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.

“Disappear” is the new “impact”

I’ll bet some of you are already twitching. That’s good. Very good.

If you’re not twitching, perhaps the use of “impact” as a verb doesn’t bother you. I’m not sure why you’d be reading this, in that case, but whatever. All right. Verbing weirds nouns, as the saying goes. I’m all for usage like “an impacted wisdom tooth,” which is a long-standing medical special usage. I am NOT all for usage like “the latest civil unrest in Poughkeepsie has impacted the stock market.” No, sorry. It has affected or influenced the stock market, maybe. Not impacted it. Even though Garner classifies this as a stage 3 shift (well on its way to being common, but “still avoided in careful usage”), he still cautions against it. “Reserve impact for noun uses and impacted for wisdom teeth” (Garner’s Modern American Usage, p. 445).

This brings me to “disappear.” I’m noticing a disturbing trend (particularly in marketing and advertising) toward using this word as a transitive verb (one that takes a direct object), like this example: “Washing disappears the label.”

::Screams::

No. NO. Washing makes the label disappear. Washing removes the label. Washing is not a dictator with labels for political opponents. The label is not “disappeared.” NO.

The only time “disappear” is used as a transitive verb is when referring, as I just did, to political situations where someone in power is kidnapping opponents or families of opponents and whisking them away, never to be seen again, or is outright killing them. “Pinochet disappeared thousands of people during his time in power.” That usage is acceptable and correct. I quote from the Encarta World English Dictionary, meaning 4: “vt. CAUSE OPPONENT TO DISAPPEAR to make a political opponent disappear by arresting or killing the person without any process of law.”

This one’s not up for debate. If I see this usage in anything I’m editing, it’s gone. It’s sloppy, not edgy. For my money, it’s also highly disrespectful to the families of those who have been disappeared. I’m weird, I know.

Be discreet about your discrete affairs

Yes, folks, it’s another descent into #HomophoneHell this time. By request, even–you can thank my pal Deborah Bancroft over at Dispatches from Wordnerdia.

First, let me assure you that at this point in time, there’s no danger of these words becoming hopelessly confused to the point of losing one to the other. Not yet, anyway. Garner’s Modern American Usage categorizes the confusion of “discrete” for “discreet” as Stage 1 (just about everyone can recognize it’s an error), and the reverse as Stage 2 (becoming more common, but still not accepted in standard usage; while it might appear as a variant in a dictionary listing, that hardly condones the usage.) I’ll suggest that people are generally more familiar with “discreet,” and so tend to use that one instead of “discrete” more often than they do the opposite. (The majority of my personal experience with “discrete” occurred in high-school geometry class.)

Let me remind you at this juncture that a dictionary (any dictionary) provides a snapshot of usage at a specific moment in time (the copyright year). Just because something appears in a dictionary does not mean that thing is correct, necessarily; it means that thing is common enough to merit an entry. Depending on the dictionary, there could be a usage note attached to such an entry indicating that it’s nonstandard (or a variant or what have you). If you want to be sure of having information about proper usage, you need a usage manual. All right. Onward.

“Discrete” means “separate.” “Discreet” means “cautious, circumspect.” Indeed, they come from the same Latin word: discretus.  If you’re having several separate affairs, I suggest you be very cautious about discussing them with people lest they become intermingled (and thus neither discrete nor discreet).

As for a helpful mnemonic: The Es in “discrete” are separated by a T. Discrete = separate

.

Want to be discreet? Remember, three's a crowd.

Want to be discreet? Remember, three’s a crowd.

(image thanks to Morguefile.com)