Sunday, March 28, 2010

It's Hard to be Happy When you See and Hear Errors Everywhere

Last week, my daughter won a trophy for a story she wrote. At the award ceremony, the school's reading specialists showed a poetic PowerPoint to explain the contest.

The title slide read--and I do not lie--"Young Author's Contest."

Deep many young authors were involved in this contest? Try 500.

So why the apostrophe? If anything, it should have read, "Young Authors' Contest"--though I don't think an apostrophe was necessary at all.

Earlier in the year, I attended Back-to-School Night at my kids' grammar school, and one of the activities we parents enjoyed was filling out questionnaires about our kids.

"What is your child's favorite food?" one question asked.

My youngest child's favorite food is lobster. So I wrote that.

The mother of the little boy who sits next to her dutifully filled out her card. She wrote "Hot dog's."

I don't care that the boy's favorite food is a processed meat product. To each his own. I care about the mom's punctuation error. I hope the child grows up to be a better writer.

Why do mistakes such as these happen? I think it's because people can't hear the difference in usage, and may not have visually noticed the difference enough (through reading) to recognize that plurals and possessives are not the same.

Speaking of plurals--my yoga teacher, who is very sweet, is a woman probably in her 40s who doesn't know, apparently, that the plural of "foot" is "feet"--not, as she says, over and over, "feets."

After years of teaching yoga, I wonder why has no one (seemingly) ever said anything? I would certainly never interrupt my yoga teacher to point out her error, but every time I hear it, I cringe.

I am trying to let it go, but it worries me that she just doesn't get it.  If she hasn't gotten it by now, then it seems she never will.  

My final gripe: erroneous quotation marks. Do people not understand that quotation marks are used to indicate speech, or what was said?

Why, then, do my kids' milk orders read as follows:  Interested in ordering "MILK" ?

Milk is just a noun. It isn't a unique way of describing white stuff that comes out of a cow's udders. It doesn't need quotation marks around it.

Neither does a person's name. I am not "Elizabeth." I am Elizabeth. So I would think that people running for office could take the quotation marks away from their own names on their campaign signs (got that, "Laura?").

Just to be clear--I understand that writing and grammar and rules about punctuation aren't everyone's thing. I know the rules, mostly, because I grew up reading so much and that helped me to absorb proper grammar without ever even specifically trying (don't get me started on how useless I think sentence diagrams are. Total waste of time, for the most part. I believe in the whole language approach).

Still, I worry how future generations are supposed to learn more, be more, do more if their parents don't understand the basics.  Who will teach them--especially if elementary teachers don't know, either?

I have had to re-correct misspelled words on my daughter's spelling tests ("corrected" by her teacher) a few times now. That's awkward. No, my daughter didn't misspell the words; her teacher did. Yikes.

Another daughter's teacher says, in conversation, "Her and I..."  Many people do this. I don't interrupt them to point out the error because that would be mean, and because I realize by now that I can't change everyone.

Grammar and Punctuation Maven out (for now)!


  1. 'Tis a sad thing you report, but it's nothing new. I've been an editor off and on for many years, and have corrected enough errors by newspaper reporters, college professors, and writers of all sorts to fill what? A bathtub? Lots of them, anyhow. I'm still an editor, and still doing it.

    What currently drive me nuts is misplaced modifiers in TV reports.

  2. Well, everyone needs an editor, that's for sure.

    Thanks for writing in!