Oh, don’t say that! Don’t write it, either


How about some advice for the new year? Maybe a list of terrible language gaffes? Thanks for your efforts to improve us.

                        -A Friend

 Yay, yay. Now I must decide – should I try to create a long list in which I make a lot of effort to be all inclusive, struggling with gnawing feelings of failure (such a bad way to start this sparkling new year) OR a short list that I know good and well (what a great expression: good and well!) does not include some very important material. Agony or easy?

Hey, easy. Surely this won’t be read at my funeral.

Our awareness of language errors, other than spelling mistakes, is tied chiefly to spoken language. We hear people’s communications much more than we see them. Either way (spoken or written) can provide disappointing* surprises. However, someone who frequently says ain’t probably doesn’t write it, even in little notes taped to a door. You don’t expect to read, “I ain’t here.” Your high school annual no doubt boasts many little notes, some with to and too confused, but not many featuring ain’t, except ironically.

Well, there are some diehards out there.  

Here’s a list – NOT EVERYTHING.

  1. Don’t use ain’t.

  2. Straighten out subject verb agreement until you’ve got it right. Singular subjects, singular verbs. Plural subjects, plural verbs. Usually obvious, but not always. Give it some thought.

  3. Check out verbs whose principal parts are surprising, like see, saw, seen. Spend a whole day learning when to use lay.

  4. Work on your helping verbs, of which done is not.

  5. If you can’t spell something, look it up. That old-fashioned paper dictionary works. Electronics can help you, too. If you’re old and terminally anti-electronic, enlist the help of someone younger. I’ve noticed those little disrespectful beings everywhere I go, except walking at the park on a very cold, wet morning. Then it’s all we old folks.

  6. Prepositions with pronoun objects need those objects in the right case: accusative (objective). So it’s with her and me, NOT with she and I.

  7. Know exactly when to write to and when to write too.

  8. Its is the possessive form – no apostrophe. Not one in other possessive pronouns, either, like her, his, their, our, your. SEE? It’s is a contraction of it is.

  9. When you refer to your dad as your dad, dad is not capitalized. It’s a category of identification. When you call him, “Dad,” it is capitalized, because then it’s a proper name. EXAMPLE I called to my mother, “Mom, can you come help?” Sometimes we just need our moms.

  10. When you insert an address or part of an address in the middle of a sentence put a comma at the end of the address as well as between the elements of the address. That sounds like chemistry, but check out the EXAMPLE. EXAMPLE The family moved to Memphis, Tennessee, in June. See the comma after Tennessee? That’s what I’m talking about.

  11. Don’t desert the serial comma. Use it. OK, that means when writing a list of items with (usually) the conjunction and or the conjunction or before the last item, use a comma before the conjunction. It clarifies. EXAMPLE The box contained books, magazines, notebooks, and light bulbs. It might not matter so much there, but it somewhere, someday, it will.


    H*A*P*P*Y     N*E*W   Y*E*A*R   !!!

    ONLINE DEPARTMENT “Paraprosdokians” [figures of speech in which the latter part of a sentence or phrase is surprising or unexpected; frequently humorous.] (Thanks, A.A. and J.A. Some of this is a repeat, but worth repeating!) 1. Where there's a will, I want to be in it. 2. The last thing I want to do is hurt you, but it's still on my list. 3. Since light travels faster than sound, some people appear bright until you hear them speak. 4. If I agreed with you, we'd both be wrong. 5. We never really grow up, we only learn how to act in public. 6. War does not determine who is right -- only who is left. 7. Knowledge is knowing a tomato is a fruit. Wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad. 8. They begin the evening news with “'Good Evening,” then proceed to tell you why it isn't. 9. To steal ideas from one person is plagiarism; to steal from many is research. 10. Buses stop in bus stations. Trains stop in train stations. On my desk is a work station. 11. I thought I wanted a career. Turns out I just wanted paychecks. 12. In filling out an application, where it says, “'In case of emergency, notify:” I put “DOCTOR.” 13. I didn't say it was your fault; I said I was blaming you. 14. Women will never be equal to men until they can walk down the street with a bald head and a beer gut and still think they are sexy. 15. Behind every successful man is his woman. Behind the fall of a successful man is usually another woman. 16. A clear conscience is the sign of a fuzzy memory. 17. You do not need a parachute to skydive. You only need a parachute to skydive twice. 18. Money can't buy happiness, but it sure makes misery easier to live with. 19. There's a fine line between cuddling and holding someone down so they can't get away. 20. I used to be indecisive. Now I'm not so sure. 21. You're never too old to learn something stupid. 22. To be sure of hitting the target, shoot first and call whatever you hit the target. 23. Nostalgia isn't what it used to be. 24. Change is inevitable, except from a vending machine. 25. Going to church doesn't make you a Christian any more than standing in a garage makes you a car. 

    *Yes, language errors disappoint others, often more so than torn hems or mustard stains. You’re not getting by; people picking up on errors are usually too polite to draw attention to them. English teachers (current or former) are in another category here.