Pedantry or Accuracy?

Now, I don’t quite remember the book The Screwtape Letters, but the other evening I saw the play put on by Saltmine at Edinburgh Fringe. And in the play, Screwtape talks about how people misuse words all the time, and many of them with the result of destroying virtue — and those who object are called “pedants”, rather than considered rationally.

Perhaps I am a pedant; perhaps I am merely accurate.

However, how hard is it to learn a few simple rules to produce more accurate use of the English language?

Fewer vs. Less

If you can quantify (that is, count) something, use fewer, if not, use less.

“Less flour” but “fewer apples”

The rule is that easy to learn. And if you Google “fewer”, you get all sorts of results that teach the difference between fewer and less.

Thus, at the blog cute overload, the post ought to be “More Veggies, Fewer Wedgies,” not “More Veggies, Less Wedgies“. It even sounds wrong as it stands. But the hamster is cute — one may argue that the hamster is the whole point, but I don’t see why one can’t speak about cuteness with accurate use of English.

Apparently, fewer women are working in television and film according to PerezHilton.com. Yet the headline reads, “Where My Girls At?! Reports Show Less Women Are Working In Hollywood?” I understand that dropping forms of the the verb to be is acceptable practice in various inflected languages; no doubt Perez Hilton was thinking of Latin usage when coming up with this headline, although the needless at concluding the opening query is a bit puzzling; “Where are my girls at?” really makes no sense. So, perhaps, after an opening like that, one ought not really to expect much, right?

Furthermore, why is there a question mark at the end of this title?

The Clutch Blog also discusses “58 Classic Novels In 33 Words Or Less“. It also capitalises the letter I on a preposition of fewer than four letters in a title, something I am given to understand is bad practice in English-language titles.

News sites are no better than blogs, unfortunately. And advertising boggles the imagination.

Everyday vs. Every day

Yesterday at Tesco Express I saw a sign advertising that the bakery items were baked fresh “everyday”. This is nonsensical.

Everyday is an adjective that describes something as being perhaps ordinary or humdrum or typical. Maybe even bland. As an adjective, it must needs modify a noun. You cannot bake everyday. It just is not possible.

You can, however, bake every day. Every day is a temporal adverbial construction that requires the use of the space bar. It can modify verbs in ways than an adjective such as everyday cannot.

“An everyday bakery” vs. “I bake every day”

Apostrophes

I had students this past term who did not understand apostrophes at all. One student in a rebellious essay of punctuational (I don’t actually know the word for this) warfare eschewed them altogether. Another would put them after the letter S every time, without fail. Another student put them before the S every once in a while when, given that we were discussing Achilles or Trojans, it really belonged after the S.

The apostrophe catastrophes mentioned above all surround the use of apostrophes in possessives. The apostrophe comes before the S if you are adding an S to the word being modified. If the word being modified already ends in S such as Achilles or most English plurals (Trojans, Danaans), you add the apostrophe after the S.

“Achilles’ shield” or “the Trojans’ champion” vs. “Hector’s helmet” or “Agamemnon’s pride”

If misuse of apostrophes bothers you, there are two blogs to help fuel your ire/laughter: Apostrophe Abuse and Apostrophe Catastrophes. On a related note, there is also the excellent “Blog” of “Unnecessary” Quotation Marks.

Its vs. It’s

In the world of apostrophes, people frequently make this error. I’m not even going to Google it because it would be too confusing. The rule is breathtakingly simple: There are two versions of this letter combination. One is a contraction, one is not. Contractions always have apostrophes in English. Therefore, the possessive is its and the contraction is it’s. Every time, without fail.

“It’s raining outside, so the Martian is putting on its leathers.”

Now, these are but a few examples. Nonetheless, learning a mere few grammar, punctuation, and word usage rules would make one’s speech and writing (elocution, if you will) more clear, more accurate, and more pleasant for all involved.

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