Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Adventures in Bad Grammar

Lately, because of all my travels, I have had lots of time to read. The Urbana Free Library has a huge collection, so I've simply taken library books on my journeys. I've been enjoying a series of books about antebellum Savannah lately.

Now, I admit to being a bit anal retentive about grammar and spelling. But there's something in these otherwise enjoyable books that really gets to me. The author has these exchanges where people are discussing slavery, for example. So person A says, "I believe X," to which, person B replies, "Everyone doesn't believe X."

This really gets to me, because person B's reply is logically impossible. Saying "Everyone doesn't believe X" means that there is no person who believes X, when, plainly, person A does believe X. What she should say is, "Not everyone believes X." It is the word "everyone" that should be negated.

The same sort of problem occurs when people misplace the word "only." This morning, I heard a commercial on the radio about some sort of steak that you could "only get at Outback." I think I know what they mean, that this type of steak is unique to Outback, but the "only" in that phrase is modifying "get," which makes it sound like they mean that the single thing you may do concerning that steak is to get it. You can't order it or eat it. You can only get it at Outback. What they should have said was you can "get it only at Outback."

I'm not even going to get started on my personal pet peeve, the misuse of it's. "It's" is short for "it is." "It's" is a contraction and it does not mean "belonging to it." "Its" means "belonging to it." I don't know why, but for me, this mistake is particularly jarring.

I know I am guilty of my own grammatical mistakes. For example, I have a tendency to use too many commas. And until my advisor pointed them out to me, I didn't know the differences between "compare with" and "compare to" or "topology" and "topography."

Answer for "compare to/with": Remember the line from the sonnet by Shakespeare: "Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?" Compare to compares two unlike things (e.g. you and a summer's day) and compare with compares two like things (e.g. two algorithms).

1 comment:

Gregg Guetschow said...

I am happy to learn that there are others concerned with grammar. I thought I was alone, particularly among the denizens of the blogosphere. I have a grammar-related post coming to one of my blogs in a couple of days in addition to one on a related topic on May 30, if you are interested. Now, just because I'm curious, how many times did you re-edit this post in an effort to get the grammar just right?