Niagara Gazette

September 29, 2012

LETTERS TO THE ISLAND: Getting after bad grammar

By Doug and Polly Smith
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — Dear Mainland Spell-Checkers — Here’s our quarterly critique of media grammar, starting with TV, which we normally excuse as spontaneously accident-prone.

Bill O’Reilly Tuesday trashed an entertainer called Madonna, possibly named for a long-ago Niagara Falls girls’ high school.

In a political rant during a performance, she invoked President Lincoln and Dr. King, concluding that they had “not died for nothing.”

O’Reilly took her to task for the double negative.

Actually, her grammar was correct. She might have said “they died for something,” but that wouldn’t have the impact. That’s the sort of precision they taught at Madonna High.

But O’Reilly, who during a “War on Christmas” crusade said that Irving Berlin had written “Silent Night,” probably could care less.

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WHAT’S TO LIKE

: From ArtVoice, July 5 – “Our screens are inundated with Republicans. Pathologically greedy ones like Mitt Romney, mean nasty ones like Rick Santorum, bullies like Newt Gingrich, morons like Sarah Palin…(etc., several more similar cited),” this from a tenured SUNY professor. Sorry, prof, they are not LIKE Mitt, Rick, Newt, etc., they ARE Mitt, Rick, Newt, etc. Even morons know that “SUCH AS” Mitt, etc., is correct. Taxes on people like us pay your salary, which makes us mean and nasty, too.

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STATE OF EDITING

: From the Tonawanda News, June — “I will be stepping in to take a larger role in the evening production process, previously more the city editor’s providence,” Even in Rhode Island, that would be “provenance,” an area of authority. With a small “p,” providence is evidence of grace.

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ONE AND ONLY

: From Baseball America, July 2012 – “Speare has been a trailblazer in ballpark design. Each of his stadiums are unique, but each also share a trait that began back in Buffalo.” This sentence runs back and forth between singular and plural like a base-stealer in a rundown. Correct: “Each of his stadiums IS unique, but each also SHARES a trait that began back in Buffalo.” Thanks for the plug, though.

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HELP WANTED

: From a local feature story, Sept. 2012 – “What’s a parent to do when their child reaches for candy at the checkout?” For one thing, tell the brat never to match a plural pronoun (their) with a single noun (parent.) The language needs a slap on the wrist, too, for failing to provide a gender-neutral singular pronoun. Try either “What’s a parent to do when A child reaches…” or “What are parents to do when THEIR child…” Trick or treat.

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INITIALLY INCORRECT

: From Associated Press, August 2012 – “The dispatch from President Harry S. Truman’s Navy secretary said…” We were going to give ‘em hell, as the 33rd President’s middle initial stands for nothing, a compromise involving two relatives whose names both began with “S.” Strictly speaking, he’s Harry S Truman (no period), but he himself punctuated it several times in signatures, and that’s good enough for us.

Come visit. Bring some bad examples.

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