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Say What!: "LITERALLY!" and Other Offenders on the Grammar Police Docket

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A brief history of singular they and the idiots who tried to police its use.

https://public.oed.com/blog/a-brief-history-of-singular-they/

I believe however that the use of they here is a tendency these days to use the subject form as a case of over correction. If I'm not sure, subject form feels better.

Hence the changes with conjoined pronouns such as: I'd like this to remain between you and I.

I'm thinking that we are about to lose the distinction altogether, a development that is well established for subject 'you' and object 'you' in plural and singular and subject 'it' and object 'it'.

Some dialects only have 'them' already.

 

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12 hours ago, Brookside said:

From NBC track and field coverage:  "This has set a very ominous time in an Olympic year."

Honestly, I don't know the incorrectness of this sentence without knowing the context.    

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5 minutes ago, Ohwell said:

Honestly, I don't know the incorrectness of this sentence without knowing the context.    

Yeah, same here, compounded by the problem that I have no idea what the reporter was trying to say. (Did he mean auspicious? Momentous? It's anybody's guess.)

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23 minutes ago, Milburn Stone said:

Yeah, same here, compounded by the problem that I have no idea what the reporter was trying to say.

I'm going to guess that time should have been tone.

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On 1/24/2020 at 9:20 AM, Jel said:

Oh, oh oh! I think I know this one. "They" is now considered (by some) to be a gender neutral singular pronoun. (Since it was always (and continues to be) a plural pronoun, I'm personally rooting for a different spelling of "they" as a singular pronoun to distinguish it from the plural because it's awkward. But side issue.)

Not always. Singular "they" has actually been in use since the 1400s.

On 1/24/2020 at 9:06 AM, shapeshifter said:

On the new spinoff “9-1-1: Lone Star,” this grammatical error took me out of the scene, because using a nonbinary pronoun is no reason to forego using the subject case, right?

"I'd like you to show him, or her, or they, it's okay to be who you are"
should have been:
"I'd like you to show him, or her, or them, it's okay to be who you are."

Right? Or is there some nuance I am missing?

You mean "the objective case." "They" IS in the subjective case.

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"Olivia Newton John will host a benefit for the Australian wildfires."

I'm sure the wildfires are grateful for her support.

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5 hours ago, Mondrianyone said:

Just in general on this board, it might be helpful for folks to Google the term "Muphry's law."

I would google "Muphry's Law," but I'm afraid of what might turn up.

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Just now, Milburn Stone said:

I'm afraid of what might turn up.

Fear not.  It'll just make you laugh.  It's definitely a truism, though.  Which is why it's Muphry's law rather than Muphry's inkling.  👮‍♀️

Edited by Mondrianyone · Reason: Stray punctuation. Thanks, Muphry.
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7 hours ago, legaleagle53 said:
On 1/24/2020 at 10:06 AM, shapeshifter said:

On the new spinoff “9-1-1: Lone Star,” this grammatical error took me out of the scene, because using a nonbinary pronoun is no reason to forego using the subject case, right?

"I'd like you to show him, or her, or they, it's okay to be who you are"
should have been:
"I'd like you to show him, or her, or them, it's okay to be who you are."

Right? Or is there some nuance I am missing?

You mean "the objective case." "They" IS in the subjective case

Yes. I think I need an editor. 

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Per his pronunciation, Rick Steves (pretentious travel writer/broadcaster) seems to think "expat" is spelled "expate". 

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2 hours ago, Brookside said:

Per his pronunciation, Rick Steves (pretentious travel writer/broadcaster) seems to think "expat" is spelled "expate". 

Actually, that pronunciation makes sense.  "Expat" is a shortened version of the noun "expatriate" (with the same definition, natch.)  And "expatriate" is pronounced with long "a"'s; not the short "a" of "expat".

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3 hours ago, SVNBob said:

Actually, that pronunciation makes sense.  "Expat" is a shortened version of the noun "expatriate" (with the same definition, natch.)  And "expatriate" is pronounced with long "a"'s; not the short "a" of "expat".

Maybe it depends where you're from.   I'm European but have lived in the US for over 20 years and no-one has ever referred to me as an "expate".  Ah, English.  The more you think about the pronunciation and spelling of it, the whackier it gets.

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On 7/5/2019 at 5:18 PM, shapeshifter said:

I've been guilty (more times than I can count) of beginning with, "I'm probably overthinking this, but . . ." as a tactic to get someone who is set on one opinion to consider mine. 
Does that put me somewhere on the sociopath or narcissist spectrums? 
I'm probably overthinking this. 😉 

Actually, I like the idea of using the word as a tactic. It pre-deflects criticism that you are overthinking, and makes the other person more receptive.

There are times when I don't mind being accused of overthinking. That is when I can see the truth of the claim, and realize that I'm creating anxiety for myself when none is needed. Then there are other times I bristle at the word, because it's quite clear to me that I'm doing exactly the right amount of thinking to avert catastrophe. And I'm right.

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On 2/15/2020 at 8:26 AM, legaleagle53 said:

Not always. Singular "they" has actually been in use since the 1400s.

You mean "the objective case." "They" IS in the subjective case.

The OED has long been my nemesis, so it does not surprise me that it would continue to fight and win. 😉

Seriously though, I didn't find that argument all that compelling other than the old "language evolves" point, which mostly means that people make grammar mistakes and eventually everyone accepts it and the rules change. But that doesn't change the fact that they were (in the past 300 years or so) generally agreed upon mistakes in their time.  To go back to 1375 for an example of how "they" was used as a singular in English seems like special pleading to me. No English teacher of the last few hundred years would have taught that "they" is an acceptable substitute for "he" or "she". Certainly none of mine ever mentioned that it was once acceptable, but no longer is, and none ever spoke about it like a "thee" or "thou" situation either. Maybe my education sucked.

But correctly, I should have said "in my lifetime", or "for the last few hundred years", "they" has been singular. Any use of "they" as a singular was seen as either laziness or ignorance, and it was always "tsk"ed to high Heaven.  So to be all, "We've used "they" as a singular since forever!" seems like special pleading. I mean, be fair, the writer dug up one example from a time when the English they spoke needs to be translated into the English we speak. To act like DUH, "they" has always been a singular option, comes across, to me anyway, as disingenuous. 

I am not a grammarian (obvi), I'm really fine with an evolving language, and I'm happy to use whatever pronoun someone prefers, but now that we are at the start of a change, I am putting in my appeal for a different spelling -- stay with the they, but spell it "thei" or something. This will avoid the awkwardness that our lack of a second person plural sometimes causes. And with they acting as a singular, we'll have a new batch of "Is it they, they, or they, everyone?" questions that create confusion. We already have to contend with the "not you personally" stuff because of this, why ask for more.

And give us a second person plural in English, too. I vote for You all or y'all -- but plural, not singular! New can of worms. Le sigh.

 

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22 hours ago, Brookside said:

Maybe it depends where you're from.   I'm European but have lived in the US for over 20 years and no-one has ever referred to me as an "expate".  Ah, English.  The more you think about the pronunciation and spelling of it, the whackier it gets.

I think you misunderstood me.  I wasn't saying that "expate" is correct in any way.  AFAIK, no one uses that pronunciation except the source you were quoting.

I was merely saying there is a logical and sensible train of thought that would lead to that incorrectness, based on the etymology.

 

17 hours ago, Jel said:

And give us a second person plural in English, too. I vote for You all or y'all -- but plural, not singular! New can of worms. Le sigh.

 

I believe that "you" was originally the 2nd person plural pronoun.  The original 2nd person singular was "thee".  Maybe we should advocate the return of that instead.

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On 2/17/2020 at 6:04 AM, Brookside said:

Maybe it depends where you're from.   I'm European but have lived in the US for over 20 years and no-one has ever referred to me as an "expate".  Ah, English.  The more you think about the pronunciation and spelling of it, the whackier it gets.

Maybe it's regional, but I rarely see "no one" written as "no-one."  

Speaking of "no one," I want to chew on a rag when I see "noone."  

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Couldn't agree with you more, @Jel, in your attack on the singular "they."

To me, it's non-acceptability is a matter of whether it appears in speech, informal writing, or formal writing. In speech, everyone uses the singular "they" all the time; nothing wrong with it. In informal writing (tweets, memes, posts on message boards), it's OK, if using "he or she" is clumsy. But in formal writing (i.e., articles, college essays, books, etc.)? A dealbreaker. If I start a book and come upon the use of "they" or "them" as a singular, I make an instantaneous judgment that this person can't write, and I'm not interested in anything else he or she has to say.

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23 hours ago, Jel said:

I am putting in my appeal for a different spelling -- stay with the they, but spell it "thei"

Perfect. And the OED will eventually cite @Jel‘s post as its first instance.  

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I know language evolution sounds like a weak argument, but it's true.  They isn't even originally an English pronoun at all (it comes from Old Norse, the English form was hie)

Singular they doesn't bother me, since I think it evolved from the generic they (as in: They drive on the left in the UK).  Personally it sounds weirder to me when they is used for someone specific, because of the history as a generic pronoun.

My personal theory is that we started using they as a gender neutral pronoun due to an old almost subconscious animate/inanimate distinction in the language (which is why no one adopted it as a gender neutral form)

On 2/18/2020 at 2:32 AM, SVNBob said:

I believe that "you" was originally the 2nd person plural pronoun.  The original 2nd person singular was "thee".  Maybe we should advocate the return of that instead.

Originally it was ye (you was the objective form) and the singular was thou/thee.

On 2/17/2020 at 8:37 AM, Jel said:

And give us a second person plural in English, too. I vote for You all or y'all -- but plural, not singular! New can of worms. Le sigh.

We have a lot of choices, depending on dialects: y'all, all y'all, youse, even yinz (from you ones).

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What it really all comes down to is not an argument over whether language evolves--we all know it does--but what grammar usage signifies to others in a given time. Adhering to the rules of grammar generally accepted by educated people in a given time signifies that you are one of those educated people. You will be judged on the basis of the understanding you show of those rules. You will be found wanting in your ability to apply logic to the organization of your thoughts if you fail at the logic of grammar in the time in which you live. That is why it is a good thing not to fail.

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18 hours ago, supposebly said:

From this^ OED article: 

Quote

And eighteenth-century grammarians like Robert Lowth and Lindley Murray regularly tested students on thou as singular, you as plural, despite the fact that students used singular you when their teachers weren’t looking, and teachers used singular you when their students weren’t looking. Anyone who said thou and thee was seen as a fool and an idiot, or a Quaker, or at least hopelessly out of date.

. . . Not everyone is down with singular they. The well-respected Chicago Manual of Style still rejects singular they for formal writing, and just the other day a teacher told me that he still corrects students who use everyone … their in their papers, though he probably uses singular they when his students aren’t looking

And now I'm wondering if this:
"a teacher told me that he still corrects students who use everyone … their in their papers, though he probably uses singular they when his students aren’t looking"
means the teacher told the author that the teacher uses singular their, or if the author is just assuming that the teacher does. 
Probably the former, but it's not clear.

 

 

Edited by shapeshifter

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"Diana is the mother of Prince William, future king and grand mother to Prince George, also future king."

The wonder of genetics.

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1 hour ago, Brookside said:

"Diana is the mother of Prince William, future king and grand mother to Prince George, also future king."

The wonder of genetics.

That's like saying that King Edward VII was the father of future king Albert Victor.  Yeah, he was the heir, but he never became king.  They can't predict the future.

 

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On 2/18/2020 at 2:32 AM, SVNBob said:

 

I think you misunderstood me.  I wasn't saying that "expate" is correct in any way.  AFAIK, no one uses that pronunciation except the source you were quoting.

I was merely saying there is a logical and sensible train of thought that would lead to that incorrectness, based on the etymology.

 

 

I believe that "you" was originally the 2nd person plural pronoun.  The original 2nd person singular was "thee".  Maybe we should advocate the return of that instead.

Only if you get the cases right. "Thee" and "you" are both in the objective case. The nominative (subject) case for them is "thou" and "ye," respectively, with "thy, thine" and "your, yours" as the genitive (possessive).

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I hate the structure of this sentence. There should be a rule—if not a law—against using “Doing so…after…where…from when…can lead to…being …,” especially when the purpose of the writing is to convey information to the public. 

Quote

However, most people tend to touch their faces more often than they realize. Doing so after touching a surface where droplets from when someone sneezed or coughed can lead to the virus being passed on. (nytimes.com/article/airplane-flying-coronavirus-spread.html)

 

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1 hour ago, shapeshifter said:

I hate the structure of this sentence. There should be a rule—if not a law—against using “Doing so…after…where…from when…can lead to…being …,” especially when the purpose of the writing is to convey information to the public. 

 

They could have avoided some of the awkwardness with just a bit of rewriting. "Doing so after touching a surface contaminated by droplets from someone's cough or sneeze can lead to the virus being passed on."

Edited by rainsmom
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2 hours ago, rainsmom said:

They could have avoided some of the awkwardness with just a bit of rewriting. "Doing so after touching a surface contaminated by droplets from someone's cough or sneeze can lead to the virus being passed on."

Yes! Or maybe even better if they want scare more readers into compliance: "Doing so after touching a surface contaminated by droplets from someone's cough or sneeze can lead to the virus being inserted into one's body."

Instead of clearly communicating how to avoid a life-and-death risk, in a major news publication we got a string of near-nonsense words seemingly obfuscated by MS Word's grammar check.

Edited by shapeshifter
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The sentence is not only awkward, it is ungrammatical, because it lacks a key verb to go with the noun "droplets."

To become grammatical (while still being awkward) the sentence needs a verb after "coughed," or slightly less awkwardly, after "droplets." Like so: Doing so after touching a surface where droplets from when someone sneezed or coughed exist can lead to the virus being passed on. Or...Doing so after touching a surface where droplets exist from when someone sneezed or coughed can lead to the virus being passed on.

The sentence as written is as confusing as it is because it lacks a necessary verb.

 

Edited by Milburn Stone
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2 hours ago, Milburn Stone said:

The sentence is not only awkward, it is ungrammatical, because it lacks a key verb to go with the noun "droplets."

To become grammatical (while still being awkward) the sentence needs a verb after "coughed," or slightly less awkwardly, after "droplets." Like so: Doing so after touching a surface where droplets from when someone sneezed or coughed exist can lead to the virus being passed on. Or...Doing so after touching a surface where droplets exist from when someone sneezed or coughed can lead to the virus being passed on.

The sentence as written is as confusing as it is because it lacks a necessary verb.

 

I too thought it was missing a necessary part of speech too (subject), but after rereading it decided it was not. 
For the verb, doesn't "can lead" suffice?

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3 hours ago, shapeshifter said:

I too thought it was missing a necessary part of speech too (subject), but after rereading it decided it was not. 
For the verb, doesn't "can lead" suffice?

No, because "can lead" relates to the noun-functioning gerund "doing so." Within this overly complex sentence is an interior phrase in which the word "droplets" needs its own verb.

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"Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law."

I've never understood this. Can anyone explain?  I'm fine with "can", but "will"?

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31 minutes ago, Brookside said:

"Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law."

I've never understood this. Can anyone explain?  I'm fine with "can", but "will"?

I’m not a lawyer, don’t play one on TV, and have never been “read my rights,” but I always assumed it was kind a threat/warning like adding the word “posted” to the No Trespassing signs. 
BTW, I was perhaps inappropriately joyful to see that the 3 ft. higher-than-normal Lake Michigan had toppled those signs during the winter storms. (Here in Illinois the law states that the “high water line” of the lake is “public access.”)

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2 hours ago, Brookside said:

"Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law."

I've never understood this. Can anyone explain?  I'm fine with "can", but "will"?

Yeah, the "will" part never made sense to me, either, but I've heard it so many times on TV now that I'm numb to it.

Like, if one of the things you say to the cops is "Good morning, officers," that's going to be used against you?

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The World Health Organization announced Tuesday the global mortality rate from coronavirus was 3.4%. The death rate so far — which includes more than 3,000 deaths — is many times higher than the mortality rate of the seasonal flu, which is 0.1%. WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said that is at least partly because COVID-19 is a new disease, and no one has built up an immunity to it.  LA Times

Say what?  So according to the LA Times, 3.4% of the world's population has died from coronavirus.   The death rate "includes more than 3,000 deaths"?  Were there people who were resurrected?

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8 hours ago, Brookside said:

The World Health Organization announced Tuesday the global mortality rate from coronavirus was 3.4%. The death rate so far — which includes more than 3,000 deaths — is many times higher than the mortality rate of the seasonal flu, which is 0.1%. WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said that is at least partly because COVID-19 is a new disease, and no one has built up an immunity to it.  LA Times

Say what?  So according to the LA Times, 3.4% of the world's population has died from coronavirus.   The death rate "includes more than 3,000 deaths"?  Were there people who were resurrected?

I'm not a public health official, but I interpret the phrase differently than you do. (And consequently I don't see an error.) I assume from context that global mortality rate means not "what percentage of people in the world have died from this" but "what percentage of people in the world who are known to have contracted the disease have died from it." If there are any public health officials on this forum who can tell me that my interpretation of the phrase is incorrect, I'll yield the floor.

Edited by Milburn Stone
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That's the way any illness will be discussed. When they say the survival rate from pancreatic cancer is 7%, that refers to people who have been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.

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17 hours ago, Brookside said:

"Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law."

I've never understood this. Can anyone explain?  I'm fine with "can", but "will"?

I always understood it to mean that anything said that could possibly be used against you would be used against you if they bring it to trial.  Like if you tell the police you were walking near the crime scene when it happened the prosecutor will bring that up in court.

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The phrase “being that” has always grated on me - “Being that those employees are under contract” (from a story on Yahoo).  Shouldn’t it just be “since”?

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51 minutes ago, Mittengirl said:

The phrase “being that” has always grated on me - “Being that those employees are under contract” (from a story on Yahoo).  Shouldn’t it just be “since”?

"Since" would work fine, but "being that" is not incorrect.

Hey, be thankful they're not saying "It being the case that..." Which would also not be incorrect.

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14 minutes ago, Milburn Stone said:

"Since" would work fine, but "being that" is not incorrect.

Hey, be thankful they're not saying "It being the case that..." Which would also not be incorrect.

That sounds like legalese.

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Someone commented elsewhere about this spelling transgression: "Oh, the whorer!"

1462651809877.jpg

Edited by shapeshifter
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Just now, BlackberryJam said:

I can't decide if that's a statement about political systems or transphobia. Or is it both?

Well, it's mostly an indictment of the public school system --or was the sign painter home schooled? 
I want to see a mashup of that Liberty Mutual commercial guy who gets dubbed because he says things like "Libbity bibbity" in his failed takes, with this sign in the background.

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This is for now the country’s first virtual campaign, as the risk of disease physically separates candidates from the people they seek to represent, and pushes officeseekers from [candidate’s name removed] on down to appeal to homebound voters and contributors through balky web videos.”

Is the word “balky” used correctly in this news article? I don’t think “web videos” are equivalent to engines in this definition unless the videos we’re having technical problems: 

Quote

Definition of balky

: refusing or likely to refuse to proceed, act, or function as directed or expected 

  • a balky mule
  • a balky engine

(merriam-webster.com/dictionary/balky)

Or is it an acceptably creative, new use of the term likely to make its way into the OED?

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