Author: Gary McCarty

If I Was a Rich Man…

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…I’d write more posts for this blog and I’d correct that subjunctive clause to its proper form: "If I were a rich man…."

Seeing as how I’m nowhere near rich, I have to grovel like everyone else to make a few bucks and keep the bankruptcy court at bay as long as I can.

When I applied for my latest writing gig, one of the interviewers asked me my pet peeve with misused English, and I answered "the subjunctive mood," which is clearly evident in the song, "If I Was a Rich Man," and in almost everyone’s everyday English when discussing conditional matters in an if construction.

However, I’d also have to rank verb coordination right there with the subjunctive.

For instance, look at this sentence:

"Neither he nor I are happy about this."

Anything wrong here?

Yes, indeed, there is.  In a neither/nor or either/or construction, there are two subjects, and sometimes one is singular and one is plural, or one is third person and one is first person, as in this example.

Since you can have only one verb in  neither/nor, either/or sentence, which of the two subjects determines the verb?  English rules dictate that the second subject determines the verb form.  Therefore, the above sentence should read:

"Neither he nor I am happy about this."

Sounds strange, huh?  But just like the people who predicted our current economic meltdown a year ago were considered strange, this proper usage is far from strange but absolutely spot on.

Categories: Grammar Sucks

His Far Left Dangling Modifier (and Person) Is Showing

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I picked up a copy of the New York Times on Thursday, but only because there were photos of a California wine shop I frequent and a story, of sorts, about its owner.

Somehow, in the process I stumped upon a weird feature with weirder photos and still weirder writing in the same section.  A piece by someone named Mike Albo entitled "No Frown Is Left Unturned," unfortunately, sucked me in and gobbled up precious moments of my time better spent in things like, um, daydreaming, shouting at my dog or doing nothing.

Anyway, I was about five paragraphs into this guy’s piece when I realized a) he has no clue how to use modifiers and clauses correctly and b) he’s a far-left-leaning, America-hating Vladimir Ilyich Lenin striker (Navy term for apprentice). 

Check out this whopper of a misconstructed but totally revealing sentence of his:

It’s totally weird, but after a quick promenade through the store, some deeply repressed part of myself [sic– me if he wants to use correct English] that has been buried for years under a morose cloud of apocalyptic doom was finally freed.

Ok, but who did the "quick promenade"?   There is no subject in the sentence who can take a promenade.  This ungrammatical part could’ve been cured by writing, "…after I made a quick promenade…."

I can cure the English grammar (though not the overwrough English), but no one can cure this person who hates the very country he lives in, and thus himself in the bargain.

Categories: Grammar Sucks

False Promises Through the Modern Use of English

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You must excuse me for being derelict in my English duties for the past couple of weeks.  I’ve been busy following our economic turmoil and watching way too much Cramerica (Jim Cramer and his Mad Money CNBC show).

I think I’ve written about George Orwell and his essay on "Politics and the English Language" before, but since we all just went through a nationwide election, it’s time to revisit this bit of Orwellian genius.  Take this passage:

A man may take to drink because he feels himself to be a failure, and then fail all the more completely because he drinks. It is rather the same thing that is happening to the English language.  It becomes ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are foolish, but the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts.

Now, those of you who voted for Barack Obama will no doubt conclude that John McCain uses slovenly language.  Maybe so; Obama is a more polished speaker, barrister and promissory artist that he is.  It is rather that I’d like to focus on the "foolish thoughts" observation of Orwell’s.

Was it anything but foolishness to believe that any one person could accomplish everything our president-elect promised.

Free health care?  Is anything really free?  We’ll all pay with lousier hospitals and long waiting lists.  Pull the troops out of Iraq so we can face an enlarged and more empowered Iran?  End our dependence on oil without building nuclear plants or allowing offshore drilling?  (I love the comment by the presiding party and its leaders: "Drilling won’t solve our problem."  I guess it’ll make it worse or do nothing, both of which assertions seem ridiculous and disingenous.)

It is more that people want to believe in the tooth fairy and thus hear what they want to hear. 

See, we’re all captive to our "foolish thoughts."

Categories: Grammar Sucks

Bring Back the Copyeditors and Proofreaders

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Leaving aside the question of the blatant liberal bias and news manipulation of the newspaper, the Los Angeles Times really needs to consider rehiring all the proofreaders and copyeditors it laid off to save money.

Here’s a setnece I read today in the Business section: "Chrysler is closing the plant because sales of the non-hybrid versions of the SUVs have been selling poorly."

Sales…have been selling poorly?  A copyeditor easily could have changed that to "moving slowly" to remove the redundancy and idiocy of the construction "sales…selling poorly."

Categories: Grammar Sucks

Department of Too Little, Too Late

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Let’s see.  AIG (American International Group) was unable to cover the insurance it issued on mortgage securities and other speculative financial instruments, so the U.S. government (read: we taxpayers) had to pony up $90 so the company could settle its insurance claims and remain in existence.

We’ve probably all heard about the lavish retreats AIG held after the bailout.  Now, today I read this headline in the Los Angeles Times: "AIG to freeze some exec pay."

How about making them pay back the bonuses they got for all that uncoverable (read: bogus) insurance they sold?

Categories: Grammar Sucks

Required Reading for Our Times: ‘The Great Crash 1929’

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Though if I were to agree with an economist most times and overall, it would be Milton Friedman, on the advice of Mad Money host Jim Cramer, I just read The Great Crash 1929 by economist John Kenneth Galbraith.

I’m not one to read books about the dismal science in general, but Cramer’s advice definitely was timely, so after reading it, I too am recommending Galbraith’s book unhesitatingly.  It’s a great read and highly enlightening.

Great Crash is written in a common-sense, common-person’s style that makes it a quick, engaging read.  (I finished it off in about three hours or less.)  However, you may want to look up the definitions of these words before reading it: usufruct, eupeptic and parthenogenesis.  Otherwise, you’ll encounter clear, concise, simple writing.

I must confess that, after reading Great Crash, I now have a more liberal leaning on governmental intervention in the economy, as Galbraith makes it clear that easy steps could’ve been taken to ameliorate and end the Great Depression possibly while it was in its early stages.  (Hint: Don’t balance the budget and keep money flowing.)

I found this passage on the next-to-last page of the book most illuminating for our current crisis:

"…it would be unwise to expose the economy to the shock of another major speculative collapse.  Some the new reinforcements might buckle.  Fissures might appear at other new and perhaps unexpected places.  Even the quick withdrawal from the economy of the spending that comes from stock market gains might be damaging."


Categories: Grammar Sucks

‘Jewel of Medina’ Doesn’t Reach Star Quality

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Editor’s Note: Beaufort Books is the same firm that published O.J. Simpson’s "If" book, and The Jewel of Medina has been largely panned as featuring little more than second-class romance novel writing.

By Fred Burton and Scott Stewart
Reprinted courtesy of STRATEGIC FORECASTING

“The Jewel of Medina,” a controversial work of historical fiction by American author Sherry Jones, was supposed to have gone on sale Oct. 15 in the United Kingdom. A series of events, however, have delayed its British release indefinitely. The book, which went on sale in the United States on Oct. 6, describes the life of Aisha, the young girl who became the Prophet Mohammed’s third — and according to many sources, favorite — wife
Some Muslims have labeled the book blasphemous and have branded the author an enemy of Islam. An associate professor of Islamic history at the University of Texas at Austin said Muslims would find the book very offensive and, in an August interview in The Wall Street Journal, likened it to soft-core pornography.
Read More

Categories: Grammar Sucks

Carina Chocano: Learn to Write to Audience or Quit

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Let’s see.  When I got my master’s degree in journalism, the standard was to write to a seventh-grade reader.  Unfortunately, some journalists are now writing to impress their former professors, or themselves, in some kind of college esteem deficit syndrome.

Case in point: Los Angeles Times film critic Carina Chocano.  Her reviews read like a college paper (I’ve been a university instructor since 1995) out to impress with convoluted sentences and words to impress academics and turn off the reader.

Just tell me if the movie is any good or not.  I don’t care about your college hang-ups, Carina.

Take this example:  Today, she wrote what was called "An Appreciation" for Paul Newman, who just died.  Check this sentence:

"What  is ‘Cool Hand Luke’ if not a polyamorous bromance writ large?"

Bromance is not a word to be found in the dictionary, so it’s either a typo or some kind of Hollyweird lingo that needs a parenthetical explanation.  Polyamarous, meaning sleeping with many, is fine, but seventh graders won’t understand it, though one’s former profeessors might be impressed.

In short, remember your audience, Carina, and quit trying to impress those who don’t count (though you may be thinking it impresses the people who pay your bills, but I hope not–are they sensible?).

Is there any wonder the Los Angeles Times and all newspapers are in trouble.

Remember your audience.  Write to communicate, not to impress.

Categories: Grammar Sucks

Sink, Sank, Sunk: Story of the L.A. Times


The first people to go at newspapers when shrinkage occurs (which is quite frequent these days) are the proofreaders and copyeditors, those who are charged with making sure that correct English appears in print.

Though the Los Angeles Times is usually pretty good on the correctness front, I came across a sentence Saturday (Sept. 20) that misused a form of the verb to sink, to wit:  "Meanwhile, shares of Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs sunk as investors bet they would collapse…."

I still remember from probably the third grade memorizing the base forms of this verb as "sink, sank, sunk," so without a modifying verb–and using just the simple past tense–the authors of this article could not have used sunk, though they did.

I chalk this one up to a) sloppiness and b) stupidity rather than hiring and firing policies, which, sadly, is worse than the latter.

Categories: Grammar Sucks