Mon
May 16 2011 8:47am

For the Love of...Grammar Pet Peeves

A recent Huffington Post article discusses grammar pet peeves; we've all got them, and Robert Lang Greene, the HuffPo author (who's written a book titled You Are What You Speak: Grammar Grouches, Language Laws and the Politics of Identity) cites the use of 'literally,' meaning not literally, but also decries people who take umbrage when people use language differently (as opposed to wrongly) from them.

So—this is a deep thesis, and the book looks intriguing, especially in terms of language bigotry. But since it's early, and this is what you're reading while you're sipping your morning coffee, we'll keep it simple: What's your language pet peeve?

We'll start it off: using the word 'decimate' to mean obliterate, when decimate actually means to reduce by one-tenth.

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27 comments
MK Chester
1. MK Chester
It's more of a typo than a grammar issue, but when people interchangably use "breathe" and "breath".
Laura K. Curtis
2. LauraKCurtis
Decimate doesn't bother me because the meaning has really changed over time.

Pet peeves: 1 I assume is more than a grammatical issue, it's a house style problem--I see it too often for it to be simply a mistake--and that's the incorrect use of of the word "ago" instead of "previously" or "before." (It's an uncomfortable tense switch you see in books quite frequently between the pluperfect, perfect, and present tenses.)

The other one I grew up hating because my English teacher and college advisor hated it, and that's the incorrect use of the word "hopefully" which is an adverb meaning "full of hope." If you cannot substitute in "full of hope," don't use hopefully! My advisor had a sign on her office door that said "Abandon Hopefully, All Ye Who Enter Here."

(Mind you, I don't mind so much when people use hopefully in speech, though it sends a little shiver up my spine, but when I see it written it makes me crazy.)
MK Chester
3. torifl
Drives me nuts when people confuse the meanings of sail, sale, and sell. You 'sail' around the world. You hold a yard 'sale'. You 'sell' things.
MK Chester
4. brontëgirl
The incorrect use of impact in all its forms gets on my nerves. However, tho' I'm very meticulous in copyediting, I'm not the grammar police in conversation, and, by the way, most English majors aren't and thus don't deserve the bad rep!
MK Chester
5. Amanda (On a Book Bender)
I think that my biggest language pet peeve is that native speakers do not have a stronger understanding of their own language. Many of my grammar related peeves (your/you're, too/to, their/there/they're, for example) could very easily be fixed if people had an understanding of the parts of speech and how words function in a sentence. That sort of knowledge is basic for foreign language learners, and yet too many native speakers are clueless.
Carmen Pinzon
6. bungluna
I'm not a native English speaker. My greatest peeve is when foreign words/phrases get mangled in English novels. Example: cajones means drawers/boxes, cojones means 'balls' as in testicles. When an author uses cajones, I picture a poor guy with boxes hanging from his privates. Another peeve is the wrong usage of gender. A tittle that sent me into giggles was "Viva Las Bad Boys." 'Las' is femenine plural article; I got an image of girly bad baby boys, which I'm sure wasn't the intention.
MK Chester
7. JacquiC
I have many grammar pet peeves, but I think the one that comes first to mind is the misuse of the past tense form of the verb to lead: i.e. "He lead her into the next room", instead of "He led her into the next room".
MK Chester
8. Phoenix Sullivan
My pet peeve is how long it takes for style guides to catch up with real-world usage. I see "impact," "decimate," and "hopefully" type peeves as simply language in flux. Why don't these words officially mean what the majority of folk use them to mean? Because the "people who agree what the proper definitions are" just haven't yet caught up with the evolution of the word and the majority of users. Language use is a democracy not a dictatorship. Once most people use "impact" as a verb, it's time to officially make it one. Evolution is a good thing. Holding on to antiquated definitions isn't. And, yes, I was a career editor in the strict confines of the corporate world. I know what a pain it is to keep changing that style guide.
Susanna Fraser
9. Susanna Fraser
My biggest pet peeves tend to be misused idioms. The ones that drive me craziest are "tow the party line," "free reign," and "here, here." It's TOE the line (as in stay within bounds), free REIN (as in giving a horse its head), and HEAR, HEAR (as in, "this person speaks truth--HEAR him/her").
MK Chester
10. anieva
Pet peeve:

Using the singular 'pair' when you mean the plural 'pairs,' as in, 'He bought two pair of shoes.'

Eewwwww!!!!!!
Keira Gillett
11. Keira
My only grammar pet peeve is consistent or jarring misspelling. It's a red flag if you know what I mean.

I also hate when a writer gets ahead of themself and introduces something without properly setting up where it came from. Read part of a story recently where the author had the characters think/say each other's name before they were introduced and they were strangers. Um... hello???
Jill Slattery
12. JillSlattery
"Decimate" and "literally" are great examples. My current pet peeve is the use of "casted" as the past tense of "cast." There is no such word.
Laurie Gold
13. LaurieGold
Probably the most often used incorrect word is "irregardless." I want to cringe every time I hear somebody say that. "Literally" is another annoyance; on Parks & Recreation, Rob Lowe's character is forever saying everything is "literally" this or that when of course he actually means "figuratively." I have other pet peeves that are actually questions based on now-acceptable grammar that once were not, but those are for another day.
MK Chester
14. Shannon Winslow
I was going to say the misuse of the word "literally," but that's been covered. So I'll mention another that I hear all the time: "I could care less" when what they really mean is "I couldn't care less." The first means that the person does care some, because it would be possible to care even less. The second means that the person cares so little that it would be impossible to care any less.
Laura K. Curtis
15. LauraKCurtis
Oh, I forgot about "I could care less." That drives me batty. I saw it in a REGENCY the other day, if you can believe it!!
Carrie Strickler
16. DyslexicSquirrel
@Amanda: You just hit my grammar pet peeve on the head.

I also have issues with the excessive use of ellipses.
MK Chester
17. Rose In RoseBear
"Women" when the word should be "woman."
I think it's a typo, but it appears everywhere, and it makes me want to scream!
Heloise Larou
18. Heloise
Thank you so much, Shannon - "I could care less" is something that bas been nagging at me for ages. It always felt weird, but not being a native speaker myself, I tend to assume that it is me who is wrong. I'm glad someone finally cleared that up for me!
MK Chester
19. LauraB
I find the misuse of the reflexive pronoun particularly jarring. For example, "Please send a copy of the fax to Sophie and myself." I think nails on a chalk board would be more pleasing to my ear.

Additionally, the use of I after a preposition irritates me whenever I read it. "This secret must be kept only between you and I." I don't mind it as much in speech, but in writing, it really gets on my last nerve.

I see multiple examples of both in a lot of business correspondence, which leads me to believe that folks must think these misuses sound more formal, or "businessy."
MK Chester
20. quiltingmamaw
My eyes must be magnets for poor grammar. Indeed, errors seem to jump off the page. My current peeves are "reek havoc" instead of "wreak havoc" and "ring his neck" as opposed to "wring his neck". People, spellcheck is simply not enough!
MK Chester
21. Janga
The use of "simplistic" when the writer/speaker means "simple" makes me cringe.
MK Chester
22. stormynight
I take issue with the use of the word "bad" as a noun instead of an adjective. Saying "My bad" when you mean "My fault" drives me up and over a wall!
MK Chester
23. bb
I HATE to read that a charactor "pours over" a book. I want to scream, "Pours WHAT?" Obviously, it should be "pores over."
Also, when someone "gives into" the urge rather than "gives in to." Sigh...
MK Chester
24. allbookdup
Misused homonyms make me crazy. Hoard/horde, discreet/discrete, faze/phase, complement/compliment, bare/bear and affect/effect leap to mind. (I once spent a good 20 minutes trying to explain the intricacies of affect and effect to a Dutch professor of mine.) I also agree with Amanda and the list she provided earlier - they're/there/their, you're/your, to/too, as well as its/it's. Oh, and unnecessary apostrophes in plurals! What befuddles me is the random manner in which this error is usually employed. There used to be a billboard in my area that advertised for "nurse's, housekeepers and home health aids (sic, sic)." Why did "nurse's" rate an apostrophe but not the others? (Add aid/aide to the list above.) Aargh!
Megan Frampton
25. MFrampton
I think I am in good company here! All of these things irk me, too. Especially random apostrophe usage. Why? Why is it there? What is it doing there?
Thanks for the reminders of all the things that drive us crazy.
Carrie Strickler
26. DyslexicSquirrel
I thought of something else-- The prevalent use of chat speak and the fact that a lot of people my age (and younger) don't see a difference between that and actual English. Why? Why for the love of God?

And run on sentances, that's another one. I went to high school with a guy who rote an entire paper with no punctuation save for a period at the end. I don't know how my teacher got through reading it. I would have stabbed myself in the eye.

Or, how about, not capitalizing things that should be capitalized. Last time I checked, you were not e.e. cummings!

Perhaps it's because I went to Catholic school (nuns are scary!), but I was shocked when I got to high school (I switched to public school after 8th grade) and a friend of mine who was in honors English had to ask me to define "stealthy" after I used it in a conversation. I've actually been looked down on as being snobby or stuck up becasue I have a somewhat large vocabulary. What is wrong with society these days?
MK Chester
27. Allen
"Decimate" is an English word, not a Latin word. The Latin decimatio meant the practice of taking a 10th. It was usually used for taxes, but also for the brutal practice of punishing allegedly cowardly troops.

It was used in English for the practice of taking one-tenth of grain crops to support the Church, but that use became obsolete by the 17th century. There's scarce evidence "decimation" ever meant to kill exactly one-tenth of an army in English. The OED provides examples that the destructive sense of a nearly complete obliteration or destruction is close to 400 years old. It's difficult to find instances of the allegedly "correct" use of decimation outside of people peeving about the meaning, except in the very occasional history of Rome (it was never a wide-spread practice). If you use "decimate" to mean exactly a tenth, without further explanation, you'll confuse the majority of speakers of English. Actually, it's hard to see how that meaning would ever be useful.

The insistence that only the original Roman word is the correct meaning is part of a class of errors called "etymological fallacies", the idea that to find the real meaning of the word you have to go back to the original use of the word, sometimes centuries ago, other times in a completely different language. English is full of latinate words that mean things far different than their root words. It really shows the complete inconsistency of prescriptivists, and their ability to pick out isolated examples while ignoring the large number of similar cases.
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