May 2, 2009

pedantry and pet peeves

You cannot tow a line. Where would you tow it to? Rather, you must TOE the line.

You may give someone his or her due, but not his or her do. Unless you are a hairdresser.

Please commiserate with me, and consider posting the usages that make you crazy. Unless you're one of those damn kids who plays the rock music too loud. In that case, get off my lawn.


Frank said...

Let's say a person has an attribute that gives her or him "a certain cache." Unless this a cache of precious stones, or unreleased Prince tracks of the mid-'90s, I fail to see how he or she automatically gains any cachet. (I've seen this one three times in the last week, in reputable print sources no less.)

I have to say, though, I am impressed when people don't just cite their reasons for a statement or argument, but instead sight those reasons or site them. The extra work to locate and physically position said reasons for the benefit of the interlocuter is really above and beyond the rhetorical call of duty.

North said...

Yes! Both of those. Although I must disagree with you on one point: sighting a reference is not that hard. There it is, off in the distance - no need to engage closely. Siting evidence, on the other hand, is a little more impressive.

kt said...

"should of" instead of "should have"... saying something "begs the question" when really you just mean it raises the question... describing something as "cliche" (a noun!) instead of "cliched" (an adjective!).

oh god I could do this all day I'd better stop! before I descend into frothy self-righteous nitpicky nerd-dom. oh wait here I am.

Julie G said...

- "pouring over" something instead of poring.

- "waiting with baited breath" instead of bated.

- Re: begging the question
Yes, yes, yes! "Begging the question" is a formal logical fallacy in which you try to argue something by using the thing you're trying to prove as part of your argument. For instance:

A: God exists!
B: How do you know?
A: Because it says so in the Bible and God wrote the Bible.

That's begging the question. You can say "raises the question" or "poses the question" or "prompts us to ask the question" or all sorts of other things instead.

- "The thing is, is..." You hear this all the time on cable news. Even Obama says it, quite frequently. I'm continually baffled when intelligent people say this and don't realize how dumb they sound.

Julie G said...

Ooh ooh ooh! I thought of another one. The whole weary/wary/leery combination. I think you can say either "I'm wary of" or "I'm leery of" some sketchy thing, but I hear people say "I'm weary of..." in the same context, which seems to be a funny combination of the two.

amelia said...

effect/affect. AAARRRRGGGGHHH.

i effect change with my positive affect. carbon emissions affect the temperature, and it's a large effect. and so on.

Stephen Byerley said...

"literally" is one obvious one...

THE FIRE BOSS (aka EFF BEE) said...

"There's" preceding plurals like "lots"

You might ask why this is an appropriate way to pose a question?

amelia said...

"step foot": no, no, no, no, no. you "set foot" in a place.

Frank said...

Well, and here's a question - is it "try a new tack" (as in a boating metaphor) or "try a new tact" (as in, I dunno, tactics)?

I guess I could look it up. But it's Friday and I'll instead display my ignorance for the general delight of all the language mavens about.

Also, ending sentences with prepositions. What kind of a philistine does that??

North said...

A different tack, certainly!

Ending sentences with prepositions is actually often fine, and sometimes far better than the alternative. The rule against it (like the rule against split infinitives) dates to a period in which Latin was considered the ideal language, and English-speakers were trying desperately to make English more like Latin. In Latin, it's impossible to end a sentence with a preposition or split an infinitive (since infinitives are single words), and the scholars in question decided that if you couldn't do something in Latin, you shouldn't do it in English.

Churchill is supposed to have told someone who revised a sentence awkwardly to avoid ending it with a preposition, "This is the kind of bloody nonsense up with which I shall not put." Split infinitives are sometimes just as essential.

Frank said...

I once tried to explain that point - about those classics-loving grammarians who shoved English into a Latin-shaped straitjacket - to my students in Uzbekistan, so that they would be OK with ending sentences with prepositions, and not be afraid of split infinitives, and say "I will" like normal people instead of "I shall" like Renaissance Faire-type oddballs.

The students did not buy it. So in retaliation I refused to help them translate the lyrics to "In Da Club." Mr. Frank is a harsh master.

(For the record, my remark about prepositions earlier was intended to be ironic. Not Alanis Morissette ironic, mind you; actually ironic.)