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listen, i'm not joking. this is my job!
dammit, jim, i'm an editor, not a monkey
by adam kraemer (@DryWryBred)
12.5.08
writing


For those of you who don't know, I started a new job a couple of months ago.

(cue cheers, applause, streamers, live animal sacrifices)

After a brief sojourn into the exciting world of copying and pasting, I am once again a copy editor, this time correcting style and grammar for a pharmaceutical advertising agency.

This means that I've started to return to the "notice every typo all the time" mindset. Which, last time around, really annoyed my friends when they sent me e-mails. Or it might just have been my personality.

Either way, since I don't consider us friends, you can only stand to gain from my grammatical OCD. Remember, just because you think you know something ("but I've been pronouncing it 'hyper-bowl' my whole life!") doesn't mean I'm not better than you at this. I'm sure you know plenty of things that I don't. Your mother would be very proud of you.

(I should mention that none of the following errors was actually perpetuated by the people in my office.)

1) Ultimate does not mean "best." It means "last."

I mention this specifically because of the commercial I heard last week advertising Guitar Center's "Ultimate Thanksgiving Sale." Not if they're planning on having one next year.

For that matter, penultimate is "second to last." If you're the penultimate one picked for kickball, that's not a good thing. Your mother would not be proud of you.

And, while we're at it, having a "first annual" anything is technically impossible. In order for it to be annual, it has to run at least two years. Next time, try using "inaugural." It will both make you look smarter and people may think you're royalty.

2) The phrase is "another think coming."

I know some of you out there are huge Judas Priest fans. I don't blame you. Rob Halford almost single-handedly defined heavy metal style, and their music's pretty good, too.

That said, their song "Another Thing Coming," well, it's just wrong. I mean, I like the piece, but the correct word in the idiom is "think" - "You might be thinking this now, but you've got another think coming." As in, "You might be the most badass man on the planet, ride motorcycles, and sleep with three women a night, but if you think that the stud-covered leather vest you're wearing isn't inspired by Halford's penchant for gay fetish gear, you've got another think coming."

3) It's "champing at the bit."

Not "chomping at the bit." Not even close to "chomping at the bait."

It's a horse thing. An eager horse would champ (similar to chomp, yes) at his bit. When you're eager, it's as though you're champing at the bit. Also, now you know how metaphors work.

4) Verbs and nouns are not interchangeable. Nor are transitive and intransitive verbs.

My dad commented that he recently heard our erstwhile vp candidate Sarah Palin say in an interview that she wanted to "progress" the country. I think what she wanted to do was to help the country to progress.

It's not the same thing. Progress is what's called an "intransitive verb." It can't take an object. I'm sure some of you are suddenly having PTSD flashbacks to 7th grade grammar ("is, am, are, was, were, be, being, been, do, does, did..."), but it's still true.

For those who don't know exactly what I'm talking about, I'll use an easier example -- arrive. Arrive is an intransitive verb, like progress. In the same way that you can't, grammatically speaking, arrive your guests, you can't progress the country.

Admittedly, language changes over time, if it's not dead (see Latin, Yiddish, Etruscan, Mookawockan). Words that were only nouns just years ago (fun, access) have taken on other parts of speech. Words that were once solely intransitive (disappear) are now ambitransitive (disappear the hooker). But, as Calvin once commented to Hobbes, "Verbing weirds language."

5) The next person who uses the term "convenient store" should be forced to work at one.

It's a convenience store, people.

The thing is, plenty of stores are convenient. I live across the street from a store that sells cheap clothing, damaged furniture, and glassware. It's nice and close to my front door. And if I don't want the inconvenience of having to cross the street, there's a jewelry store less than 50 feet away on my side that I can even see from my bedroom window. Talk about convenient. But I can't think to myself, "It's 2 a.m. and I'm feeling a little peckish. I think I'll buy 3 pairs of socks for $5." Well, I can, but that wouldn't make any sense. What I need is a store that sells conveniences (see also "amenities"). Get it?

6) Stop misusing apostrophes.

Seriously, stop it. Right now. Yes, you behind the bandstand.

With a few exceptions (mostly having to do with playing cards), it's pretty easy to figure out if you're using an apostrophe incorrectly: if it doesn't stand for a missing letter or make something possessive, chances are it's wrong.

When I see signs that say things like "We have diapers for adult's" or "all our egg's come from real chickens," it really gets my blood a-boilin'. In almost no case in the entire English language should plurals be created with an apostrophe.

In fact, I mentioned it in a column years ago. I believe I pointed out the vast difference in meaning between the following two phrases:
  • when dads pot flowers
  • when dad's pot flowers

As far as using an apostrophe to stand for missing letters (in other words, in a conjunction), mishandling this leads to quite common errors -- very notably "its vs. it's," "whose vs. who's," and "lets vs. let's." It stems, I imagine, from not caring. However, remember that "it's" is short for "it is" and "let's" is short for "let us." So when you write something like, "Cindy let's Ronald pretend to be her boyfriend," what you're really saying is "Cindy let us Ronald pretend..." which makes no sense. You'd sooner parboil an otter than write a sentence like that. And most of you aren't the otter-parboiling type, I know.

7) Vegetables are sensual. People are sensuous.

Enough said.

8) Just a few more idioms that people tend to get wrong:
  • Nip it in the bud
  • Dog-eat-dog world
  • Buck naked
  • Couldn't care less
  • Used to (also supposed to)
  • Chest of drawers
  • Intents and purposes
  • Toe the line
  • Taken for granted
  • A moot point
  • Wreak havoc

Not an extensive list by anyone's standards, but an important one, methinks.

On that note, however, it's time for me to go save a drug submission from certain death at the hands of the FDA reviewers. No, I don't wear a cape, but maybe I should. My mother's very proud of me.


ABOUT ADAM KRAEMER

A native of Elkins Park, PA, Adam Kraemer spends way too much of his time repeating "K-R-A-E..." He moved to New York City in 1998 and earned Master's in Journalism at NYU; don't let his writing fool you. He feels he is best known for saying the things no one is thinking, but afterwards wish they had been. He spends his free time wondering where all his free time goes and why he can never come up with a decent kicker for the ends of his articles.

more about adam kraemer

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COMMENTS

juli mccarthy
12.5.08 @ 12:07a

And "alot" is NOT A FUCKING WORD.

jael mchenry
12.5.08 @ 9:10a

Everyday/ every day. Don't get me started.

adam kraemer
12.5.08 @ 11:15a

No, start.

jael mchenry
12.5.08 @ 11:53a

I'd be preaching to the choir, but to keep it simple, when you use "everyday" you're saying "ordinary". If that's not what you mean, don't use it.

I also had someone "correct" "sea change" to "sea of change". I had to dictionary.com him.

What do people say instead of "dog-eat-dog world"?

sarah h-t
12.5.08 @ 12:00p

In the south people say Ideal when they mean idea- it has driven me crazy for years. In 2nd grade I actually explained the difference as my "show and tell" one week.

adam kraemer
12.5.08 @ 12:10p

"Doggie-dog" world. I actually had this conversation with one of my coworkers last night.

jael mchenry
12.5.08 @ 12:21p

...wow.

lucy lediaev
12.5.08 @ 12:24p

Kudos. You caught many of the errors in usage I run into every day as an editor at a biotech company. "Mute" for "moot" drives me crazy; I hear it all of the time in meetings. It it's a "mute point," then please shut up!

russ carr
12.5.08 @ 2:11p

"Doggie-dog" world.

I blame Snoop D-O-double G for this one.

I used to have a co-worker who used "supposably." In conversation, if he was looking for you to clarify a point, he'd ask, "Could you be more pacific?"

Yes, he was a college graduate, and no, it wasn't an intentional malapropism.

emily odom
12.5.08 @ 10:57p

My Mother has been an editor for USDA customs manuals for over 30 years. As a child of what is best described as a grammar nazi, I applaud this article.

jordan riviello
12.6.08 @ 5:35a

FUCK?

sandra thompson
12.6.08 @ 11:03a

I have all of you (you know who you are) on my new list of BFFs. I'm so sick of being called "nitpicky" when I'm just trying to correct grammar, usage, spelling or whatever it is. It's part of the heritage of an English major, I reckon. My lawyer daughter used to call me up from college, and even law school, to ask if what she was writing was correct. It's one of the triumphs of my ridiculous life.

adam kraemer
12.6.08 @ 8:55p

Heck, as I said in the column, I've made a career out of it.

In fact, a friend of mine from my new job just added one of her pet peeves to the list: flesh out vs. flush out. Apparently, a number of her meetings feature ideas hidden in the bushes.

dan gonzalez
12.8.08 @ 1:38a

I'm a total fucking jackass monkey-dick too, man, it's not like you are alone here man.

And just like you, I too scored <=1000 on my first SAT as well.

I'd like to tell you that it gets better man, but it really doesn't. You are as smart now as you will ever be, and there is almost nothing that can happen between now and the day you die that's gonna suddenly make you smarter than you already are.

Your best bet is bluff once in awhile, but for the most part, just play the shitty cards your were dealt.


tracey kelley
12.8.08 @ 8:20a

With a few exceptions (mostly having to do with playing cards), it's pretty easy to figure out if you're using an apostrophe incorrectly: if it doesn't stand for a missing letter or make something possessive, chances are it's wrong.

THANK you!

I honestly didn't know that champing at the bit bit.

adam kraemer
12.8.08 @ 9:45a

I'd like to tell you that it gets better man, but it really doesn't. You are as smart now as you will ever be, and there is almost nothing that can happen between now and the day you die that's gonna suddenly make you smarter than you already are.

Define "smart." I think I still have the capacity to learn things. I hope so, or I'm 100% unemployable.

And for the record, I scored way above 1000 when I took the SAT for the first time. And then beat that score by 70 when I actually completed the math section second time around.

sandra thompson
12.8.08 @ 4:06p

Adam, dahling, "smart" means you are very able to learn things. Ignorant means you haven't learned them yet. There may be some things you haven't learned yet, but you're smart enough for it to be easy. The difficult part is figuring out how best to learn stuff. Google? Grad school? Ask my best friend? Buy a book, or check one out of the library? ????

sandra thompson
12.9.08 @ 8:48a

About those apostrophes: I have a nutcase friend who thinks we could run the whole U S Government if we fined people for apostrophe misuse. He wants to make it a criminal offense with huge fines but no jail time. I call him a "nutcase" but really except for the apostrophe obsession and his 9/11 conspiracy theories he's very sensible and rational. I know, I know. High level paranoids seem very sensible and rational until you get to the subject of their delusions. Then we call them stark raving mad. Well, nobody's perfect.

adam kraemer
12.9.08 @ 9:23a

He could be right, of course.

adam kraemer
12.10.08 @ 2:57p

I came across two today:
1) "err on the side of precaution" - the guy running my company's benefits meeting said this twice.
2) regimen vs. regiment. They're very much not the same.

juli mccarthy
12.10.08 @ 4:30p

Your second example there reminded me of a three-fer I seem to hear fairly often:

ravaging vs. ravishing vs. ravenous

daniel castro
12.10.08 @ 6:01p

Everyday I'm husslin' ad infinitum.

There is some people I rather not IM/text because their grammar and spelling makes me weep.

[edited]

adam kraemer
12.10.08 @ 6:36p

We actually have a joke at my night job about repelling vs. rappelling. Because rappelling obviously comes up all the time.

[edited]

dr. jay gross
12.16.08 @ 8:22a

All of this could be much more extreme: a. Today's English is a mixed bag of idiom and text message. b. People are lazy and shorten sentences to express themselves, but their words are certainly not grammatical. c. There is an awful trend to take homonyms 'their and there' and use THEIR for both meanings, etc. Those are the fractured literature features that drives me crazy.

Do you really think you can change these trends?

adam kraemer
12.16.08 @ 9:25a

Well, just because something is popular (e.g., text message abbreviations) doesn't mean it will ever be accepted as correct.

And, no, I have a friend who days after this column came out started an e-mail to her friends with "Hey guy's -". However, it does give me a warm, fuzzy feeling to see all the comments above and to know that I'm not alone in wanting to keep correct English, well, correct.

I also have a friend who told me on Facebook that she was going to show my column to the high school English classes she teaches. So, you know, maybe.

adam kraemer
12.30.08 @ 11:18a

This isn't really grammar, per se, but I heard two different people on the train to and from Philly this weekend tell someone over the phone, "We just went under the tunnel."

Really.

No, we didn't. Well, maybe you did, but the rest of us went through the tunnel.

cory brown
1.6.09 @ 5:10p

may i refer fellow snoots to david foster wallace's exhaustive (but eminently readable) essay on the subject of descriptive vs. prescriptive lexicography, in his most recent book of essays, *consider the lobster*, in which he defends his own snoot status, but in a spirit of such great generosity that one is left feeling good about one's own snootiness rather than dirty and elitist. It leaves you w/ a broad understanding of the socio-political contexts of prescriptivism and thus impels you to reflect on how one's own snooty thoughts and behaviors (myself included) can, if indulged in for the wrong reasons, say more about us than about those who's usages drives us nuts. his attitude can allay, i would argue, one's own anxiety's caused by other's usage errors. perhaps i'm suggesting that it doesn't *have* to be a doggie-dog world, though DFW argues that the sooner we accept that it is and learn standard written english to get along well in that world the sooner we'll get over our lame defense of descriptivism. nice piece, adam kraemer.

adam kraemer
1.7.09 @ 9:50a

"Whose usages drive"

No, seriously, thanks.

Oh, and big props today for Sleepy's (the mattress place) for saying in the commercial I heard this morning, "There's no other feeling like..." Too many times I hear, "There's no feeling like winning the lottery," or "There's no car on the road like it." If that were true, then what's the point of your commercial?

Anyway, applause for the copywriters at Sleepy's. Or a golf clap, anyway.

[edited]

adam kraemer
1.13.09 @ 2:24p

Just thought of another people often get wrong - at your beck and call.

adam kraemer
2.18.09 @ 4:39p

I just found this online.



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