Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Grammatically Speaking

I love grammar.  I'm a stickler for it.  An obnoxious stickler.  I'm such a stickler that last year I started listening to grammar podcasts.  One of my favorites is by Grammar Girl.  Each week she concentrates on a theme that is usually inspired by the many e-mails and phone messages she receives from listeners who have grammar questions.  I don't always agree with her, but I usually learn something.  The podcasts are brief, so if you have a few minutes every Friday and want to brush up on your writing and speaking skills, download Grammar Girl from iTunes.  

Earlier today I read the most recent comments from her listeners, and I was shocked by how many entries were littered with grammatical errors.  One of the worst culprits was an English teacher!  I couldn't believe it.  At least this person cares enough to listen to Grammar Girl and posts questions on her forum, but if an English teacher uses poor grammar, then we're all in trouble!  That's just wrong!  I usually become enraged when faced with glaring grammatical mistakes such as misspellings (or typos), misplaced commas, etc.  Reading this forum, however, didn't make me mad.  I felt almost sad for some reason.

Here is a grammar flub that made -- and continues to make -- my blood boil:

The graphic above, which appeared during an American League Division Series game broadcast on TBS in October 2007, is a quote taken from the Bergen Record, a New Jersey newspaper.  The mistake in the graphic is small to some, but it's glaring to me:  "a lot" is TWO WORDS!  Perhaps the graphics operator typed this verbatim from the newspaper article, but it's still a mistake.  In that case, the operator could have -- and should have -- typed the quote so that it's grammatically correct, using brackets to indicate that an edit was made.  

". . . I think we are paying him [a lot] of money . . ."

There's one thing about this quote that left me wondering.  I wasn't sure about the use of a hyphen between the words "highest" and "paid", as in "He's the highest-paid manager in baseball."  My first instinct is to assume that this construction is correct because in this sentence two words are being combined to form an adjective describing another word.  It's called a compound modifier.  I checked a few sources to find more info.  My conclusion is that the structure in question is correct with or without the hyphen because I ran into a couple of confusing explanations.  Webster's New World Pocket Style Guide advises to use the hyphen in a compound modifier "in which the second element is a present or past participle", which "paid" is.  However, the book later states not to use the hyphen in a compound modifier "when the first element is a comparative or superlative", which "highest" is.  Hmm. Strunk & White's The Elements of Style says that the hyphen is necessary in this case.  The AP Stylebook, if I understand it correctly, advocates the use of the hyphen as well.  It seems to me that this is, as Grammar Girl would say, a style issue.  I like the hyphen in this case because I use it with other compound modifiers, whether or not a superlative or a participle is involved.  Had the person who typed the graphic left out the hyphen, I wouldn't have been mad, but I am mad about "alot".

Disclaimer: I want to explain that my job entails the typing of graphics such as the one displayed above, and I may actually know the person who typed it.  This could've been simply a typo caused by rushing to build the graphic and not an example of someone who didn't know any better.  In either case, I hope I didn't offend anyone by calling out the error because I know I'm guilty of the occasional typo, too.  


1 comment:

Tonykaku said...

not sure how i came across your blog and i am not sure if you can begin a sentence with "not". i don't try to do it alot : )
i think i was looking up something on Okinawa and so on and so. i flew to Okinawa last October to buy a sanshin. your blog is interesting but now i am feeling a little self conscious about my grammar. i just returned from Japan where i stay with a friend who teaches English at the college level. she is Japanese and although i speak English natively it is not always so easy to explain why we say certain things in English to her so she can then be ready for her students questions... now that was a sentence that hopefully made some sense. my blog is so far from being grammatically correct but it is fun to do. i will return to yours to see what grammar rules are being broken and your thoughts on them.