I’m loath to admit I loathe most country music.

That ought to raise a few eyebrows, but at least it won’t be for poor diction. (Also: Honestly? I’m not in the least bit loath to make that admission. There. I said it.)

Loath is an adjective; it means “unwilling to do something because it’s disagreeable for some reason.” I’m loath to eat raw octopus because the texture is offensive to me.

The unabridged Merriam-Webster online dictionary indicates that (much to the frustration of many copy editors) “loathe” is an alternate spelling.

Why does that frustrate some of us? Because, you see, loathe is the verb.There is no alternate spelling for the verb. It’s loathe. That’s it. And it means “detest, abhor.” I loathe the fact that “loathe” is an alternative spelling for loath.

I may be loosening up a little more in my pragmatic grammarian stance, continuing my journey toward descriptivism, but I still loathe this particular situation.

“Word Grenades” (via Plotnik)

I’ve said over on G+ that I’m exploring the requirements of developmental editing.

To that end, I’m also reading about the craft of writing. I know the fundamentals,so now–at least according to John Gardner–I am ready to learn the craft. If I’m going to be any kind of dev editor, I need to know how to write.

Write things other than blog posts about grammar, that is. I need to explore one of my personal bugaboos: creative writing.

Any desire I had (which was little enough in the first place) to write fiction or poetry was quashed quite thoroughly by a high-school teacher back in, oh, 1973 or so. Her critique of my work was savage and offered nothing constructive in exchange. Tear down, don’t build up. I stopped and didn’t look back. As long as it’s not fiction, I can write it. I can write the hell out of a research paper, an essay, a blog post . . .

Anyway. One of the books I’m reading is Plotnik’s The Elements of Expression: Putting Thoughts into Words. And I’m loving it. This is all stuff I’ve known to a point anyway, but I’m seeing it in his words, and finding more behind them. It makes me think that perhaps I can do this writing thing after all. Perhaps.

When I’m doing substantive editing, one of my focuses is on word choice. Is this the best word for the intention? For the audience? For the meaning? For the SOUND? Plotnik’s chapter “Elements of Force” talks about word choice. About onomatopoeia. About rhythm and music and sincerity. About strong verbs. Powerful verbs. In-your-face verbs. And wonder of wonders, about adjectives and adverbs too. He’s for using the best ones (yep, even the adverbs). The ones that pack the biggest wallop. The ones that he calls “Grade-A.” He’s for creating one-time compounds if there’s nothing extant that will do the job. I’m particularly fond of this phrase:

weapons-grade stupid

Now THAT, friends and readers, is stupid. Not your average, everyday, run-of-the-mill stupid. It’s world-changing in its stupidity. Damaging. KILLER stupid.

“Elements of Force” discusses far more than verbs and intensifiers, but I’m not about to go into those other things. Get the book. Read it yourself.

It’ll help fend off the weapons-grade stupid we encounter every day.

Edit a ms? An ms? Say it out loud.

How do you pronounce “ms” when it’s the abbreviation for “manuscript?”

According to both the online Oxford and Merriam-Webster dictionaries, it’s pronounced “em ess,” making it an initialism rather than an abbreviation. (It’s also shown in capital letters, MS, in keeping with it being an initialism.)

My own experience styles it lower case, ms, and I’ve never heard anyone say “em ess.” However, that’s exactly what both sources give as the US pronunciation. (Perhaps my colleagues and I were all quite sheltered. I don’t know.)

To me it makes sense to use the article that matches the reading you intend as a result. If you expect the readers to say “em ess” in their heads, use “an ms” / “an MS.” For the result “manuscript,” use “a ms” / “a MS.” Give the readers a clue about your intention, and they’ll follow.

 

And whatever you do, do not style it “Ms.” That’s an entirely different issue (and it’s pronounced “mizz”).

 

Creating a “fusion usage”: Blending UK and US (mostly) seamlessly

This is a bit of a departure from my usual types of posts, but I think it’s worth writing about.

I’m in the middle of editing the final book in a wonderful fantasy series by a UK author. I’m in the US. I’ve read a lot of UK authors, though, both historical and modern, so I feel I have a fair grounding in what “sounds British” to American ears. (Thank you, all you UK authors along with Monty Python and “Masterpiece Theatre,” for your parts in my media education.)

In particular I want to focus on one structure: the infinitive verb form + [noun or pronoun, nominative or possessive] + [preposition for the US] + the participle verb form. Like this:

stop Kevin going to town

stop Kevin’s going to town

stop him going to town

stop his going to town

stop Kevin from going to town

stop him from going to town

Standard US usage says we should write one of the following:

stop Kevin’s going to town

stop his going to town

stop Kevin from going to town

stop him from going to town

 

Here’s where I note that the New Oxford Style Manual is precisely that: style. There is no grammar section, as presented in CMoS. Therefore, I have no printed UK grammar reference. What I have discerned from reading, listening, and editing is the following:

In the UK, one says or writes:

stop Kevin going to town

stop him going to town

I’m honestly not sure whether UK usage employs the [preposition + participle] structure. I’ve not seen it, but that means nothing aside from I’ve not seen it.

In order to achieve the “fusion usage” this particular author and I have worked toward, I’ve settled on splitting the difference when this structure appears. Rather than the dreaded “rewrite to avoid,” I simply do not use the prepositional version; I substitute the possessive form of the noun or pronoun and call it finished.

The author and I have discussed this from the very first book. It seems to us that this option maintains most of the sound of the UK usage, and adheres to one of the accepted US forms. We keep the UK spellings, but phrasing that stops a US reader cold is something we work to avoid.

No one’s complained so far.

The Artist Use to Be Known as . . .

Does that look right to you?

It doesn’t look right to me. The phrase is correctly written (and said) “used to,” when we mean to say “formerly.”  The incorrect usage of “use to” to mean “formerly” doesn’t even have a rating on Garner’s language-change index. I’ve only noticed it within the last year, maybe, in my editing work.  He addresses it, certainly—he just doesn’t give it a second thought as anything but an error.

With the spoken word, though, that “-d” on the end often vanishes thanks to poor enunciation. It elides with the “t-“ from “to,” and we hear “use to” instead of “used to.” (In written dialect it sometimes shows up at “useta” or even “us’ta” as a visual representation of the sound.)  This leads some people to say “See? It IS use, not used.” But spelling’s not everything, as just about anyone who speaks English as their first language will tell you. There’s “used,” yoozd, and there’s “used,” yoost. (I’m no linguist, and I don’t know from IPA or any of the other character sets used to properly designate pronunciations. I’m faking it. Deal.)

Yoozd is how we say “used” when we mean “utilized.” I yoozd a claw hammer to pull out the nail.

Yoost is how we say “used” in conjunction with “to,” to mean “formerly.” We yoost to say that differently.

 

There’s also “didn’t used to” (meaning “formerly didn’t”) and “used to could” (dialect for “used to be able to” or “could formerly”). Note that in both of these the word is “used.” Not “use.”

Of these, only “didn’t used to” rates a place on Garner’s index, and that’s a 5—it’s fully accepted these days.  “Didn’t used to . . . is the informal equivalent of the standard form never used to and the rarely encountered phrase used not to.” He then continues with a discussion of the pronunciation issue I’ve mentioned above (and I see, now, that he also used “yooz” and “yoost”), expands on what I said about how pronunciation gives us the clue to the correct word, and then says this:

“Remember the standard form that can save you headaches: never used to. It avoids the grammatical problem of did + [past tense]. It keeps used. And it doesn’t reek of dialect.” Garner’s Modern American Usage, 2009, p. 836

Yes, I have seen Weird Al’s video.

I quite like it, too. Surprisingly he’s far more of a prescriptivist than I ever would’ve pegged him for, but to each his own, right?

Here is my take on the types of grammarians.

Now, just this morning I found links to an article about Weird Al’s “grammar gaffe” in my Twitter feed.

And here is what I had to say about that subject some time back.

I’ve said more over at Google+ in the past 24 hours, too. Like this, from yesterday afternoon when my Twitter feed was still roiling like a shark tank at feeding time.

Just in case you haven’t yet seen “Word Crimes” for yourself, here. It’s fun, and it’s funny, and I’d rather listen to it than “Blurred Lines” any day of the week.

“Word Crimes” at YouTube

Now, it’s time for more coffee and some chair dancing.

Me, Myself, and I: Reflections on Reflexive Pronouns

Lately I have noticed a lot of people using “myself” when they should be using “me.”

“Join Jack Brown and myself for our next podcast about Venetian canal cleaning methods.”

Nope. Sorry, I won’t be joining yourself for anything. I’ll join YOU, though. The word you want in that position, as the object of the transitive verb “to join,” is me. “Join Jack Brown and me for our next podcast.”

How can you tell? Well, would you say “Join I for my next podcast” if you were talking about just yourself? I didn’t think so. (See “Me and Julio” for more on this.) You’d say “Join me.” It doesn’t change when you add more people to the sentence. “Join Jack Brown, Mary Smith, and me for our next podcast.”

So when should you use those reflexive pronouns like myself, yourself, and themselves?

When the action is reflected back onto a noun or pronoun, you probably want to show that by using a reflexive pronoun. Here’s what I mean.

Mary bought herself a dress.

Mary bought a dress for herself.

The action (buying a dress) is turned back toward the subject (Mary). If you feel better using the preposition, use it. But you don’t have to, as you can see from the original example sentence. Inserting the preposition like that is just a test to check for correctness.

That’s not the same as “Mary bought a dress for her.” Who’s her? It’s not Mary, I can tell you that much; “her” is an objective case pronoun, so Mary bought that dress for some other woman — not for herself.

To be really grammatically picky: “Herself” is the indirect object in these sentences. In the second, it’s also the object of the preposition “for.” The “for” is understood in the first sentence (it’s not there, but we understand that’s what is meant).

You can also use reflexive pronouns for emphasis. I always think of the Grinch:

“And the Grinch, he himself, the Grinch carved the roast beast.”

Or this one:

“They themselves were thrown clear of the crash and miraculously survived.”

“I had myself a nice little nap after dinner.”

Those are all legitimate uses.

But please, people — please stop with the “Join Jack and myself for this party.” You don’t sound erudite. You sound foolish.

 

Me and Julio

Paul Simon’s lyrics notwithstanding, it’s nonstandard to say “Me and Julio went down by the schoolyard.” (Note, I didn’t say “improper” although I admit to having typed that initially.) Keep in mind, I write tips for standard English — not for dialects or regional speech or what have you. Those have their own grammars and their own rules, none of which I’m qualified to write about; I’m not a linguist.

How do you know when to use “me” and when to use “I?” Or “us” and “we?” (This is covered by a real, live rule — not a guideline. It’s a rule.) There are nominative case pronouns (like “I” and “we” and “he” and “she”) and objective case pronouns (like “me” and “us” and “him” and “her”), and they’re not interchangeable.So, how do you know which to use when you need to say that you and that guy and that woman over there all did something together, and you don’t want to name names?

Would you really say “Us went to the movies last night”? Would you? I highly doubt it. So, you wouldn’t say “Me went to the movies last night” either, most likely, or “Him went to the movies” or “Her went to the movies” or “Them went to the movies.” I hope you’re seeing a pattern here.

“We went to the movies last night.” That’s the nominative case; “we” is the subject of the sentence. If you went alone, you’d say “I went to the movies last night.” Now, let’s add more words and see what happens.

“James and me went to the movies last night.” Really? If you weren’t telling me James was with you, would you say “me went to the movies”? I didn’t think so. So, you don’t say it when you are adding James to the subject. “James and I went to the movies.” Take the other person (or people) out of your sentence and figure out which pronoun you’d use, and then use that one when you put the other people back in. You’ll still be correct.

“Paul and she went to the movies last night.” If Paul wasn’t in the picture, you’d say “she went to the movies.” There’s no need to change the word when you put Paul into the sentence. You can even put her first: “She and Paul went to the movies.” If you don’t want to name him, but you want to tell us that Paul and she went, you say “they went to the movies,” not “them went.”  Follow that logic out (because here’s a situation where logic actually works in English), and you’ll find that you can also correctly say “They and I went to the movies.”

Now, let’s look at which words to use with prepositions, like “between.” Prepositions take the objective case (me, us, him, her, them). “Just between us” is a phrase I’m sure you’ve heard often. It’s correct. So, again following the logic (which is a rare thing in English, so it’s pretty exciting!), you’d say “just between you and me” — NOT “just between you and I.” That’s a classic case of hypercorrection stemming from your mom (or me!) telling you not to say “James and me went to the movies.” If it’s wrong there, surely it’s wrong everywhere. Except it’s not.

“Join James and I for a Hangout-On-Air.” Think about that, given what I’ve explained. Is it correct? Remove “James and” from the sentence; what pronoun would you use to refer to yourself?

I’m not telling. Consider this a quiz. (You know I was a language arts teacher, long ago and far away.)

 

A guy walks into a pizza . . .

. . . and swears, because now his shoes are a mess.

Should you use “into” or “in to?” Well, it depends. (It always depends, doesn’t it?)

You walk into a building, or into a room. You’re moving; you are changing your location from outside to inside.

However, if there’s a pizza in the room you walk into, you “walk in to a pizza.” You walk in to the presence of pizza (presumably on a table or counter, not the floor).

I will quote Garner, so you will know I’m not blowing smoke: “These prepositions aren’t ordinarily interchangeable, and care must be taken in choosing between them: in denotes position or location, and into denotes movement. Thus, a person who swims in the ocean is already there, while a person who swims into the ocean is moving from, say, the mouth of a river. There are many exceptions, however, especially with popular idioms <go jump in a lake>.” (Garner’s Modern American Usage, page 450)

Similarly, you might say “I ran in the mall last week,” meaning you went for a run inside the mall (one would hope the mall sets aside times for such activity, so you weren’t running over little old ladies with shopping bags). “I ran into the mall last week” means something entirely different. Did you “run into the mall” because someone was chasing you from the parking lot? Or did you “run into the mall” to pick up a last-minute gift for someone? I hope these examples help delineate which preposition to use. People “walking into donuts” are likely to have pretty crumby shoes (as opposed to “crummy” shoes, which aren’t the same thing at all).

What a capital idea!

“Capital” and “capitol” are very easily (and very often) confused. “Capitol” is only and ever and always a building. Think of the round O-shape of a dome. Think of stone, of doors, of windows. All those things echo the “O” in “capitol.” One is bound to work for you as a mnemonic. If this word refers to a specific building, it will be capitalized as a proper noun or proper adjective. “Protesters in Washington, D.C. congregated on the Capitol steps.” However, it can just as easily be a common noun: “While the class was in the capital, they toured the capitol and other important sites”.

“Capital” is never a building. (This is one of the few times I feel safe using that adverb.) The capital can be a city (Madison is the capital of Wisconsin). It can be a letter (city names begin with a capital letter). It can mean “the center of a specific activity or industry” (Hollywood has been called the entertainment capital of the world). In the UK and countries where UK English is the usual, “capital” can mean “excellent,” as it does in the heading for this post.

For some reason, this pairing has been turning up all over of late in various grammar-related places. I’m far from the only one to have addressed it. Here is a link to the Grammarist article, which I think is one of the best.