Niagara Gazette

February 23, 2013

LETTERS FROM THE ISLAND: Grammar that'll drive you to drink

By Doug and Polly Smith
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — Dear Mainland Imbibers — Old Saddlesoap has recanted. You could have knocked Doug down with a swizzle stick. It was just last Saturday that we ranted about how higher-ups planned to water down Doug’s favorite nightcap, justifying the dilution with a cock-and-bull yarn about shortages.

As a courtesy, he cc’d Old Saddlesoap management. By Sunday, the company told him it had changed its mind. Power of the press! (Now if we could just get people to yield at the Three Stooges Memorial Roundabout.) Even Jay Leno joked about it Tuesday night, but never mentioned our vital role. Ah, well, who needs fame when our whiskey (Maker’s Mark, actually) holds at 90 proof.

Even the experts were staggered. Bourbonologist Chuck Chowdry had blogged, “There will be a hew and cry for a few days, and then it will be forgotten.” Which brings us, then, to our quarterly lurch down Grammar Alley. It’s “hue and cry,” from a 16th Century English legal practice concerning the pursuit of felons, presumably including distillers of watery hooch. “Hue” derives from an antique French word for “yell.” A few more hues and cries ...

• “If your driverless car does get in an accident, whom is to blame, you or the software developer?” asked Froma Harrop of Creators Syndicate. Froma, a fine writer, needs to recalculate here. A car gets “into an accident,” and it’s “who is to blame.”

• To “Sad,” Dear Abby advised – “Your husband should try to convince his parents to get counseling.” In obitting a-bomb pioneer Donald Hornig, The Week magazine said “He declined (the job) until the president of Harvard University called and convinced him to take it.” In both instances, the subjects were “persuaded,” not “convinced.” We persuade people to act (even some distillers) and convince them of facts or opinions.

• An intriguing piece on puzzle-designers noted, “Some of the great crossword constructors will try and make a picture with their black squares.” No, they will try TO make a picture. Two-letter word for “prelude to an infinitive.”

• “Otherwise, they’re relegated to nearby side streets, like sophomore Kate Wilson,” according to an article about parking problems at Daemen College in Eggertsville. Taken literally, this suggests that three years short of her degree, Katie has had a street named for her. Then there’s the matter of “like” as opposed to such as. Here, two sentences get there faster than one:

“Otherwise, they’re relegated to nearby side streets. Sophomore Katie Williams says, ‘Etc., etc.’ “

• “Writing in her passive shrug voice, Penny Marshall’s memoir is one of a career built on no great striving,” said a reviewer of Marshall’s “My Mother Was Nuts.” That construction suggests that the memoir wrote itself. Either “Written in her passive shrug voice…” or “Penny pens a memoir, etc.” would restore sanity.

And we’d be nuts to go on. Class dismissed. Cheers. Come visit. Bring ice.

Polly and DougE-mail