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

Media Watch

Once again, we start with the grammatical vortex that is USA TODAY: 

• In a review of a popular streaming drama, Gannett’s flagship newspaper published this: “Here’s everything you need to know about You, which first debuted on Netflix back in 2018.” A debut is always the first time.  

• Marco della Cava scored an incomprehensible double: “Sculpted physics on men and woman alike pop up everywhere.” Yo, Marco, that’s physiques and women. 

• And our third and final USA TODAY contribution is from reviewer Brian Truitt, who gave us this dangling modifier: “Boldly filmed in black and white, Branagh wrings a heartfelt narrative from a superb cast.” Director Kenneth Branagh was not filmed in black and white, his film Belfast was.

• Another reviewer, Lynn Elber of the Associated Press, wrote this about a new Betty White biography: “[Gavin] MacLeod, who died last May at 90, wrote the book’s forward.” It’s amazing how many book reviewers don’t know that a book’s short introductory section is a foreword. Forward, of course, is a directional word that means onward, ahead, or, in a negative sense, presumptuous, brazen.

• Reader Debbie Layton submits this from the York (Pa.) Daily Record: “Another founder… inferred that Andrew Jackson’s wife was a woman of ‘low repute.’” Says Debbie: “I think it should be ‘implied.’” Yes, it should be. Phony sophisticates often used infer for imply, but their meanings are essentially opposites. Infer means to deduce or draw a conclusion; imply means to suggest or express something indirectly. You infer from what someone else implies. 

• This online headline missed on the past tense of sink (sank): “The last-minute coal demand that almost sunk the Glasgow summit deal.”

• Lester Holt, on NBC Nightly News, spoke of “the accused subject.” Lester should have gone with simply “the accused.” 

• Scott Lauber in The Philadelphia Inquirer: “The Phillies are bullish on catching prospects Rafael Marchan and Logan O’Hoppe, but want both to play everyday rather than back up workhorse catcher J. T. Realmuto.” Everyday is an adjective meaning something that’s seen or used every day — ordinary or typical.  Every day, which is what Lauber meant, is a phrase that simply means “each day.”

• A reader sends this dangler from an outdoor column in The Bemidji (Minn.) Pioneer: “Years ago, while on a late October evening deer hunt in Polk County, a flock of robins landed on the ground adjacent to a nearby wetland.” We weren’t aware that robins went deer hunting. 

• Another errant introductory phrase surprisingly comes from WDEL’s award-winning reporter Amy Cheri, who recently spoke thusly: “As America’s lowest-lying state, climate change is a threat to Delaware.” Obviously, climate change is not a state. How about, “As America’s lowest-lying state, Delaware is threatened by climate change.” 

Email & Facebook: Where Good Grammar Goes to Die

Gleanings from just a few days of reading emails and Facebook posts:

Your (you’re) probably over the age of 40 if you understand this.

• (From Longwood Gardens, courtesy of a reader): “While your (you’re) here, show your membership card and receive 20% discounts . . .” (Hey, they got one out of two right.)

• What time does trick-or-treating start at? (Ending a sentence in a preposition is not always wrong, but here it definitely is.) 

• Do you make your bed everyday? (Ah, the dreaded everyday/every day problem again.)

• Below are a list of open routes in your area. (The subject is the singular list, so the verb should be is.)

• Anyone loose their house phone in Springer Woods? (Amazing how many people substitute the adjective loose for the verb lose. Oh, and what is a house phone?)

• We know our heart’s are in the right place. (Why the apostrophe?)

• A lioness has got a lot more power than the lion like’s to think she has. (Now there’s a new way to abuse the most misused punctuation mark.)

Literally of the Month

During State Sen. Kyle Evans Gay’s public meeting at Lucky’s Coffee Shop, a constituent described his conservative group’s attempts to complain at a school board meeting about the teaching of critical race theory: “We come up against a wall — literally a wall ­— when we try to speak.”

Word of the Month


Pronounced suh-RAF-ik, it’s an adjective meaning like an angel: serene, beautiful, pure, blissful, etc.

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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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