A monthly column in which we attempt, however futilely, to defend the English language against misuse and abuse


Faux Pas

Once in a while, one must climb down from one’s grammar high horse to partake of a bit of humble pie. Such was the case when the January “War” hit the streets, and readers began deluging me with corrections to this sentence: “You pedal your bike and peddle your wears.” While the sentence correctly used the words in question—pedal and peddle—it misfired on the word wears, which should, of course, be wares (goods or articles offered for sale). Mea culpa.

Media Watch

• On Twitter, Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-Tex) commented thusly on the bombing of Baghdad: “No, the options are not (a) do nothing and (b) all-out war. There is a lot in between, i.e. striking a terrorist leader to re-establish deterrence.” We’re pretty sure Crenshaw meant e.g. (for instance), not i.e. (that is). And it should be followed by a comma.

• Actress Sharon Stone, in a Tweet reported in USA TODAY: “I went on the bumble© sight and they closed my account.” Looks like Sharon’s basic instinct failed her here. That should be site.

• Joe Juliano, in the Philadelphia Inquirer: “The defense was rock-solid against the rush, although the secondary sprung some leaks at times.” Sprang is the past tense of spring.

• I distinctly heard a reporter on NBC10 Philadelphia pronounce memento “MO-mento.” It’s pronounced like it’s spelled: meh-mento. It means “something that serves to remind”—of a memory.

• Reader Walt DelGiorno reports that, in a Wilmington News Journal article, Rebecca Morin wrote: “Each senator has their own unique challenge . . .”  Walt points out that since each is singular, it should be his or her, not their, and unique is redundant.

How Long, Oh Lord, How Long?

(In which we point out the continued abuse of that most misused punctuation mark, the apostrophe)

• An email from something called The Emerging Enterprise Center had this subject line: “New Year’s Resolution’s for Entrepreneurs?”

• While most apostrophe mistakes are acts of commission, at the end of every year there are ads in which there is an omission. E.g., “Come to our New Years Eve party.”

Department of Redundancies Dept.

General Manager Jim Nill of the NHL’s Dallas Stars, on firing his coach: “Sometimes in life, the hardest decisions are the toughest. And this is one of them.” Thanks for the clarification, Jim.

Who and Whom

The Baltimore Sun’s erudite John McIntyre explains the niceties of using these pronouns:

“An Obama spokesman, when asked about his previous comments on Sanders, referred to the president’s past comments that he would back whomever became the Democratic nominee.”

This is how educated people and experienced writers keep getting it wrong. You have a subordinate clause with the subject and verb “he would back,” and you know that standard English grammar demands an object to follow the verb. So you write “whomever.”

But what you did not notice is that the pronoun starts another subordinate clause of which it has to be the subject. Correctly understood, the whole clause “whoever became the Democratic nominee” is the object of the verb “would back.”

Got it? Good. Go forth and resist using “whom” or “whomever” where it should not appear.

Literally of the Month

Danny Pommells, of NBC Sports Philadelphia (speaking of Giants Quarterback Eli Manning): “He’ll literally be without one of his biggest targets—Michael Engram.” To start with, Danny, you put literally in the wrong place in the sentence. It should immediately precede one. And, as it usually is, the word is unnecessary.

Word of the Month

Pronounced in-koh-et, it’s an adjective meaning recently begun and thus not fully formed; incomplete and rudimentary; disorderly or incoherent.

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Bob Yearick
The copy editor of Out & About, Bob Yearick retired from DuPont in 2000 after 34 years as an editor and writer. Since “retiring,” Bob has written articles for Delaware Today, Main Line Today and other publications. His sports/suspense novel, Sawyer, was published in 2007. His grammar column, “The War on Words,” is one of the most popular features in O&A. A compilation of the columns was published in 2011. He has won the Out & About short story contest as well as many awards in the annual Delaware Press Association writing contest.

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