Gorgons and Hydra’s, and Chimera’s dire

I am reading Paradise Lost (from which the title line is a quote) and enjoying many of the ideas in it, along with the erratic spelling and punctuation. Things like “smoak” for “smoke” and the use of apostrophes for pluralizing certain words. And Milton isn’t even consistent within his own work, as in the phrase I quoted. I’ll forgive Milton anyway! In the 17th century English certainly wasn’t as standardized as it is now.

But what’s our excuse? Here are a few notices I’ve seen while running errands over the past month:

“Attention, Patient’s. The office will now be open on Monday’s and Wednesday’s….”

“Parking for ACS Customer’s Only”

I have even (gasp) read notices from teachers to the effect, “Parent’s, please have your children bring a bag lunch on the day of the field trip.”

Apostrophes are used to make plurals ONLY in very specific cases. The rule used to be that they were used to pluralize acronyms, numbers and letters, but the most recent guides say they should only be used with lower-case letters. I won’t freak if someone writes “ABC’s” or “1990’s” since these are common forms and recommended in older style guides. I’ve probably used them myself, so anyone who freaks about them is obviously taking things too far. 🙂

But for every other plural, please stop the madness! Save the apostrophes!!!!

OK, the heat has addled my brain. But I think I was upset about this even before the heat wave. Do you have any grammar and punctuation pet peeves? What are they?

LADY DEARING’S MASQUERADE, Winner 2006 Golden Quill, Best Historical Romance

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Kalen Hughes
16 years ago

Oh, Elena.

I think my pet peeve in this area would have to be when people use the wrong word, or the wrong form of a word (your/you’re, to/too, bear/bare, its/it’s, etc.). Though your issue with apostrophes is a close, close second . . . the other thing I hate more than reason is the “s’s”. I KNOW that some style manuals purport that this is the correct way to show the possessive of a word ending in “s” (The duchess’s horse). But it’s just so ugly. It stops me in my reading tracks every time . . . and don’t get me started on the folks who simply don’t know how to properly write out catch phrases we all use verbally (those who will say one should “tow the line” rather than “toe the line”). *GRUMBLE*

Now I sound like some fussy old grammarian.

Jacqueline Barbour
16 years ago

I’m with both you and Elena on your pet peeves (although “s’s” doesn’t bother me because that’s how people say it, isn’t it?)

My big one, however (maybe because the rule is becoming obsolete and I am a conservative at heart, at least when it comes to the English language), is the use of a plural pronoun with a singular antecedent. As in “everyone has their books.”

I mean, I know why people do it. No one likes to look like a sexist. But when I see something like this in print, but particularly if it’s in a novel set in historical England. Because I can guarantee you that British English speakers in the 18th and 19th centuries didn’t give one second’s thought to the sexist implications of “everyone has his books”. It wouldn’t even have crossed their minds!

Of course, whenever I post anything in which I complain about other people’s grammar/punctuation/et al., I am certain to make some glaring error in what I wrote. I’m sure this post will be no exception.

Jacqueline Barbour
16 years ago

See, I left out a period and there’s an unfinished sentence in there. I just proved my point!

Elena Greene
16 years ago

No grammar rant is complete without its own errors. Please do not proofread my original post! 🙂

Those misused words bother me most in published work, because authors (and copy editors) should know better. How about rein/reign? Or
“sensibility” used as if it were a synonym for “good sense”? Ack!

Now I’m sounding like a fussy grammarian, too.

Diane Perkins
16 years ago

My pet peeve has to do with using ‘that’ when ‘who’ should be used. I see it everywhere (even, occassionally, in my own writing). Example: “The people THAT lived in the Regency.” No No No! It should be: “The people WHO lived in the Regency.” People are ‘who’ not ‘that’!
I have great sympathy for writers who get those phrases wrong, though. There is so much we say that we never think of as written down. Luckily, my editor critique partner Helen catches me every time: ‘A hair’s breath’ becomes ‘a hair’s breadth.’ Whew.
I have no faith in copy editors. The copy editor with serious obsessive tendencies, who questioned every historical detail in one of my books, failed to discover that I used the wrong heroine name in the middle of the book. Of course, I didn’t notice it. My six crit partners didn’t notice it. My editor didn’t notice it.
My 85 year old uncle did!

Amanda McCabe
16 years ago

This is funny, Elena, because just yesterday I was bothered by the sign on a new Mexican restaurant that just opened in my town. It says “Los Mariachi’s,” and when I drive past I always wonder “The mariachi’s what? Their sign, their restaurant, their building?”

I’m also incredibly bothered by the misuse of the word “literally,” but that’s another story. 🙂

16 years ago

I guess mine are just general — most especially in email messages where people obviously don’t reread or use the spell check. Stuff like that.

While it isn’t a mistake, what does annoy me is this: Lois’. I do it as Lois’s. Like I said, I know it’s not a mistake — and back in the day in my grammar classes, it was around the time where it was changing, that adding the ‘s to a word with s was just as fine as just ‘. So ever since then I’ve been doing it ‘s, and those words just really look naked without it. LOL 🙂


Kalen Hughes
16 years ago

I see that Lois and I are on opposite sides of the “‘s” fence. LOL! But then I have lots of quirks. I can’t type colour without the “u”. It just makes my shoulder blades ache (not joking here). Talk about a strange mind/body connection.

I don’t trust CEs either, and I haven’t even been through my first copy edit yet (in Atlanta my editor was telling me horror stories about copy editing MSs herself after the edits came back so bad they were just unusable). Luckily one of my best friends is a CE for industrial and medical publications, so if I think the edits are insane I can always email her with grammar questions.

Cara King
16 years ago

Sometimes the usage changes either between the US and UK, or with time, in which case I don’t much mind which version is used. “Bridget Jones’s Diary” works for me, and “St James’s Street,” but I don’t mind having just the apostrophe without the additional “s”.

I used to refer to someone having minding his “P’s and Q’s” until someone told me I was wrong wrong wrong with that apostrophe — but I still think it is clearer. (If you learn your As and Bs it’s hard to read, IMHO!) (Thanks, Elena, for clearly explaining that the “preferred” usage of that has changed fairly recently…)

As for Diane’s dreaded “that” — I confess that’s one area where I’m weak, but I do believe that some style manuals prefer the “that,” in certain cases. My copy editor changes a whole bunch of my versions of “who” to some version of “that”…. I just left them in, and won’t worry my pretty little brain (okay, it’s just little) about it, because I suspect my next copy editor may believe the opposite… 🙂

As for “everyone has their books” — that sentence is indeed dreadfully awkward, but there are uses of “their” in the predicate referring to a singular subject dating back to Shakespeare, so I suspect it’s an inherent awkwardness of English rather than only an attempt at gender-neutral prose.

Those are all matters in which I have no strong preference. The things that drive me nuts, on the other hand, include:

1) Los Mariachi’s (and the like) 🙂
2) Using quote marks for emphasis (e.g. “Please Keep Off Grass” in quotes, or “Dog Bites” or All Sales are “Final” and the like… 🙂
3) “it’s” for “its” (even though I believe this rule only came in in the past 200 years) and her’s for hers (ditto).
4) Can we do grammar too, pretty please? Along with “literally” used merely as an intensifier, I hate dangling modifiers, e.g. Sadly tangled by the stiff breeze, Lavinia pulled a comb through her dark hair. (I’ve seen a lot of these recently — they really grate on me!)


16 years ago

in re: P’s and Q’s

It was DRILLED into my head that the proper way to numerically represent “The Nineteen Seventies” was thus: the 1970s.

It STILL looks wrong to me, but I can’t stop doing it. Even though the world around me says I Love The 70’s.

Glad to hear that the usage police are relaxing the rules on this one so I can go along with VH1.

16 years ago

About typing “your” for “you’re” or “their” for “they’re”: while it is undoubtedly wrong, wrong, wrong–I know it, you know it, heck! we all know it–it is nevertheless surprisingly easy to do. I’ve done it many times, especially in things like email. I hope I caught them all! But realistically, some undoubtedly slipped through, leading my reader to wonder what the devil I was talking about. (Note! Subtle Paradise Lost reference.)

This does tell me something interesting about the way my brain handles written language: I clearly still primarily identify words by the way they sound, or I wouldn’t mix up homophones that are spelled differently, and mean totally different things. I mean, what makes you do these things? Could it possibly be…(Note: another PL reference, plus one to Dana Carvey as the Church Lady. Combining High and Pop Culture! Can it get any more cool?)

It also says something about my accent–every now and then I type “are” when I mean “our,” which probably don’t sound anything alike for most people. Curse the midwest! (Ooo, oo, “curse”! I get it!)


Elena Greene
16 years ago

I too have trouble with things I’ve seen different ways. I worked in England for three years and have lots of trouble with spelling since. Not just the obvious words like color/colour, but things like defense/defence, exercize/exercise. Ugh!

So I am very tolerant of things like that.

But those silly apostrophes still bug me, and I’ve figured out why. They make me think the people using them that way are NOT READING BOOKS.

I don’t think they picked up the mistake from Milton.

Elena, who is also finding Paradise Lost a slow read but rewarding in spots

Diane Perkins
16 years ago

I don’t care what the style manuals say, Cara! A person is not a THAT. A person is a WHO!!!!!!

rant over….

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