A few days ago, I was reading an entertainment blog I follow on occasion. The main writer is a talented young scribe who walks the fine line between creative writing and, well, overwriting. Sometimes he crosses that line, but I always cut him slack because he backs up his grandiose style with plenty of substance. But because I’m an editor by trade, there are certain things that annoy me to no end, namely when a writer goes the distance but makes the same mistake every time. In this writer’s case, it’s his penchant for inserting a hyphen after an adverb, which is not only incorrect but “overly-annoying” to members of the punctuation police.
I considered posting a comment on his blog but decided against being overly annoying myself. So I’ll just add a page to my own site where I can rant about such crimes against grammar. I’m no Harvard professor, and this section of my website isn’t for those seeking grammatical perfection. In fact, I’m always looking for ways to make my writing better and welcome any constructive criticism (but only constructive; anyone offering insults will be promptly ignored). That said, let’s get started…
Now that the introduction’s out of the way, it’s time to tackle our first topic. Thankfully, it didn’t take long for me to decide what it should be. It’s the one thing that bugs me more than any other writing error — the unnecessary apostrophe.
From the somewhat excusable (“bring along some mix CD’s of 1980’s MP3’s…”) to the totally uncalled for (“photo’s by…”), this phenomenon never fails to ruffle my literary feathers. I’m not even talking about the misplaced apostrophe, such as in the countless “Veteran’s Days” that apparently honor only one veteran, or the ongoing confusion over “its” and “it’s.”
When used correctly, the apostrophe is a means to show possession or denote a missing letter or letters (or numbers). Although it’s a point of debate among word people, there are instances in which an apostrophe can be used to form the plural of a single letter, such as “straight A’s,” which could be confusing without the apostrophe (straight As… an arrow?). Of course, the best solution is to avoid getting into the situation in the first place. Instead of writing, “she got all A’s,” perhaps try, “she got an A in every subject,” or, “she’s a straight-A student.” That way it doesn’t have to be a “pain in the A’s.”
• • •
I just spent way too much time reading various celebrity Twitter pages, and it seems my attention is compromised at the moment. To keep things moving quickly, here’s a random list of pet peeves.
• Misnomers — I was listening to NPR the other day (can’t recall the show; sorry), and the host talked about the “six-month anniversary” of an event. I know I’m not cool enough to be on the radio, but even as a lowly Internet scribe I know there’s no such thing as a six-month anniversary. Now, a six-year anniversary is a very real thing, what with anni being the prefix and all. What the host with(out) the most should have said is, “Next week marks six months since” the event.
• He said, she said — The word “said” really is a beautiful thing. Yet, for whatever reason, it’s just not good enough for some people. When it comes to attribution, they insist on being cutesy, using words like “exclaimed” and “maintained” and (my least favorite) “beamed.” The word “said” serves a purpose, and that purpose is to identify the speaker. Think of it as a glorified punctuation mark.
• Who is that? — Do you see that table over there? It’s a thing. It’s a that. Sitting at the table is your buddy Mike. Mike isn’t a thing; he’s a person — a who. Remember that the next time you’re tempted to write something like, “Mike is the person that sat at the table.” He’s the person who sat at the table. Mike has feelings, you know.
• Less/fewer — It’s simple enough, really. There is less stuff and fewer things. Get them confused, and you’ll have fewer readers and less of an audience. Although it’s not related, I’ll add a note about people who “could care less” about a particular thing. If you “could care less” about it, than that means you do care, possibly a lot. But if you “couldn’t care less about it,” then it’s basically dead to you. There’s pretty much no use for the former phrase, unless you just couldn’t care less about emphasis.
• Ampersands — These are best left for titles of artistic works, company names and as a way to shorten headlines and cutlines (captions). They should never appear in a normal sentence as a substitute for “and.” The same goes for writing things like “the show starts @ 8 p.m.” or “it’s only 95% complete.” Lay off the numbers keys, please.
• Punctuation in moderation — Semicolons should be used sparingly. However, I find that they’re underused in certain instances, most notably in quotes in which the writer uses a comma or an em dash to separate two independent clauses. It’s a simple enough rule, really. Oh, and exclamation points are pretty obnoxious when they appear every three sentences.