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From the Apostrophe Posse

Letter from Peter Bulkeley

English Usage – March 2006 – Colorado Central Magazine


I say “Amen” to Lynda’s criticisms of the grammar errors she pointed out in her review in the February issue. I sent you a letter last spring regarding some editing errors, especially misuse of apostrophes. For those individuals who think pointing out these errors is nit- picking, I say “Shame on you.” We all took high school English, which, if we’d spent half as much time learning as we did avoiding learning, would have made us proficient enough in our language usage that these errors would hardly ever appear.

Although errors in spoken English make me cringe, I am especially critical of errors in writing because there is no other way for the writers to express their ideas and get their points across. I agree that some English grammar rules don’t make a lot of sense, and hardly any one knows or follows the more arcane ones, such as splitting infinitives. Sidebar: I’d read this rule came from Latin where an infinitive is expressed as a verb ending and couldn’t be split. However, the errors Lynda pointed out and the ones that send me into orbit are much more basic. These include spelling errors, failure to distinguish between “its” and “it’s”, manufacturing plurals by adding “‘s” to nouns or its corollary not knowing the difference between singular and plural possessives, mismatching singular and plural subjects, verbs, and reference pronouns, and misuse of homonyms.

When I encounter grammar errors in newspapers, magazines, or books, my attitude towards the editor and or writer depends on how high my cynicism coefficient is that day.

1. Does the editor or writer think the audience is so stupid it won’t recognize these errors?

2. Is the editor or writer so stupid he doesn’t realize these are errors?

3. Why is this person being paid to write when he obviously has so little regard for the English language?

4. If he doesn’t pay attention to English usage, what else in his writing should we be suspicious of?

5. Has the education level fallen so far in the US that, not only don’t the majority of the readers realize these are errors, but also those that do think it’s a losing battle to point them out?

6. With the profit motive driving everything, maybe proof- reading is a cost no one in publishing is willing to accept as a cost of doing business.

A pet peeve of mine are the highway signs announcing road work that consistently refer to federal highways as SH highways such as SH 285. I think all the signs should reference the Federal highways as US and the state highways with the accepted state abbreviation, as CO for us. This references number 4 above which makes me wonder what else the CDOT is overlooking in its construction projects. End of tirade.

Once again, Lynda, I appreciate your attention to detail and I recall, Martha wrote a few years ago about some author she was assisting who didn’t want to use apostrophes even when they were required.

Peter Bulkeley

(a member of the Apostrophe Posse)