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Grammar Gripes

This is a spleen-venting column, originally inspired by San Antonio Maestro John Igo*, and further agitated by the books of Theodore M. Bernstein, H.W. Fowler, Wilson Follett, William Safire, Richard Lederer, Edwin Newman, William R. Espy, and many others of their literate, carping ilk dedicated to the proposition that it's a darned good language--let's use it correctly!




Why does it not sound odd to a couple of ears to leave out the OF?  People say "a couple ears", and the omission of the OF is a gaping hole in construction of the sentence!

in depth

I yearn for the day I read of a shallow review or analysis. Why must they always be in depth?

up close and personal

This one is purdee old cliche. Such trite tripe usually fades from the parlance in time but this asinine vulgarism hangs on and on.

Appropriate to the medium of presentation, the first item of gripe is the word seen in lots (read "most") of computer instruction manuals, both printed and on-screen. Do you get the feeling when it tells you to proceed to the next operation "when your [sic] done" that you are a muffin in the oven or a grilled cheese sandwich waiting to be turned over? Why can't they say "through" or "finished" or "ready"?

This one really makes me grind my teeth! If anyone asks me to head (not head UP, puhleez!) a committee, they had better call me CHAIRMAN! I will not be a Chairwoman, I won't be a Chairperson, and God forbid I should become an object to be sat upon and answer to Chair! This is one good reason for becoming an Editor. I don't believe "Editress" is ever going to be readily accepted!

There is a solution to the chairperson quandary if we can only be persuaded to grab and use it. A few years ago, I saw a headline in a small publication which inserted an apostrophe in a headline merely in the interest of space, but as soon as I saw "corporate spokes'n" I shouted "Eureka!" with such enthusiasm that I startled the neighbors for blocks around. I can see it so clearly now: chair'n, clergy'n, sales'n, trades'n, fisher'n, games'nship. (Pronunciation depends on geography. In the South it would be "un" while Yankees would say "en.") Horse'n, mail'n, fore'n, lines'n, council'n, Congress'n, lay'n, yachts'n, parlia'ntarian . . . it takes a small effort for the ear to get used to it but the eye has little problem. How about giving it a whirl, you who are offended by "-man, -man, -man"?

the double is

Are you aware of the current linguistic disease known as "The Double Is"? It's a terrible affliction which, I believe, began with businessmen but has spread into many other fields and seems especially to attack those being interviewed on TV or radio. Their sentence will begin like this: "The trouble with this country is, is that . . ." Or "The problem is, is that . . . " Doesn't sound very significant, does it? But listen for it, and hear how often it is happening, and wonder with me what causes it. I have even heard some dire cases who cannot proceed past this point without a third "is" tripping off their tongue. 'Tis a strange disease. Reminds me of when the accelerator sticks in my car.

What in heavens' name does this mean? Since planning clearly describes a process which must be done prior to some action, how much earlier must it be done to qualify for PREplanning? Add prevenTAtive which is accomplished more simply by "preventive", and adminisTRAting which means the same as "administering", and demonstrATable for demonstrable. We sure go out of our way to obfuscate, sometimes.

over and -over
A couple of phrases of current usage which ring oddly in my ears: "My kids had a sleepover tonight." When did they quit being "slumber parties"? And "I thought he was going to run me over." When did it quit being "run over me?"

sekkertaries sit at dests

I am sure that very soon we will be sitting at a dest in a dest chair and using a dest phone near the dest set. How rarely we hear the k pronounced! But then the President's cabinet is full of sekkertaries, so why not?

a scissors

No! Wilson Follett, in Modern American Usage, warns ". . . beware of nouns denoting single objects in plural form, e.g., scissors, bellows, tongs, pliers, spectacles, etc., which invariably take a plural verb." So if scissors ARE, then one would say SOME scissors . . . or a pair of scissors.

more preferable

One thing is preferable to another. To say "more" preferable is a redundancy like "more better."


This has become the Filler Word of the Year. Which is all right except that I often get the feeling that the speaker is unaware of the meaning, and is using it in reverse. "Arguably" contains an inference of doubt; it means your opinion can be disputed and refuted. It seems to me that most people are using it as though it gives further emphasis to their assertion of opinion. It is filtering into the language without the pejorative sense, as is . . .

The meaning of fulsome, per Webster's definition number 2, is "offensive to the senses or to moral or aesthetic sensibility; disgusting." There are also suggestions of "obsequious" and "overdone." Definition number 1 does indeed say "characterized by abundance" "copious." Now if someone gives you fulsome praise, how do you know whether to be complimented or insulted? Dare you ask them to define their terms?

councilor / counselor
Did you realize that a "councilor" is a member of a council, whereas a "counselor" is one who gives counsel?

rather unique
Something can be almost unique but not rather unique.

none are
"None is" is the only accurate/reasonable usage here. English has several condensed words, mostly negative: don (do on), doff (do off), neither (not either), never (not ever), and none (not one). Nobody would say "not one are."

Alice C. Geron


 *John invented the word "logocide", meaning "one who murders words!"