Month: December 2007

Is ‘Oh, My God!’ Sacrilegious?

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This debate passed me by altogether until I chanced upon a Washington Post story this morning, but it appears that there’s consternation over the widespread use of “Oh, my God!”

Some argue that it’s taking God’s name in vain, others that it’s just an everyday expression similar to “Oh, my Gosh” or “Oh, s—!”  (People sometimes add a “holy” to the “s” expression, so does that make that saying sacrilegious as well?)

You read “Watch Your Acronyms” and decide for yourself.

Categories: Grammar Sucks

Happy Holiday Musings

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Sorry, but I’ve been caught up in the holiday bustle of shopping and returning presents and not minding the blog so much.

I’ve also been sampling some of the movies mentioned as Oscar favorites.  One proved very literary; the other was more lyrical (and gory).

Atonement is the literary one.  The dialogue and voiceovers (internal thoughts) convey powerful, beautiful English, quite literary in tone.

Sweeney Todd is the lyrical one, literally because it’s a Broadway musical/opera that’s been made into a movie by Tim Burton.  The story is a good one, but the effects are quite gory.  (If you don’t know the plot, just visit a site like and type in “Sweeney Todd.”)

Verdict?  Go to Atonement if you like literary works that fill the screen with both powerful visual images and powerful spoken English.  Go to Sweeney Todd if you’re a fan of either the Stephen Sondheim original or of Tim Burton.  If you go, however, be prepared for more blood than you’ve ever seen in your life.

Both movies are well worth your time.

Categories: Grammar Sucks

It’s Hard to Attack Reality

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I’ve already concluded from the scores and hundreds of college classes I’ve taught that at best only one in 100 college students even has a clue that the word their exists.  Most students just routinely right there whether they need it as an adverb or possessive pronoun. 

With this much widespread ignorance and abuse, I’m sure the gool ol’ obligin’ folk at the Oxford English Dictionary will soon sign off on the use of there as both adverb and possessive pronoun.  Oh, sad day. 

Now, here’s a cute double-whammy I came across this morning in one of my U.S. history classes.

A student did some research on presidents and discovered that only 19 in total ever served at least four years (seems low, though I didn’t challenge it), but her rationale was more revealing:  Since, she wrote, most people don’t become president until they’re really old in their (she wrote there) 60s, they quickly die of hard attacks.

You can’t argue with such logic.

Categories: Grammar Sucks

Mitchell Goes Yard, Fehr Whiffs

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I don’t know how many of you live in the United States, and of those who do how many follow baseball, but I spent yesterday watching, first, the George Mitchell news conference on steroid use among athletes, and then, union boss Donald Fehr’s response a few hours later.

I thought both men were well spoken with reasonable statements and arguments, but that aside, let me judge their English usage.

Mitchell was impeccable in his grammar.  At one point in a long sentence beginning with everyone–and then interrupted by a bunch of names in between–he even managed to get the correct singular usage of the verb to match his subject.  Most people would’ve gotten confused by all the names listed in between and reverted to an incorrect plural verb.

Mitchell gets a home run for his English performance.

Now, Fehr–who tended to speak more circuitously but not necessarily incorrectly–did make one boo-boo (which is why I said he “whiffs”) when he said he had given something “to he….”

Naughty, naughty–prepostions always (a simple rule) take the objective case, so he should’ve said “to him.”

Okay, Fehr hit a triple rather than whiffing, but I had to make a contrasing headline.

It’s baseball that struck out.

Categories: Grammar Sucks

Building Blocks of English XIII: Verb Mood

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English employs three verb moods–indicative, imperative and subjunctive.

Indicative mood is for simple statements, while the imperative is for commands:  “Run!”

However, it’s the subjunctive, represeting a wish or untrue situation, that befuddles virtually every English speaker.

Remember the line from the song in Fiddler on the Roof, “If I was a rich man…”?

Completely wrong verb usage!

Since the singer (“I”) is expressing an untrue situation, or a wish, the verb must be changed to the plural subjunctive form, were: “If I were a rich man….”

If can be a big indicator that the subjunctive mood is called for, but not invariably.  I wish is a definite call for the subjective:  “I wish you were more serious.”

For more examples, peruse this handy guide.

Categories: Grammar Sucks

New Grammar Questions Answered System in Place


Because a lot of immature fools out there can’t handle the responsibility of free speech, I’ve deleted my grammar questions forum and instituted an e-mail form for you to send me your grammar questions.

All serious grammar questions will be answered by a posting on my main page.  Please send serious grammar questions only.  My delete button is quite functional, as it was with the now-defunct grammar forum.  Sad, sad, sad.

Categories: Grammar Sucks

‘It Is What It Is’–Or Is It?

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Out where I live in California, the saying, "It is what it is," is gaining a lot of use and cachet.

However, what exactly does it mean?  It seems to be one of those usages that, like awesome, has somehow become the saying du jour.

There’s nothing wrong with this particular sentence, but I’ve always wondered how certain words and sayings make the rounds.

Is this an example of viral language (like viral marketing)?

Categories: Grammar Sucks

Building Blocks of English XII: Verb Voice

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Whenever I teach a grammar/writing class, invariably more than a few students (read: a majority) keep confusing passive voice with past tense.  (I covered tenses in a previous Building Blocks post.)

English verbs can have just two voices–active and passive.

The active voice is what you employ for almost everything you say.

Active:  "I am sitting at my desk typing a blog post."

Simple, straightforward English that depicts an action taking place–that’s the active voice.

Now, were I to make this into a passive voice sentence (I can’t imagine why I would, however), it would read something like this:

"A blog post is being typed by me while I am sitting at my desk."

Notice that the whole point of the passive voice is to turn the object (of an active voice sentence) into the subject.  In this example, blog post has switched from being the direct object to being the subject.  That’s why you end up with the passive voice verb construction, is being typed

To make things even more ridiculous to the ear–and to the comprehension–to change the subject of the active sentence, I, to the object, I has to take the form of a prepositional phrase, by me.  (And in this example, getting that "sitting at my desk" part in there is really cumbersome.)

I didn’t pick the greatest example, but here’s another.

Active:  "I am eating a hamburger."

Passive:  "The hamburger is being eaten by me."

The distinguishing feature between active and passive is that the passive construction actually starts with an object in a role reversal as a subject.

Bottom line:  Avoid the passive voice as much as possible.  Leave it to scientists ("the patient was observed to expire after three weeks of non-feeding") and crime scene investigators ("the body was found in a pool of blood").

English grammar was indeed found to be complicated when the student shouted in frustration, "English grammar sucks!"

Categories: Grammar Sucks