Archive for the ‘Grammar, etc.’ Category

Dear readers (and, I hope, fellow lovers of language):

I need a break from the 2016 election.

Let’s talk about the serial comma (also called the Oxford comma) for a moment. We’ve all seen the following to advocate for its use:

But here’s the thing: I would use a colon to clarify if I really meant that JFK and Stalin had side jobs. My sentence would read:

We invited the strippers: JFK and Stalin.

If I meant that JFK, Stalin and some ladies working their way through college were all coming to the party, I would write:

We invited JFK, Stalin and the strippers.

I’m a fan of improving clarity by rewriting. No need to overwork the comma and use it for a simple series.

However, we cannot give the comma a gold watch and say goodbye. We still need it. And some people certainly appreciate it. (Read this from the bottom up.)

Email courtesy of 36-hour Tina

Email courtesy of 36-hour Tina


We also need articles or bad things happen.


Image courtesy of Shane Marshall Brown

Image courtesy of Shane Marshall Brown

A “the” before “pen” would have made all the difference. (Or even a bigger space before “is.”)

What we don’t need is random quotation marks — not even one random quotation mark, as seen in the photo below. (By the way, quotation marks come in pairs. That’s how they work. But if the signmaker had added another, we’d be wondering what the dogs are actually doing.)


Image courtesy of Angela DeVore

Please send me your sign/email/meme fails in the comments or via Twitter (@BethCon5). I think we all will be needing more election breaks over the next 45 days.



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Dear Georgia Department of Revenue:

It’s been more than three weeks since I dutifully mailed in my 2015 tax forms. Your federal counterparts (i.e., the IRS) cashed my payment check the day they received my forms. Yet I’m still waiting for my refund from you.

Usually I file electronically and get my refund lightning fast. However, thanks to some asshat who tried to steal my identity on a federal return (little did they know that I am not a federal refund kind of gal), I had to mail in the forms.

So now I’m wondering, “Where’s my refund?” It’s a common-enough question that you have a web page devoted to the answer. Let’s break it down:

You cannot help me by phone (no number given) or walk-in (Where would I go to do that in Savannah?) until 30-45 days have passed. I repeat (and so do you): 30-45 days. That is an eternity in today’s instant-gratification society.

Oh wait: You have a portal to allow tracking.


I signed up. I received this response when I tried to track my refund:

Screen Shot 2016-04-27 at 3.23.10 AM


What is the freakin’ deal?

Comma splice aside (What? No one to proofread? There should be SOMEONE, given the fact that employees aren’t tied up helping people for 30-45 days or so), I promise I entered the correct information. I’m looking at my tax forms. I used my SSN to log in, for crying out loud.

I don’t want to get all loud, Rihanna style, but I do want my refund.

I shouldn’t expect efficiency and logic from a government entity, but I do. I’m optimistic like that. So if you could get your act together, that would be great.

Yours in fiscal responsibility,

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Dear Facebook Friends:

I’m putting you on notice: I will no longer cringe silently and restrain myself from correcting you when you misuse the word “I.” I will now note the correction in the comments to your post.

It’s public shaming, I know, but you have to learn. I don’t know how you missed this in school, but I’m going to help you.

Use “I” when you are the subject of the sentence. Use “me” when you are the object.

Correct sentence: Eddie and I went to Tennessee.
Incorrect sentence: This is a photo of Eddie and I in Johnson City.
(Test: Take out “Eddie and.” It sounds stupid, right?)
Correct sentence: Eddie told Linda and me to stop playing Candy Crush.
Incorrect sentence: Eddie told Linda and I to stop playing Candy Crush right now and he means it, by golly!
(Test: Take out “Linda and.” More stupidity.)

This may be painful for some of you. I promise it is for your own good.

You’ve been warned.


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Dear Mr. Rashid,

Thank you for your recent email, which appears to be a forwarded recommendation letter from Gregory T. Hagan. While I’m certainly happy Mr. Hagan was pleased with your services, it might behoove him to proofread his letter. As a writing professor and fan of the English language, I am mortified to see that the letter is one huge run-on sentence. Additionally, is “Hem” a person on your staff or is that your nickname? Or perhaps did Mr. Hagan mean “him” here? Why is his name misspelled in his email address, and why is it included at the end of the recommendation letter, making it look like that is the way to contact you?

If I had been asked to assist Mr. Hagan, I would have edited the letter to read as follows:

I am writing to recommend the services of Abdulla Rashid. I was in urgent need of a loan of $8,000 to pay my bills. A friend recommended Mr. Rashid, who helped me immediately. My family and I are now happy. Please contact him if you are in need of any kind of loan. 

I’m dismayed that you would use such a poorly written letter as the first contact with me. It really makes me wonder whether it would be wise to use your services when I have to question your attention to detail. And really, you should have written me yourself first, then provided his recommendation letter as a supplement.

Also, why is your organization offering loans in the first place? Your boilerplate indicates that you provide “innovative plastics solutions.” I see nothing on your website about loans and I see no Abdulla Rashid Salem Jumaan listed on the team biography page.

For these reasons, I must decline your implied offer to loan me money. Thank you anyway. Please send my regards to Mr. Hagan and encourage him to take an English composition course.


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Dear Colonel Al-Kurdi Malik:

Thank you for your recent email. You are clearly a busy man — what with leading the Free Syria Army and all — so I feel honored that you chose me as a correspondent along with other “undisclosed recipients.”

During this personal discussion, could you explain how the Free Syria Army (FSA) is different from the Free Syrian Army (FSA)? I’ve heard of the latter and am familiar with it as the Western-backed rebel group fighting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Is the Free Syria Army a group of discount hunters or part of the Freegan movement?

According to various news reports, Brigadier General Abdul-llah al-Bashir is the leader of the Free Syrian Army. There’s a Colonel Malik al-Kurdi who is the deputy commander of the FSA. Is that you?

If so, congratulations on the promotion to “leader.” What happened to that al-Bashir guy? He only lasted a week!

With all due respect as I know English is not your first language, maybe you should proofread your emails. I’m sure you didn’t really want to send me a “massage.” (Although, I do feel fairly tense right now.)

In addition, here’s another bit of advice: If you want to protect your identity as you indicate, maybe you shouldn’t grant interviews to various media outlets.

Anyway, thanks for writing. I can’t wait to be your pen pal!

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Dear Apostrophe:

You really need a vacation. You clearly are overworked. I’ve lost track of all the times you’ve had to show up unnecessarily on a sign.

Here’s an example of what I mean:


I guess the sign’s writer thought the S would be lonely without you. You and I both know that the letter can get by on its own. No need to call you in.

I wish you could assert yourself. Just say “no” to incorrect possessives. I wish I could do something to help beyond calling attention to your situation with this blog.

Take some of your friends — the quotation marks for example — and run away for a while to rest up. They need a vacation too:

There's more wrong here than just quotation mark overuse. (Photo courtesy of Karla Knudsen)

There’s more wrong here than just quotation mark overuse. (Photo courtesy of Karla Knudsen)

I hear the Maici River in Brazil is lovely this time of year. You’d get a welcome respite among the Pirahã.

Just know I’ll only request you in an emergency. You know, one of the following situations: showing possession (“Is that Gideon’s dirty sock?”),  making contractions (“No, it’s Dominic’s dirty sock.”), and indicating when a letter is deliberately left out (“Did Eddie just call me a dirty ol’ ‘ho’?”). And you never have to worry that I’ll mistake you for your doppelgänger, the single quotation mark.

Wishing you a happy vacation,

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Help me help you

Dear Local Columnist:

I’ve been reading your “column” for a little while now. I realize that our local paper is not quite The New York Times, but there are many excellent writers and columnists on staff. So, I have expectations. I keep expecting that your column will get better, more interesting, less meandering. It doesn’t.

The paper has been running your column for about three years now, I think. I know it must be tough to find something fresh to talk about on a regular basis. Believe me, I know. Sometimes I can barely maintain this blog.

You really can’t go on this way, though. Today’s column might have been the worst yet. It had no point whatsoever and smacked of deadline desperation. Plus, it was long. Way too long. It could have ended at the headline, in fact.

I want to help you. Here are a few tips:

  1. Figure out why you are writing. What is your purpose? What is the main point you want readers to take away from your column? Do you want to inform? Motivate? Entertain?
  2. Pick a tense and stick with it. Today’s column featured past, present, future, past progressive and future perfect — all in the same paragraph.
  3. If you are going to name-drop, use names recognizable to most people. I didn’t know whom you were talking about half the time today (and I didn’t care enough to Google).
  4. Don’t date yourself unintentionally. (See No. 3.)
  5. Make sure your work has a clear beginning, middle and end. Each paragraph should build consciously on the prior. Your work should flow.
  6. Find a good editor. All work can be better. Find someone to read your work before you submit it — someone you know will be tough on you so that you can improve. (Maybe you are a good editor and want to edit this post for me. Please do!)

I want you to succeed. I know you have some good ideas; it’s the execution that needs finesse. If you improve, we readers benefit.

Good luck!

Thanks to teachers


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