A monthly column in which we attempt, however futilely, to defend the English language against misuse and abuse
In both our speech and our written communication, we constantly use words that really are not words. Some examples:
• Nother, as in “that’s a whole nother subject.” No, it’s a whole other subject.
• Alls (or, perhaps, all’s; not sure how it’s spelled), as in, “alls I know is . . .” It’s “all I know is.” I have no idea how this got started.
• Everyday as a replacement for every day, as in the sign pictured at right. Everyday is fine as an adjective, as in “this is an everyday mistake.” But if you mean “each and every day,” it’s two words: every day.
• Irregardless, as in “I’ll vote for him, irregardless of whether he’s honest.” And yes, the word is in the dictionary, but it’s classified as “nonstandard.” The correct word is regardless.
• Can not, as in “I can not believe he ate that.” It’s one word: cannot. This is a common Facebook mistake.
• Alot, as in “she likes him alot.” It’s two words. Also common on Facebook.
• Workout as a verb, as in “let’s workout.” That’s the noun; the verb is two words—work out.
Whom: a Dying Word?
A reader asks that question, citing this headline from the Wilmington News Journal sports pages: “Who do you bet on…” That should be whom, since it’s the object of the preposition on. But I submit that whom not only is not dying, sometimes it’s used incorrectly by grammatically over-zealous writers.
Here’s an obvious mistake, from a recent online news service: “Mr. Smith was involved in an altercation with school personnel whom initially contacted the police.”
Then there is this less obvious example from an online grammar site: “He is a man whom I believe can do the job.” The writer chose whom, thinking it was the object of believe. But rearrange the sentence to “He is a man whom can do the job, I believe,” and it’s obvious that the proper word is who.
Department of Redundancies Dept.
• Gayle King, one of the anchors on CBS This Morning, called the new royal baby’s name (Archie) “an unexpected surprise.” A surprise, by definition, is unexpected.
• Dan Patrick doubles down: As I mentioned in a recent column, the more I listen to Patrick’s eponymous sports talk show, the more often he appears here. Recently, he scored a Department of Redundancies Dept. item by referring to his “fellow co-workers at ESPN.” As an adjective, fellow means “belonging to the same class or group.” A few days later, Dan said of another talk show host: “He text me the other night.” Like many people, he thinks text is the past tense of text. It’s texted—simple.
• Reader Sue Fuhrmann submits this from columnist Adam Taylor in the Washington Post: “But there are an alliance of countries who may be more sympathetic to the idea…” As Sue points out, the verb should be is since it links with the singular alliance, not the plural countries.
• Reader Louise Lanahan says the Maisie Dobbs books by Jacqueline Winspear teach her “about an era of which I know little, they are good stories, and they are well written and edited.” Except, she notes, for the mistaken use of there’s where there are should be used, in sentences like this: “There’s quite a few people still here.” This is a frequent mistake in the media, but it should never appear in well-edited books. If Winspear had not used the contraction and instead wrote “there is quite a few people still here,” she probably would’ve seen her mistake.
• Andrea Mandell, in her USA TODAY review of Wine Country, wrote that the movie “is emblematic of just about any group of ride-or-die friends who come together after living apart for awhile.” That’s a while. Awhile—one word—is an adverb, whereas a while is a noun preceded by an indefinite article. One hint: if for precedes it, go with a while.
Judy Tribbey, of Morton Grove, Illinois, was one of three readers who pointed out that, contrary to what we said in the June column, there should be no comma after Grazie in the phrase “Grazie mille,” which means “a thousand thanks” in Italian. No excuse. Brain freeze?
Word of the Month
Pronounced ZEER-ik, it’s an adjective meaning of, characterized by, or adapted to an extremely dry habitat.
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