A Grammar Lesson with Two Small Errors

This can be called a style issue, or maybe even a good taste issue, but it’s a readability issue.

Here’s the lesson. You probably won’t see the errors:

  • First, you should put quotes around “Me” because you are referring to the word itself. Using italics is okay, too, depending on what your style guide says. The comic is funny because the cartoonist didn’t put the quotes around “me” in the first panel, leading you to think the horse was going to talk about himself, not the word.
  • Second, that slash between “him” and “herself.” Use “or.” (Or use “and” if that’s appropriate.) Many people use the slash when they can’t decide which conjunction to use. Don’t be lazy! Decide!
  • sigh. I may as well mention a third possible mistake. When you have two (or more) compound words and want to mention the second part only once, put a hyphen after that first separated part. Write “him- or herself.”

Grammar Wisecracks

An easy one for me today. Many, obviously, are examples of themselves. And puns. I’ll let you decipher them.

I got it from “The Digital Reader” on Facebook, dated May 26. Many of the comments are more examples of this type of humor.

An Example of Improving Conciseness

I know, the technical term is concision, but only we geek tech writers and English teachers use that term. Anyway, the third rule of good expository writing is to be concise—no extra words.

So here’s an example of someone promulgating the idea of not being wordy, (or over-written, as the commenter says elsewhere). The passage is in the comments to a review of Toy Story 4 in the Washington Post. (Edited for conciseness and punctuation.) It starts with a quote from the review.

The disaster, in this case, is 2019’s Summer of Sequelae, as dismal a movie season as audiences can remember as one spinoff has followed the other with a graceless thud. Thankfully, “Toy Story 4” arrives just in time to redeem filmgoers’ faith, if not in humanity, then at least in the humaneness of inanimate creatures who have more heart, pluck and conscience in their plastic pinkies than most real-life adults. 

How about this:

The disaster in question seems to be the entire blockbuster season of 2019; a string of graceless thuds. Thankfully, “Toy Story 4” arrives just in time to redeem film-goers’ faith — if not in humanity, then at least in character.

I think the passage could be more concise than that, even:

The blockbusters of 2019 are a string of graceless thuds. “Toy Story 4” arrives in time to redeem the season.
or even
Toy Story 4 redeems a season of graceless thuds.

That’s not as colorful as the original, but this site promulgates expository writing, whose goal is to convey the content, not the writing style—perhaps drier than necessary for a movie review.

PS—I ran into another article about the movie. This was the last sentence:

In a summer of stupid sequels, ‘Toy Story 4’ is a visually dazzling delight

A New Contraction

When we take a letter out of a word, we replace it with an apostrophe, and call the result a contraction. Here’s a contraction I don’t think I’ve run into. Last panel…


I suppose you can delete the “h” from “him” and replace it with an apostrophe…

About that Apostrophe

Okay, so where does the apostrophe go?


Not before the “s,” not after the “s.” You remove it! This is another of those uncommon cases in English where you put the adjective after the noun, such as “court martial” and “attorney general.”

Can you think of any others?

Modern Parlance

I guess talking like a teenager is contagious, though I’ve heard adults use both “like” and “goes” for “said” for at least twenty years…


…though I’ve never heard anyone actually say “omg.”

Okay, where’s the lesson? Here:

Don’t use these expressions when you write to explain something, unless you’re quoting someone who talks like that.

Did I Win an Argument?

Several years ago I began to read Mike Peterson’s excellent daily essay (editorial? article? blog?) named Comic Strip of the Day. (Look for the ones that start with CSotD.) I read it as faithfully as I read A Word A Day. Mike and I don’t necessarily always see eye to eye on politics, but I think that reading material I don’t necessarily agree with keeps me open-minded, and his stuff is thoughtful and well written, not the opinionated drivel I see in places like comment streams.

Anyway, early on, I read a misuse of the expression “beg the question,” so I wrote him a note about it. He did me the courtesy of a reply, saying, if I remember correctly, that everybody uses the expression that way nowadays, so he felt okay with that usage. That was the end of it; we didn’t have an actual argument.

Recently I ran into this: (the italics are his)

This prompts ( but does not beg ) the question of why they would hire Molly Ivins in the first place. 


Yay! To logicians and us curmudgeons, “prompts” is correct, “begs” is not. Good for him!

Here are a couple links to some of my posts on the subject in case you’re curious to know what I’m talking about:

What does “Beg the Question” Mean?
More Question Begging
Getting Things Right

Be Careful with Your Plurals

If you have more than one, you have a plural, even if you have more than one of the same thing. Middle panel:


You can change this by changing the subject to “each.” So “…would you want to find each of them an good home?” Now “them” is the object of the the preposition and “each” is a nice singular to go with “a good home.

So be careful!

Another Singular “Them”

Sometimes English uses “them,” “they,” or “their” (all plurals) when a good singular form doesn’t make sense. I haven’t run into this exact usage before, (last panel) so I thought I’d share.


So there you have it. Is it right or wrong?

Another Bad Compound

The last post was about an incorrect compound verb. This compound is bad, but it’s not quite incorrect!


The problem is to figure out what the compound verb is. two choices:

  • Devouring you and establishing an interstellar base (This is correct)
  • I assume your identity and then establishing an interstellar base

You shouldn’t insert another verb between the parts of your compound, which is what the monster did.

Maybe that’s why he didn’t’ get the job.