I.

Which I own. Which I have owned for about seven years. But only realized I owned the other day. Because someone absconded with my copy right after it was given to me as a gift and squirreled it away in his classroom. I’m not naming any names but his initials are Mister MRP.

Ahem.

O’Conner writes,

Couple is probably the most common of the two-faced words. It can be either singular or plural, depending on whether it’s supposed to mean two individuals or a package deal. Ask yourself whether you have the two peas in mind, or the pod. Here’s a hint: Look at the word (a or the) in front. The couple is usually singular. A couple, especially when followed by of, is usually plural.

So in this case, the correct headline would have been Couple trapped in sunken vehicle dies.

Woe Is I is an enjoyable contemporary answer to say, Strunk and White, with an easy, no-nonsense approach to language. Although MRP totally disagrees with her approach to making plurals of abbreviations, letters, and numbers (I favor CPAs, she favors CPA’s), I appreciated that O’Conner acknowledges here, as throughout her book, that often we can agree to disagree.

*********

Update 10/24: Apparently, we would not agree to disagree, as O’Conner lists that expression in her chapter on clichés, “Death Sentence,” saying: “People never really agree to disagree, they just get tired of arguing.”

1 Comment »

  1. Poor Mr. MRP! To becalled out on the internets like that is cause to cry, “Woe is I.”

    Comment by David — October 9, 2007 @ 4:24 pm | Reply


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