Category Archives: Grammar

Cry for Help

Now that it’s on its last legs, isn’t it time to recognise that the apostrophe needs our help?

Eats, Shoots & Leaves Day-to-Day Calendar entry for February 8, by Lynne Truss.


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Sunday Snapshot – No, No, No!

Is it really Joshuas Creek? No, it is Joshua’s Creek. The Joshua’s Creek Trail runs alongside the creek and has a marker informing hikers that Joshua’s Creek is named after Joshua Leach (1776-1862), an early settler who built a house and a sawmill beside the creek during the 1820s. The creek runs through the Joshua’s Creek community. Why, then, would the Town decide to leave out the apostrophe in the street name?

Sadly, leaving out apostrophes is becoming common. Last year Birmingham, England’s second largest city, dropped apostrophes from all its street signs, deeming them confusing, old-fashioned, and a waste of space. Confusing? The apostrophe indicates possession. It is Joshua’s creek, just as it was Joshua’s house and Joshua’s mill. Old-fashioned? Waste of space? Apostrophes are not a passing fad to be considered in style one month and old news the next. They’re not emoticons to be added to text messages when the mood strikes. Apostrophes perform an important function. Joshuas does not mean the same thing as Joshua’s.

Leaving the apostrophe out of this street name is just plain wrong.


Filed under Grammar, Sunday Snapshots

Clients From Hell

The following entries were found at Clients From Hell, “a collection of anonymously contributed client horror stories from designers”.

Client: You see where you have a full stop at the end of the first sentence?
Me: Yes.
Client: Can you change it to a comma?
Me: Er, well I can, but you should put a full stop at the end of a sentence.
Client: Oh, that grammar stuff is very old fashioned.

So I have this table here in the document, I was hoping you could graphisize it for me.

So it turns out you were right about me wanting a colon instead of a semi-colon. But since we’re on the subject, I’d like you to revisit the copy and include more semi-colons. I want people to think we’re smart.

Please be sure to print the cover and the table of contents at the front of the book, then after the table of contents print the chapters in this order: 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10,11,12,13,14,15,16.

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A Very Scary Halloween tale

A travelling carnival came to town this year for Halloween and set up in the fair grounds. Along with the usual assortment of spinning rides, a haunted house was erected, quite separate from the other attractions, in a quiet corner. The advertisement in the newspaper for the spooky house said:

UntitledHah! As if you’d actually die –they have laws against that kind of thing … right? Still … I vow not to scream, just in case.

My friends have joined me at the entrance now, so I pay the fee and bravely volunteer to be the first to enter the dilapidated looked structure. Jeez, it’s dark. Really dark. What is that glowing ahead of me? Are those words? I inch forward in the blackness and the words suddenly move toward me.

Untitled 2My late what? I snicker, turning to my friends. But no one is there, just a sign directly behind me, less than an arm’s length from my face, that says

Untitled 3How did that get there? And where all the apostrophes? The hair is standing up on the back of my neck. “Guys?” I call out to my friends, but nobody answers, so I back away from the creepy signs into another room. This room appears to be long and narrow – I wish my eyes would adjust to the dark so I could see where I’m going!

I’m edging forward when something brushes against my back and I spin around to face it.

Untitled 4Taut?? They mean taunt! Something drops from the darkness above and I stifle a squeal and duck.

Untitled 5I spin to my left.

Untitled 6I’m starting to perspire. I want to get out of this weird place; it’s scarier than I expected. Okay, there’s the exit from the room. It doesn’t look too far away.

Untitled 7Yes, I am bored with it! Where are these phrases coming from??

Untitled 8I’m scrambling now, and the eerie glowing words just keep coming! Where did the exit sign go? I can’t see it!

Untitled 9Ouch! I tripped over   Untitled 10

and almost tumbled into Untitled 11

Untitled 12I am excited about leaving and I’m almost there, just a few more steps!

Untitled 13No, not that! I clap my hand over my mouth to keep from screaming and leap through the door to the next room. I still can’t see, but at least I’m not being attacked by bad grammar. The exit is straight ahead….

What’s that noise? Yikes, something fluttered right over my head! There’s another one! What ARE those things – are they bats? Yuk, that one was almost stuck in my hair.  Are they…? Could they be… ? They are! They’re apostrophes and they’re dive-bombing me! “Leave me alone! Why don’t you go back to the words you belong with??”  White, shimmering forms are starting to fill the room around me – ghosts – and the one closest to me answers my question:

Untitled 14And it starts laughing; a shrill howl that sends chills down my spine.

Untitled 15

Ahhhhhhhhhhh! I can’t contain my scream any longer! And now I’m running as fast as I can to the exit, beating off apostrophes and screeching ghosts like Buffy in a room full of vampires, until I finally shove the door open and throw myself through it. Phew! Deep breathes. That was horrifying! Deep breathes. It’s okay. I’m all right.

And hey, at least I didn’t literally die screaming.

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When Good Grammar Goes Bad

 I photographed this sign in front of an Oxford Learning Centre near my home. ... Perhaps they specialize in math at this location.

I photographed this sign in front of an Oxford Learning Centre near my home. ... Perhaps they specialize in math at this location.

I visited Oxford’s Web site and found “the early years of school is about critical groundwork” among other grammatical and typing (“be it not being not keeping up with homework”) errors.


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Thumbs Up for Castle

Thumbs up for the television dramedy Castle. The show is about a famous crime novelist who, while suffering from writer’s block after killing off the main character in his hugely successful novels, is approached by Detective Kate Beckett of the NYPD. She asks for his help in catching the copycat killer staging murders based on scenes from his novels. Naturally, once that case is solved, writer Castle (Nathan Fillion) decides that Detective Beckett (Stana Katic) would be the perfect model for the lead character in his new series of novels and receives permission from the NYPD to shadow Kate on the job.

In the 2nd episode of the season, The Double Down, Castle points out that the message left on a murdered woman incorrectly uses your instead of you’re. As a wordsmith, he finds the common error irritating.I’m just saying, whoever killed her also murdered the English language.”

Later in the show, when Beckett uses the term “against who,” Castle mutters “whom.”

It’s lovely to have a grammarian on television: Monday nights at 10:00 p.m.

Nathan Fillion plays witty and likable Rick Castle.

Nathan Fillion plays witty and likable Rick Castle.


Filed under Grammar, Miscellaneous

National Punctuation Day

Happy National Punctuation Day to everyone in the United States! Punctuation’s special day is “a celebration of the lowly comma, correctly used quotes, and other proper uses of periods, semicolons, and the ever-mysterious ellipsis.” You can visit the official Web site to view funny photos of grammar gaffes and then, having worked up an appetite from all that laughing, prepare the Official Meat Loaf of National Punctuation Day. You have to love a holiday that not only encourages the proper use of punctuation, but also solves your dinner dilemma.


I also like that, according to the Web site, National Punctuation Day is celebrated “throughout the world”.


Filed under Grammar, Signs

Youse Guys

When I hear the term youse guys, I think of New Jersey and movies about the Mob. I don’t know why because I’ve never been to New Jersey and I don’t watch movies about the Mafia. Maybe it came from the years of exposure to TV commercials for The Sopranos, despite the fact that I’ve never seen the actual show.

The dictionary doesn’t even specifically mention New Jersey. “YOUSE (you + the plural –s ending of nouns), probably of Irish-American origin, is most common in the North [United States], especially in urban centers like Boston, New York, and Chicago. It is rare in educated speech.”

The pronoun you can be singular or plural, but in American English it has been supplemented by additional forms to make the distinction between the two clear. You-all is used widely in the southern states; you guys is common in informal speech in the North. Youse doesn’t belong anywhere, except here at Disney’s Hollywood Studios:


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You People

Several years ago I worked in customer service for a mail order gift store. Overall, I would say that people are generally reasonable and polite but, of course, there are always exceptions. I’ve never forgotten one of my coworkers telling me that her pet peeve was when snarky customers used the term you people. I suppose there’s really no reason why you people couldn’t be used nicely, e.g. “You people have done an excellent job fulfilling my order,” but it never was. You people, when spat out by an angry customer, is condescending and accusing, and meant to group everyone in the company into one large school of scum-sucking bottom-dwellers who only rise into the light to better view, and bask in, the frustrations of their aggrieved customers. THOSE customers should remind themselves that sometimes things legitimately go wrong: a package was sent out when promised but got lost in the mail (nothing to do with the store), the supplier who promised to have an item available for shipping by the store on a certain date didn’t deliver as promised (not the direct fault of the store), or a package, for whatever reason, didn’t get sent out on the day it should have (okay, that is the fault of the store staff, but hey, everyone makes a mistake once in a while). THOSE people should remember that the odds that the telephone representative they’re harassing is the one who made the original dire mistake are slim to nil. I had some exceptionally nice colleagues who made every effort to provide top-notch customer service and they hardly ever laughed demonically … while on the phone.

I’ve been the frustrated person on the line with a stereotypical customer service representative who is one twist short of a slinky. I’ve been passed from department to department before finally having my problem resolved.

But I still never say you people.

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Your Right

Your and you’re – two words with very different meanings that people have started using interchangeably. At least I can understand how this error started, which is more than I can say of most nonsensical grammatical errors. Few people make the effort to enunciate the you in you’re (I do) and instead slur it into your when speaking. The logical result of always saying a word incorrectly is the inadvertent misspelling of it.

Your and you’re are not, of course, interchangeable. Your is possessive: your cat, your hat, your mat. You’re is an abbreviation (contraction) of you are: you’re fine, you’re mine, you’re nine.

Imagine how confusing conversations would be if we took the mispronunciation/spelling of you’re literally.

“Fine, I give up. Your right.”
…”My right what?”
“My right what? Hand? Foot?”
“I didn’t say your right. I said Your Right.”
“My right to do what?”
“My right to do what?”
“I didn’t say your right! I said YOUR RIGHT!”
[Jumping to his left] “What!”
“What are you doing?”
“I thought there was something on my right.”
“Stop it! I didn’t say anything about your right! I Said Your Right, Correct, YOU WIN!”
“Ohhhh. You mean “you’re right”.
“That’s what I said!”
“No it isn’t.”
“Yes it is!”
“No, it really isn’t.”
[Sigh] “Your impossible!”
…”My impossible what?”

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