What’s in a Name?

Good piece on NPR regarding the American Dialect Society naming the singular “they” as its word of the year. This has engendered much breast-beating and hand-wringing from the pedantry, but as much as I dig a grammatical argument and detest an Oxford comma, I believe language is fluid. If it wasn’t, we’d still be mired in the middle ages with the Wife of Bath and her tales. And who wants that?


Send in the ‘Crowns’ — Today’s Surly Grammar Post


Image: thegrammarnazi.tumblr.com

A good piece in the Times today from Op-Ed columnist Charles Blow. The only quibble I have is with the headline: Don’t Coronate Carly Fiorina Just Yet.

Coronate? No, I don’t think so. The word is crown. You crown a monarch at a coronation; you do not coronate them.

Now, technically, coronate is in the dictionary and its meaning is “to crown,” thus, begging the question of why we need this word. Seems superfluous on its face. In fact, the OED labels this usage rare.

There has been an upswing in the usage of coronate recently and, like other ‘contrarian grammarians,’ I find it grating. Like utilize. No, it’s use.

Over on the excellent Grammarphobia blog they posit that it’s not the rare usage that the OED notes that we’re seeing/hearing these days, but rather:

If I had to guess, I’d say the verb “coronate” that you’re hearing is a back-formation from the noun “coronation.” (A back formation is a word formed by dropping a real or imagined part from another word.) In this case, people assume that at a coronation, somebody gets coronated.

I agree. And the New York Times should know better.

(Also, if you want to get REALLY pedantic, crowning someone in a democracy is a metaphoric oxymoron, but, it’s Monday and I’m just not going to go there.)

Doesn’t Anyone Edit Anymore?

This was in my Facebook feed this morning:

npr copy

And, in case you are not of the Grammar Nazi persuasion, the use of the abbreviation “Ala.” to indicate the state of Alaska might not make you crazy, but if you’re like me, IT MAKES ME CRAZY.

Why? First and foremost, because it’s plain wrong. The postal abbreviation for Alabama is AL, the postal abbreviation for Alaska is AK. The standard AP abbreviation for Alabama is Ala., and there is no abbreviation for Alaska. (Mind you it gets crazy here because AP is doing away with state abbreviations and it’s just a stupid move on their part, but….)

Ala. has never, in any style guide that I know of, ever stood for anything but Alabama.

Shame on you, NPR, for letting this get out there. Double shame for letting it stand.

We all make mistakes, but you have a helluva lot bigger staff than I do and at least I try to fix things.

Diagrammatically Correct

Late last week, I came back from a week’s vacation and was immediately thrust into the whirling dervish. There was a report that needed to go out and a colleague of mine was feverishly editing it. She brought it to me and said, “I can’t figure out this sentence. Is it ‘have’ or ‘has?'”

Oh, that age-old dilemma, I thought. Let’s see it. And then she handed me the most convoluted run-on sentence I have ever read. Note to alert readers: don’t let academics write things. They just can’t.

Anyhow, I said, “Well, let’s diagram it.” I got looked at like I was nuts.


My recent sentence diagram. Not as elegant as some, but it got the point across and solved the problem. For the record, the correct verb was “has.”

The art of the sentence diagram is something that’s been all but dropped in American school curricula. In fact, I probably shouldn’t have learned it either, given the tenor of the times, but I was blessed with a few crusty old English teachers who drilled it into me. (By the way, “blessed” is NOT the word I would have used in the 8th grade! “Cursed” would probably be more accurate!)

“When you’re learning to write well, [diagramming] helps to understand what the sentence is doing and why it’s doing it and how you can improve it,” says Kitty Burns Florey, author of Sister Bernadette’s Barking Dog: The Quirky History and Lost Art of Diagramming Sentences. 

In a 2014 interview with NPR’s Juana Summers, Burns Florey declares that there are two kinds of people in the world: ones who loved diagramming and ones who hated it. I was mostly in the pro-diagramming camp, but I really didn’t appreciate it until I was older and could see the benefit to a writer/editor of being able to deconstruct sentences.

Who knows? Maybe I’m just weird. After all, I got A’s in Geometry, too!

Like, Degrading the Language? No Way

Like, Degrading the Language? No Way – NYTimes.com.

For those of us engaged in the act of communication, we have often been hoist by the petard of grammar “rules.” English is a grammar nightmare and things shift all the time. It is because of these shifts that I have had arguments — not discussions, mind — but out and out arguments with colleagues over the years about:

  • the Oxford comma
  • beginning a sentence with a numeral
  • ending a sentence with a preposition
  • semicolons
  • split infinitives
  • “snuck.”

Everything changes. Twenty years ago, English teachers would be in absolute agreement that the correct past participle of “to sneak” was “sneaked.” Today “sneaked” and the more vernacular “snuck” run about even. The latter will probably be preferred in another 20 years.

Great article. I mean, if you’re a word geek like me!