Thursday, January 17, 2013
Maybe it’s me, but I feel like I’m seeing more and more grammatical, punctuational, and spelling mistakes in print these days. Since I need a topic for today’s blog, let me tell you about some of my favorites—or least favorites, for the ones that are really annoying.
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It started with its. Or it’s, which seems to be the accepted usage nowadays, regardless of context. As in, “The dog wagged it’s tail.” No. Non. Nyet. Uh-huh. No way, Jose. In short, wrong.
Its is possessive, like his or hers (I’ve seen her’s used, but not hi’s. Not yet.) It’s is a contraction for “it is” or “it has.” Its’ is a Frankensteinian construct that needs to be destroyed. Let’s not make grammar any more complex than it has to be.
Here’s how you tell them apart. If you can replace the word with “it is” and the sentence still makes sense, you’ve got the right one. To return to our example, “The dog wagged it is tail.” See what I mean? You need the possessive, not the contraction. “It’s clear to me it’s going to need a tune-up to get its motor running for its cross-country run.” Easy when you know how.
I don’t know why, but lately people have become apostrophe happy. Anything with an S on the end gets an apostrophe, whether it needs it or not. Excuse me: whether it need’s it or not. A noun with an apostrophe S means “belonging to that thing.” So every homeowner with a sign out front that says something like “The Martin’s” is actually saying “belonging to the Martin.” What they meant to say was “The Martins’,” belonging to two or more Martins, or just “The Martins,” more than one person named Martin live here. Go run out and fix your signs. I’ll wait.
Here’s a new one: lead. I’m seeing this more and more. As in, “He lead the charge,” or “she lead the way.” Nope. Lead (long e) is a verb. Its past tense is led. Lead (short e) is a noun. It’s a really heavy, dense element that Superman can’t see through. It has nothing to do with leading anyone anywhere, unless the geologist led the group to the lead deposit. This is why we need to proofread carefully, and keep a dictionary within reach.
Yes, I said a dictionary. You can’t trust your software’s spell check. It’ll only tell you the word’s spelled correctly. That doesn’t make it the correct word. Remember that typo I mentioned above, the one that messed up my book? Here it is: “You’re gong to love it.” I meant to type “going.” Every time I read that sentence, my eye saw “going.” The spell check wasn’t any help. As far as the computer was concerned, the word was spelled correctly.
The same thing happens if you type stuff like, “The dog beared its teeth” or “The soldier lead the attack,” or “Your a stupid ho-bag.” Human eyes and human brains are fallible, but we still beat out a computer. Yay for us!
Overreliance on spell checkers can lead to all sorts of fun. I recall a fantasy novel where the prince fiercely proclaimed, “I will not allow them to set food in my city!” I’m pretty sure he meant “foot.” If not, then I’ll bet a lot of his subjects went to bed hungry that night. Here’s one from a Harlequin romance of yesteryear, right on the first page: “She stared, frozen by the tabloid.” I’m sure the writer meant tableau, but that’s not what got into print. I pictured a copy of the Weekly World News with Bat Boy and a space alien caught in the act on the front page. Of course I didn’t buy the book. I wonder how many people did?
Sorry, folks, but if you want to be a writer and not get laughed at, you’re either going to have to bone up on your grammar, punctuation and spelling, or hire a proofreader, or drag your old English teacher out of retirement and get her to beta your stuff. Anyone who knows the difference between its and it’s is the person you want. Now: where did I leave my copy of Strunk and White’s Elements of Style?