Weekend Question Thread: Grammar Peeve

What’s yours?

For me it’s over and under, for which I blame Doc. He pointed out to me that over and under are physical distinctions, locations, so you can’t have “over 50 people” unless you’re standing on a train car or operating a hot air balloon. It’s more than and less than. Similarly, you’re not over 50. You’re older than 50.

This makes me fucking crazy now, because it’s EVERYWHERE.


33 thoughts on “Weekend Question Thread: Grammar Peeve

  1. in no particular order and by no means comprehensive:
    less vs. fewer
    noun/verb disagreements
    “alot” – more a spelling thing, but still…
    mi’s’su’sed apo’strophe’s

  2. My biggest grammar peeve is someone saying a usage is incorrect without bothering to look it up.
    Here’s the 12th definition of over from the Second College Edition of Webster’s New World Dictionary of the American Language: more than, or above, in degree, amount, number, etc. (costing over five dollars)

  3. Lately, I’ve been noticing people over-modifying things.
    For example, sportscasters referring to a player as ‘a young freshman’. As opposed, I guess, to an ‘appropriately-aged freshman’?
    Another, somewhat along the same lines, is ‘unique’: things are NOT ‘very unique’ ‘somewhat unique’, etc. They are either unique, or they are not unique. There are no ‘degrees’ of uniqueness.
    (Yes, John, lots of apostrophes in there. Sorry. 🙂

  4. Adding adjectives to “unique.” Something can’t be quite unique, or somewhat unique, or rather unique.
    Also, apostrophe’s.

  5. I’m guilty of that one, merciless, though it’s less deliberate and more adding needless words while I’m thinking something out.
    Am working on my editing skills.
    And I also hate needless apostrophes.

  6. Unique bugs me. As far as the over, under, less, fewer, those don’t bother me. As Philly Boy points out, it ia dictionary usage by now. I am not even sure it was ever really true. The meaning is not ambiguous, so I think the distinction was for its own sake.

  7. Over is a preposition. It is spatial. And as I’ve told my students about a squillion times, if you have to rely on the 10th (or lower) definition to prove usage is proper, you have failed.

  8. My biggest peeve isn’t necessarily grammar, but punctuation. You don’t make something plural by putting “apostrophe s” on it! Seems like this has taken over the last few years.

  9. These three come up at work, often.
    Using ‘data’ as a plural noun rather than a mass noun.
    The use of ‘pleaded’ instead of ‘plead’ when describing a past action in court (I know pleaded is accepted/acceptable, but it’s WRONG).
    Using both gendered pronouns instead of the non-gendered third person (He or she will…/They will…).
    The following are not grammar, per se, but related issues.
    Can we PLEASE retire the double space after the period??????????????? We use word processors now, programs that have auto-kerning. This is so unnecessary that no one notices when I replace every freaking one with a single space using ‘Ctrl + H’.
    Bring back the umlaut, and learn how to hyphenate.

  10. When people say “I could care less”. That means that they still DO care to some degree. The proper term is “I couldN’T care less” meaning that the threshold of caring is zero. Today in a FDL headline —whoop, there it is:
    After Kulluk Hull Damage Assessment, Shell Mum on Damage Extent – State of Alaska Could Care Less

  11. Rather than a specific mis-usage, my peeve is the local TV web page that matters to slaughter grammar on a regular basis (it has been said that the administration has told the reporters that they don’t have the time to proof-read or spell check).
    To make it worse, when someone posts on their page that they need to correct something, there is an inevitable flury of responses from other people about the “grammer (sic) police” / why are you worried about the wording / what difference does it make.

  12. I just noticed, autocorrect screwed me.
    #2 should be, “[t]he use of ‘pleaded’ instead of ‘pled’ when describing a past action in court…”

  13. Dangling participles/modifiers; misplaced modifiers.
    Walking into the bar, the music was wonderful.
    Having corrected the errors, the study was published.
    I found five dollars walking down the street.
    …and these are everywhere now, too.
    Another language shift which makes me sad, though I don’t know that it qualifies as an error, is the loss of the past perfect and present perfect. Almost no one under 40 or so uses them anymore. They’re going the way of the subjunctive, I believe. “I had eaten before the riot police attacked” will forever hence be “I ate before the cops arrive.” Just not the same.

  14. English is a precision tool when used correctly. I can’t pick a favorite way to break the tool. They’re all abominations!

  15. @delagar;
    One reason the past perfect has vanished from print is that grammar check in MS Word always highlights them as passive voice.

  16. 1. “lead” instead of “led”
    2. she gave it to “he and I” instead of “him and me”
    3. confusion of it’s and its
    4. here in Texas, we have a lot of wrong past tense usage: “I have ran,” etc.
    5. the complete deterioration of spelling skills among the young

  17. I get annoyed by improper use of punctuation and almost as annoyed by those who don’t understand it. They tend to just not use punctuation at all, which makes for considerable difficulty in reading, especially when there’s a subordinate clause or two buried in a long sentence.
    I’m also seeing “lead” in common usage as a past tense; the past tense is “led.” I find that usage in respectable online journals and major newspapers.
    I’m almost inured to the perennial persistence of confusions of plurals and possessives.
    All that said (and plenty unspoken but evident), one has to acknowledge that a lot of writing today, as in the past, borrows heavily from colloquial speech. We’re never going to be free of that influence. What is being lost today, however, is the understanding that what works in colloquial face-to-face speech (no one but the most niggling of pedants would find it objectionable, when asking directions, to have someone point and say, “over there”) does not work nearly as well in print. The rules for print are meant to ensure clarity of meaning absent all the physical cues we send and receive when talking to someone. Without that understanding, we often end up struggling to identify meaning and context.
    Also, there’s simply not enough attention paid to rhetorical sleight-of-hand, which furthers misapprehension of fact. The political right has become adept in the employment of rhetorical fallacy to promote its views (one of the reasons I think debate is stressed as much as it is at places such as Patrick Henry College), and it would be helpful if more readers–and writers–were better able to identify such rhetorical flim-flam for what it is.

  18. A, I’ll see your over-under and raise you an apostrophe.
    The lowly apostrophe’s repeated and gratuitous misuse has been the bane of my existence. We once had a sports writer for whom the first thing I did was to search and remove all commas and apostrophes from his copy. After I did that, his copy didn’t read badly at all, though I did have to replace a few here and there.

  19. I’ve only checked three dictionaries, but they all have something like:
    “4 higher than or more than (a specified number or quantity): over 40 degrees C | they have lived together for over a year.”
    “4 lower than (a specified amount, rate, norm, or age): they averaged just under 2.8 percent.”
    in their definitions. The usage is metaphorical. I can’t find any reference that says that over and under are strictly physical prepositions and not subject to metaphorical extension.
    I sort of agree with the unique thing, but there are cases where someone might be unique among New Yorkers, but someone else might be unique among all Americans. Obviously, as there are more Americans than New Yorkers, one is more unique than the other, but this usage is probably best discouraged.
    It’s easy to get discouraged about grammatical usage. No one seems to know the difference between like and as. Past participles are a dying breed. Him and me are always going places and doing things. The word lend seems to have been lost while on loan. All too often people use quotation marks for emphasis rather than quotation.
    What bothers me is that no one is teaching grammar anymore. We’ve been doing some SAT tutoring and had to explain nouns and verbs, subjects and objects, phrases and clauses to high school juniors. They can often recognize a sentence is incorrect but can’t explain why. As one of them said, “It would have been really helpful if someone had taught us this back in fifth grade.”

  20. For written or spoken English? Because in spoken English, if you were to berate somebody for saying “over 50” instead of “more than fifty” and they beat you with a lead pipe, I’d be providing the pipe. I enjoy a good split infinitive, and “him and me”, “him and I”, and “he and me” all make me giggle happily when said anywhere in a sentence. As for how unique something is, if it was good enough for Frog and Toad (“very unique”) then it’s good enough for me. I won’t let grammar nazis take away the metaphorical power of our common tongue.
    Written English is a different beast. The artificial “lie” vs “lay” screws everyone I know up in spoken English (except my 4 year old daughter, weirdly).
    But for a peeve, I’d have to say the figurative use of the word “literally”. It’s entered into the “don’t bother” category a long time ago, along with using data as a plural noun, but it bugs me nonetheless. The adverb should be reserved for emphasis when the literal meaning is the one least expected. So when somebody says “I was literally floored” they had better have been smacked to ground.

  21. Use of the word “literal” to express metaphorical or proportional relationships. My favorite: a salesman being interviewed on a newscast, saying of his car, “I literally live in it, to a degree.”

  22. Misplaced hyphens.
    There is a world of difference between:
    Rosie-fingered dawn
    Rosie fingered Dawn
    (and I learned that from my public high school composition teacher.)

  23. English, more so than any other language, I’d warrant, is a living breathing ever-changing beast. While I myself find some of the above mentioned items annoying as well, I prefer the way English changes and morphs to, say, the French Academy’s attempt to solidify, codify and restrict the French language.
    My point being, English changes. You kind of just have to deal with it.

  24. Fuck metaphor. Sorry. It’s my rage.
    Over, under, less than/fewer than is also a big deal. It’s my grammar rage. Leave it alone.
    And if you want even more leverage against the “it’s in the dictionary” argument, understand that “ain’t” is now in the dictionary as well as apparently is the Macarena.

  25. I hate when Word flags the passive voice. For some types of writing, it is preferred.
    I also get annoyed when people misspell “too” as “to.” It shouldn’t be that hard to get a three-letter word spelled correctly. That one may get to me the most since I see it so often.
    “Pleaded” annoys the hell out of me. I want to hit the person who declared that correct.

  26. My Grammar Nazi boots are as spit-shined as anyone’s. But since entering the smartphone era myself a few years back, I’ve noticed that it’s much easier to make a mistake on a mobile device than on a full-size keyboard. If I think there’s any chance a message with mistakes was written on a mobile device, I mentally cut the writer some slack. Ten percent, perhaps, but some slack. DamnYouAutoCorrect.com exists for a reason.

  27. “There’s” instead of “there are” when the object is plural. I read it all the time. There’s gold in them-thar hills but there are gold mines in those hills, too. Also too what’s with commas and whatnot. It seems it’s been a trend over the past hundred years to weed out commas.

  28. “Reason why” or worse, “reason why is because.” “Reason” is enough, folks.

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