Grammatical Pet Peeves

I got a pretty strong response to my post First, a Word From Our Sponsor.  It turns out that lots of people whom I know and like are language buffs too.  So, maybe we’ll keep a side thread going with language news – facts and factoids.  Feel free to correct me.  You’ll be wrong, but I’ll be gentle.

My cousin Jeff (the super-smart engineer) wrote to say that people who confuse data (plural) and datum (singular) drive him crazy.  I am with him on this.  Similarly, a reminder that media is plural and medium is singular.  Television is a medium.  Radio and newspapers and blogs are media.

My friend Nan asked if I knew the plural of octopus.  I thought, based on the high school Latin grammar which I barely remember, that the plural would be octopi.  But then I looked it up (and heard from Jeff) and learned that the plural is octopodes, although most Americans just call them octopuses.  I prefer octopodes because it’s spelled like Antipodes, but is pronounced differently.  Octopuses sound like malformed cats.

Jeff also has a problem with people who cannot distinguish the usage of “nonetheless” at the beginning of a sentence from “however”.  You can tell that Jeff and I are first cousins, can’t you?

“Nonetheless” means in spite of the previous information, while “however” introduces a phrase that is going to disagree with what came before.  These are signalling words so that you can get your brain ready for what is coming.  Kind of like, “you suck,” but subtler.

Any other language issues out there?  I am very slowly learning American Sign Language so that I can better communicate with my friend and classmate Manuel, who is deaf.  He is AMAZINGLY patient with my incompetent and sluggish finger-spelling and has taught me some cool signs.  Here’s me doing my favorite: “Star Trek” (you have to imagine that I have flown my hand through space).


The ASL sign for "Star Trek"

The ASL sign for “Star Trek”

My last pet peeve for the day: entomology (the study of insects) versus etymology (the study of word origins).  NOT THE SAME!

Your turn.  Send me what bugs you – etymologically speaking, of course.

8 thoughts on “Grammatical Pet Peeves

  1. Have you seen the book: “A Panda Eats, Shoots, and Leaves” ?
    One of my pet peeves is the disappearance of the adverb. e.g.” “How are you?” “Good.”
    “I asked: ‘How are you?”, not ‘What are you?’ Besides, you should not be so conceited.”

    • Eats, Shoots & Leaves Love that book! Thanks for reminding me of it. Never thought a book on grammar would be so compelling, but author Lynne Truss makes it a page turner. Highly recommended for all of my grammatically-unchallenged friends.

  2. My personal all time favorite is the “Hemlock Maneuver” which would, of course, be the exact opposite of the Heimlich Maneuver. Depending on your circumstances you would hope to be successful in either case. I confess that I used spell check for “maneuver.” I can say it but I couldn’t visualize how to spell it.

    Over-used phrases and words: “On board,” “on deck,” “on the same page” is OK because I like to read, “24/7” (Grrrrrr), “Cougar” (gimme a break). By the way, how’s my punctuation?

    • I have never heard “Hemlock Maneuver” before, but it’s a riot. I’m going to say it every chance I get! Your punctuation is, of course, perfect. I think I am growing tired of “ginormous” which was funny to me for several years but no longer. Also, no more comparing anyone or anything to Hitler – I’m pretty sure he was one of a kind. I would allow comparisons to Idi Amin and maybe Slobodan Milosevic.

  3. Although we are first cousins, I hardly feel smart enough to participate in this conversation. For instance, I read posts like this for tips so I can avoid both amusing and aggravating my word-smithy friends with these blunders. However, if you move on to misused phrases… I’ve got one for you. More and more, I’m hearing in the media (darn, accidentally using words mentioned in these posts) the phrase “begs the question” used incorrectly to mean – “all of this makes me think of another question” instead of its (checking the use of its, moving on) origin in the study of logic meaning “hey, that doesn’t quite work… you’ve basically just restated your original premise without any support” Or something like that.

    It made me start wondering what happens if it’s (actually nervous to use that word) used incorrectly so much that the majority of the people think that phrase actually means what people think they mean when they use it incorrectly. For instance, I myself was tempted to say in this conclusion… “which begs the question, what happens when a misuse of a word or phrase becomes so common that it actually can communicate, however illegitimately, exactly what the speaker intended.” 🙂

    I’ve been enjoying your blog even when I don’t comment. 🙂 I find the art posts very interesting! My daughter Essie (12) asked to go the Minneapolis Art Institute with me for her birthday, but I was in the hospital with our daughter Hannah that week. I’m going to be taking her soon. I wish you were local to Minneapolis/St. Paul to get your opinion on accessible museums and galleries for young girls who already tend to say, “I am an artist” rather than “I want to be an artist when I grow up.”

    ps. Really hoping I avoided a word blunder. I can always hope it looked like an autocorrect issue.

    • Sara – So happy to hear from you! I’ve been following Hannah’s progress with delight – thanks for all of the pictures and updates on Facebook. I know what you mean about grammatical blunders appearing in my comments on grammatical blunders! I had to correct it’s for its and your for you’re while I was writing. I don’t think you have anything to worry about. In fact, aren’t you the one who posted that list of 100 books we needed to read? I think I still have 40 to go. And I’m not making much progress!

      I know it’s a long shot (oh no – cliche overuse!) – but if you ever come east with your family or part of it, I would love to show you around the big art museums. They’re amazing. And I’m afraid (because it must be every parent’s nightmare to have an artist child) that Essie IS an artist because she already claims it as her identity. I wish I had had her confidence at her age. You’re obviously a very good mother.

      love, Liz

  4. Oh yes, here’s mine. It’s (with an apostrophe, it’s a contraction of “it is”) and its (without

    an apostrophe is a possessive so it is a major exception to the rule)) are not

    interchangeable! This drives me c-r-a-z-y. “It’s” is going to prevail for all situations, I’m

    afraid. In 50 years.

    • That’s a really good one. I also hate when people use single nouns with plural verbs and vice versa. Also when they say “they” instead of “he” or “she” because they don’t want to commit to a gender. Man up, people!

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