Friday, May 22, 2009


Let's address the word "none." When I was in school, we were taught to think of "none" as "not one." Clearly a singular verb would have been called for. Example: "None of us is happy." I was never comfortable with that idea. Neither was a grammar expert and columnist in my town. Replace "none" by "not any." Observe: "None of the cake was eaten because none of the guests were hungry." Doesn't that look and sound good? Now grammar does not always work that way, but it surely is nice when it does! In summary, "none" is singular when referring to a singular noun, plural with a plural noun.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Unnecessary Words

Let's address the slight difficulty of extra words. Southerners are said to move and talk relatively slowly. In particular, they, more than some, tend to add unnecessary words. "Serve" becomes "serve up," "cook" similarly shows itself as "cook up," "wipe" is uttered "wipe down," and in blackjack terminology in the casinos, "bust" is yelled "bust out" (often pronounced "bus out," by the way!). Broadcasters seem to be bad about saying, "over in," for "in." Example: "We find some more rain over in Moisture County." At this very moment, a baseball announcer is reporting about games "up in Minnesota." If we know where Minnesota is, "up" isn't needed. If we don't, "up" won't help us much. Not only do some baseball announcers say, "Over in rightfield is John Doe," but they tend to embrace such as, "Early on in the season . . .." It seems as if almost everyone asks, "Where (are) you at?" instead of, "Where are you?" Think, "Less is more"!

Rise Up

This problem is found some in the scriptures. Martin Luther King may be the most famous for this slight mistake. Folks tend to say, "rise up." Can one rise down? How about rise left? I've never noticed a situation that warranted "up" added to "rise."

Monday, May 18, 2009

Improperly Qualified Absolutes

Here is a very unique problem. If you recognize the problem already, I was, as usual, trying to catch your attention. "Unique" means different from any other. If a cobra is different from every other snake, how can it be more so? It is either unique or it isn't. Case closed. Similarly, I recently heard a commercial that boasted that a certain product was the most accurate. Now "accurate" means "correct." That's as good as it gets! Once something is correct, it cannot be improved upon in the exact sense that it is correct. A student enters the right answer but his handwriting is not up to par. Ok, we'll work on his handwriting, but we can't improve upon the actual answer. Continuing, "Our multi-vitamin is more complete," you've probably heard in some form. Again, if it's complete, it can't be more so! Here are some other absolute words to watch out for: round, perfect, invisible, etc. Speaking of "perfect," I shook up my seventh grade English and history teachers when I pointed out this problem in the preamble to the Constitution. You remember, ". . . in order to form a more perfect union . . . ." I hope our founding fathers didn't spend too much time trying to improve upon perfection! The real problem was that the union wasn't perfect. It may have been nearly perfect. It follows that the phrase should have been something to the effect of, ". . . in order to form a more nearly perfect union . . . ."


Here's another redundancy: "Our featured jewelry gives you more value for your money." Uh, as opposed to value for your wife that you were about to trade in for the jewelry to give to your girlfriend? Sorry about that, but value essentially means quality per expenditure. The word "money" is superfluous. Advertisers, promote thus: "Our featured jewelry gives you more value." Also acceptable would be, "Our featured jewelry gives you more for your money."

Reason, Why, Because

The reason why I'm including this problem is because--whoa, Nelly! I don't need all those words! Reason--why--because? They all say the same thing. How about, "The reason I'm including this problem is that I encounter it so often"? Or, "I'm including this problem because I encounter it so often." Fine also is, "Why I'm including this problem is I encounter it so often." Once again, simpler is better.

Saturday, May 16, 2009


This point will be controversial. The word "quality," in my estimation, is first of all a noun and second, a generic word that doesn't express positives (or negatives). Merriam Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, tenth edition, allows for "merchandise of quality" to suggest the merchandise is of good quality. Also listed therein is "quality" as an adjective meaning high quality. To me, that's like allowing "number" to mean high number. Keep in mind that dictionaries, to some degree, follow the crowd; that is, they permit usage that has become common, whether right or wrong. For me, "The merchandise is of good quality," is the way to go, not "The merchandise is of quality," or "This is quality merchandise."

Doubt; Care

The construction here has to do with a word like "doubt." To doubt, there must be something specific to doubt. Don't use wishy-washy words like "whether" and "if." Not, "I doubt whether our team will win today," but, "I doubt that our team will win today." Contrast the following: "I wonder whether our team will win today." Further, be careful how you doubt. Recently a college baseball player, after an amazing win of marathon length, exclaimed, "We never doubted we wouldn't win the game." Sorry, but that statement means they were sure they wouldn't win. He should have said, "We never doubted we'd win the game."

A common mistake similar to the last one mentioned involves the construction, "I could care less." That statement indicates that I care some and could lessen the amount I care if I choose. To indicate that I care virtually none at all, I should say, "I couldn't care less." In other words, it would be impossible for me to have a less caring attitude. That's exactly what I'm trying to say.

I Read Where

Folks often say, "I read where . . . ." Unless you are telling specifically where something happened, i.e., "I read where they found the kidnapped girl: Charleston, West Virginia," simply replace "where" by "that." Example: "I read that the kidnapped girl is alive and not severely hurt."

Saturday, May 9, 2009

For Sure

This one's quick and simple. Folks say, "One thing is for sure." All they need is, "One thing is sure." In general, simple is better, shorter is better, and both are more efficient. Now if someone asks, "Are you going to take care of that project?", we often reply, "For sure." "Surely" would be correct as well. The following is common and good, "He doesn't know for sure whether he will join us."

Friday, May 8, 2009

Whether (revisited)

Didn't mean to revive the discussion of "whether" so soon, but I just now heard a sportscaster announce, ". . . he doesn't know whether or not he will . . . or not . . .." Whoa, Nelly. All you need is one "whether." "I don't know whether I'll be able to visit you tomorrow." That's clear as a bell, right? (Ok, I usually avoid cliches like the plague.) No need to throw in "whether or not." The best example I ever heard of what not to say in this context was by a newscaster following a tornado in my area. She reported something to the effect of, "We don't know now whether or not he is living or whether or not he is dead." Sorry for the disastrous reference, but grammatically that line is the literal epitome of overkill!

This and That

Often I hear "by the same token" used when the meaning clearly indicates "on the other hand" is the proper phrase to use. Example: "It's too bad the economy is suffering; on the other hand, we are seeing marketers appeal to our need for frugality with new specials and offers that specifically promote attractive prices." On the other hand, the following is appropriate: "Our son is failing math; by the same token, his English and history grades are nothing to write home about either."

Modifiers: Close Call

Before we start my top 22 issues with the way we talk and write, this issue happened to be on my mind; so I'll address it. Modifiers like adjectives and adverbs should be as close to what they're modifying. Not, as the song title reads, "I only have eyes for you," but, "I have eyes only for you," or, "I have eyes for only you," or "I have eyes for you only." Typically speakers and writers put the emphasized modifier too early. The statement will be most powerful when the modifier is near what it modifies.

P.S.: It humorously occurred to me that some like to look at their significant others, but they don't like to listen to them. Then, perhaps, "I have only eyes for you," might work. Keep in mind that the indication in this last style is also that one doesn't have lips or other body parts for the significant other!


One problem is totally specific to baseball. After decades of saying "51 RBI's," some gurus thought they would change it to "51 RBI." Their reasoning seems to be that RBI can mean runs batted in; so it doesn't need a plural indication. Now announcers waffle back and forth and even pause and slide as they worry about this issue. One was so confused the other day he uttered something like, "He has 6 RBI and 2 home run in this series." I wish they'd worry about other difficulties more than they do. Here's the skinny: If RBI is used, it is an abbreviation like K for strikeout(s). You wouldn't say, "He has 10 K"; it's, "He has 10 K's." (10 K is a footrace, isn't it?) Thus, when the abbreviation for RBI, which means either run batted in or runs batted in, is used, the plural is RBI's. Oh, if you have a problem with the apostrophe, it is appropriate for the plural of numbers, letters, and symbols. If the abbreviation is written with capitals, I accept such as RBIs. Clarity is of utmost importance. Thus the plural of the letter "a" needs to be "a's," not "as." How about, "I made two As, three Bs, one C, and no Ds or Fs"? It appears quite clear to me, although I tend to prefer the use of apostrophes here.

As a footnote to the RBI discussion, our newspaper uses singular-looking abbreviations for various baseball terms: AB (at bats), R (runs), H (hits), BI (runs batted in), BB (bases on balls [walks]), SO (strike outs), 2B (doubles), etc. Exception: for a later listing of runs batted in, the boxscore prints RBIs. Why the inconsistency? Your guess is as good as mine. These abbreviations are to help us find the facts as quickly and in as little space as possible. We know the number of, say, homers may be one or more. We need not write more than HR--Smith 2 (10), meaning Smith hit two home runs and now has ten for the season. Likewise, RBI--Smith 4 (41) expresses that Smith had four runs batted in during the game and now has forty-one this season. RBIs--Smith 4 (41) costs the newspaper one unnecessary letter. In summary, choose
"runs batted in" and "RBI's" (or "RBIs") for speaking and writing, but "RBI" (or "BI") for cryptic headings or notations as in boxscores.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Redundancies and Misleading Statements

When I've taught statistics, I've mentioned that one should not say, ". . . at least two, maybe more." There can't be more than at least two, which, of course, means two to infinity! Yet one hears people, often sports announcers, say such a redundancy quite a bit. Speaking of sports, as I am wont to do, announcers sometimes exclaim, "They've won their last five in a row!" Hey, if it's their last five, I'm sure they were in a row! Another superfluous word is found here: "So the Cubs have beaten the Giants by a final score of six to four." Can you win by a non-final score?

Somewhat off the subject--a freebie, if you will--but another caution I have passed along to my students: When an offer instructs, "If you order in the next fifteen minutes, you'll receive a second CD absolutely free," understand that they don't say that after fifteen minutes you won't get that extra CD! That commercial was probably played yesterday and will most likely air tomorrow, not to mention next week. They're simply using twisted logic or the fact that many don't really understand the logic or lack thereof to try to induce you to buy--in particular, right away.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Simple Grammatical Tricks

Should one say "farther" or "further"? Grammarita's rule: use "farther" if possible. Go farther, read farther, probe farther, but speak further, and investigate further. "Farther" should be for some type of distance, "further" for other situations.  One of Ford vehicles' slogans is simply, "GO FURTHER."  Now, can you go fur?  Then how can you go further?  No, you can go far; so you can go farther.  Whereas "farther" is the comparative of "far," "further" is not the comparative of anything; it's just a helpful word unto itself and works well when "farther," and "far," don't make sense, as seen in a couple of examples above.

Don't use "if" if you can use "whether." "I don't know whether I can run that fast." Notice the following distinction: "Let me know if you are coming" means contact the speaker should your arrival become planned. "Let me know whether you are coming" means to inform the speaker of your plans--yea or nay! The latter is the equivalent of an R.S.V.P. (respond, if you please).

Don't use "or" if you can use "and." Example: In response to, "I'd like to buy a used car," the salesman should not say, "We have Toyotas, Nissans, or Mitsubishis." He thus seems to be saying, "Guess which of the three we have." "We have Toyotas, Nissans, and Mitsubishis" gives the customer a nice choice. Note the following, though, to avoid confusion: "What colors are your used cars?" Answer: "Red, white, or blue." The alternative, "Red, white, and blue" might make his car lot sound patriotic but quite limited!

Don't use "lesser" if you can use "less." As they say, keep it simple, Stupid. Example: "Buy one, get one free (the free item will be the one of less value)." "Lesser" still will find its place: "Choose the lesser of two evils." By the way, use "less" for non-countable items, "fewer" for countable ones: less cake, less time, even three hours less (you wouldn't say "three hours fifteen minutes fewer"), and less than two thousand dollars; but fewer pencils, fewer steps, and fewer pieces of cake.