Tag Archives: grammar

Uncle Grumpy’s gone fishin’

Welcome to my retirement! Not the one from my actual job a few years ago but the brand new one from my other life as a professional language police person and grammar nag, writing under the moniker Uncle Grumpy.

You might ask why I’m retiring. (You might also not care.) Well, it wasn’t an easy decision. I like showing off my knowledge, skewering other people’s bad writing, and—at least once in a blue moon—being funny. However, I’ve reluctantly concluded that the odds of making any real impact* on the problem are somewhere below absolute zero. I’d have a better chance of being voted, “The Hottest of All the Hot Dudes in the South Even Though He’s Sixty-Plus and Is Minus Most of His Hair.”

What brought me to this sorry state? ‘Twas this bit of prose from a New York Times article: “In one dramatic marker of the divide, the Republican minority in the Oregon Senate on Thursday fleed the Capitol to prevent a vote on the carbon-pricing bill, which they say would harm the state’s economy.”

That’s right, FLEED. Of all the linguistic apocalypti** I’ve seen, which is plenty, this is among the worst. What next, “bleeded?” Most fourth-graders would know better. Even spellcheck, which I usually warn people not to lean on, would’ve caught it. I’m reminded of Groucho Marx in Monkey Business: “Oh, why can’t we break away from all this, just you and I, and lodge with my fleas in the hills? I mean… flee to my lodge in the hills.”

In any case, I am done grumping. I will no longer rend my teeth or gnash my garments over every goof I find. I shall live a life of serenity, unbothered by dangling modifiers, promiscuous possessives, buzzwords, typos like “pubic” for “public,” and all the rest. I’ll mentally step over these little issues like parking-lot puddles, and if they threaten to aggravate me I’ll simply take a stiff drink (unless I hear them on the radio while driving).


*This is literally the last time I’m going to say it: “Impact” is not a verb. I know I’m not supposed to say “literally” but since I’m retiring, this IS literally the last time I’m going to say it, so I’m literally giving myself a mulligan.
**This might or might not be the proper plural of “apocalypse.” Who cares? I’m retired, remember?

Uncle Grumpy takes on TV

Being a professional grammar pest is too easy. All you have to do is turn on your TV newscast (assuming you’re not a cord-cutter), and these esteemed professionals will bombard you with garble and nonsense. In the space of about ten minutes this noon, I heard these gems:

A weather forecaster said the coming showers would be “hit and miss.” So which is it? “Hit or miss” is right. One small word, but as Mark Twain said, “The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.”

There was also this lede: “A woman shot and robbed after meeting two men from an online dating service.” Did she shoot and rob the two daters? Noooooo! This is an example of that godawful trend of eliminating verbs from sentences. What they meant was that she was shot and robbed.

I realize they’re trying to make it tight and punchy but this is counterproductive. Verbs add action and color. If these geeks were writing the Declaration of Independence, it’d say, “Truths self-evident. All men created equal.”

What’s almost as bad is when people verbify a perfectly good noun, especially “leverage.” This one really gets under my epidermis. Here are some pointers:

Wrong: “We will leverage our synergies to create meaningful advancement in the direction of our objectives.”

Right: “You need a whole lot more leverage to get Grandma’s false teeth out of that bratwurst, seeing as how* she’s still attached to them.” *Note: “Seeing as how” is perfectly correct English in South America, i.e., Valdosta and Biloxi, and for all of y’all up Nawth, that’s pronounced Bi-LUX-ee. There’s no lox in Biloxi and there are still no cows in Moscow. I know: the first part of that sentence isn’t kosher and the second is just milking an old joke.

Here comes Uncle Grumpy!

People say one of the advantages of growing older is feeling free to speak your mind, say “No!” more often, and generally just not give a hoot about what others think. Of course, I wouldn’t know about that because I’m only 15…well, I would be if I’d been born on Leap Day. But I’m more than ready to start hooting at full speed about the destruction of our beloved English language in a tide of ignorance, sloppiness, cutesiness, and just flat-out bad, bad, bad, bad, bad writing.

So as today’s act of public service, I am launching Uncle Grumpy’s Grammar Rant! In which yours truly will comment upon the daily horrors visited upon ye olde mother tongue. Let’s git a rantin’, y’all!

Q: What’s wrong with this headline? “Diffuse a crisis in 9 steps.”

A: The writer made the common mistake of using “diffuse” in place of “defuse.” What’s ironic is that this one appeared on a well-known corporate communications site, alongside articles like “How to Punctuate Better Even When You’re in the Bathtub.” The name of this site shall remain anonymous in a gesture of our desire to maintain dignity amidst the snarkiness of the digital age (and because the owner of the site agreed to fatten Uncle’s wallet just a tad).

Q: Can you use “defuse” in a sentence for us?

A: Natch! “When Lud tried to take out defuse with that screwdriver, he got shocked so bad he started talking like Sarah Palin.”

Q: Is this a correct statement from NBC News? “Harrison Ford ditched his World War II training plane on a Los Angeles golf course Thursday.”

A: Only if he’d landed in the water hazard. As anyone who’s ever seen “Hellcats of the Navy” probably knows, “ditched” means a water landing. My dad spent some time in WW2 in an outfit that rescued guys who ditched in the Gulf of Mexico or Lake Pontchartrain. Besides, the correct version is, “Harrison Ford ditched his World War II training plane on a Los Angeles golf course Thursday but was rescued by Brian Williams, who’d been playing 18 holes with the Pope to celebrate his return from fighting ISIS alongside SEAL Team 6 (Mr. Williams’ return, not the Pope’s).”

Q: And finally, what’s wrong with THIS sentence, which comes from a big-time national newspaper and deals with preserving email? “The vagueness of federal guidelines have caused agencies, cabinet members and other senior officials to forge their own policies and practices, sometimes getting them into trouble.”

A: “The vagueness…have.” Vagueness is singular. Try again, people: “The vagueness of federal guidelines has caused…etc.” Folks who write, report, and edit the news for a living used to get into trouble for not knowing things as basic as this. But then Uncle Grumpy wouldn’t have a gig.

Stay tuned for more, and remember: It’s never two late too learn to right Good English!