Top Ten Grammar Peeves

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I recently read one of those annoying graphics that are being shared on Facebook.

What makes them annoying is not that they are faddy, inert, and positively dull, but that they are low resolution JPGs of plain text which have been resized to look like arse.

Anyway, the latest – which I simply couldn’t let lie – was this.

Top Ten Grammar Peeves

  1. It’s “I couldn’t care less.” “I could care less” means that you actually do care.
  2. An apostrophe is never used to form a plural.
  3. “Literally” means it actually happened, not that it figuratively happened.
  4. “Loose” and “lose” are two different words.
  5. “Your” and “you’re” are also two different words.
  6. “Their,” “there” and “they’re” are actually three different words.
  7. “nonplus” does not mean what you think it means.
  8. “Affect” is a verb. “Effect” is a noun.
  9. “It’s” is short for “it is” and “its” means “belonging to it.”
  10. “Irregardless” is not a word.

So I read this and thought “nothing gets up my hackles like a pedant who is wrong”.

Firstly the phrase “I could care less”, whilst a little American in tone, is perfectly acceptable. In fact it is rather subtle. It means “it may be possible for me to care less, in which case I might; however I do not”. Such linguistic subtlety has clearly passed-by the writer of this little ditty.

Secondly why has the writer consistently included punctuation marks not relevant to the sense within the quotation marks? Fowler’s A Dictionary Of Modern English Usage states that “all signs of punctuation used with words in quotation marks must be placed according to the sense”.

As for “literally” meaning “actually”, what rubbish. It means, “in a literal sense” or “pertaining to a literal”. In fact my dictionary says it is often used as an acknowledgement that something is NOT to be taken literally. Such is the flexibility and subtlety of the English language, and any true lover of language will appreciate this, rather than getting annoyed by it.

The word “affect” can be a noun as well as a verb, and in this form is synonymous with the word “emotion”.

Finally the word “irregardless” has an entry in my Concise Oxford English Dictionary, an edition from about 12 years ago. If that doesn’t make it a word in some official sense, I don’t know what does.


One Response

  1. Barry

    February 6, 2012 2:41 pm

    Hello, Mat!

    I’m actually more a humorist than a pedant and I created this list years ago as a design to sell on t-shirts, mugs, etc. The original can be seen here if you are interested:

    Keep in mind, btw, that I am from the other side of the pond and our rules regarding punctuation within quotation marks are slightly different over here.

    Most of the items included in the list were meant to represent what other people have complained about over the years and don’t necessarily reflect my own pet peeves. I will say, however, that you have completely missed the boat with regard to “I could/couldn’t care less.” Although it is possible that a select few use “I could care less” in an ironic and subtle way, the vast majority of people have simply heard the phrase the wrong way and repeat it the wrong way without ever realizing what they are saying. Eventually, I suppose, it will become the “standard” form of the expression, much like “head over heels” eventually supplanted “heels over head” despite the fact that it doesn’t really make any sense.

    The same could be said, I suppose for the literally/actually distinction. The language is evolving to the point where enough people have made the mistake that it is starting to become accepted usage. That doesn’t mean we have to let it go without a fight, though…

    Oh — and I should point out that the only one of these peeves that REALLY annoys me is when people confuse lose with loose. Doing it once may be a simple typo, but I have seen people use loose instead of lose (and loosing instead of losing as well as looser instead of loser) multiple times within a single paragraph to the point where it is obvious they simply don’t grasp the difference.


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