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Listen to this 'Talk of the Nation' topic

Have you ever sat in a seat on the bus and mentally copy-edited the advertisement above your fellow commuter's head? If you're like me, you've RAGED internally about egregious grammar mistakes all over the public landscape, shaking your fists in a futile desire to track down the offenders and show them a copy of Strunk&White's. Well, "grammar vandal" Kate McCulley actually does what I long to do, sort of, and today she'll tell us how. What's the most heinous example of bad grammar you've seen in the world?

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Visit her blog, and you will see this girl has very little to say, save for emoting her glee at scoring media attention. It's a pity TOTN fell for the hype. This, too, shall pass.

Sent by Long-time Listener | 2:34 PM | 7-23-2007

I really hate the use of "slash" in oral language when an en-dash or some other punctuation or usage is appropriate. Say what you mean.

Sent by Mark Troseth | 3:46 PM | 7-23-2007

One should read Lynne Truss's Eats, Shoots and Leaves. Lynne's the original grammar vandal. There's also an article in a recent Newsweek about the loss of commas in emails and other correspondence.

Sent by Vivian | 3:48 PM | 7-23-2007

Please tell the guest that one of my peeves is the use of the construction "the reason is because" - which she just used. The correct construction is "the reason is."

Sent by Frank | 3:49 PM | 7-23-2007

Shouldn't the advertising sign have said "Run Easily, Boston" anyway? The lack of an adverb offends me much more than the punctuation!

Sent by jo | 3:50 PM | 7-23-2007

I hate the use of "in terms of", which your expert has already used several times. It is almost never used to mean "in terms of" and can usually be replaced by a single word, such as "as" or a similar, simple word.

Sent by Mark Troseth, Portland, OR | 3:50 PM | 7-23-2007

Did the Grammar Vandal just say "gotten" (as in how bad things have gotten)? Although this is a common trend (especially among Germanic descendants), I was taught that this is grammatically incorrect (It should be "how bad it has got").

Michael Engberg

Sent by Michael Engberg | 3:50 PM | 7-23-2007

I think it is inexcusable that the person representing our country - Mr. Bush - insists on misusing the word Democrat, as in the "Democrat Party". Does he think it's funny to not be able to use his native tongue correctly?

Sent by Phyllis Johnson | 3:51 PM | 7-23-2007

My pet peeve deals with the use of "they" and "them" as gender-neutral singular pronouns.

Sent by K V | 3:52 PM | 7-23-2007

Signs above the baggage carousels at LAX once read "All bags look alike. Check your tags." Those signs drove me up the wall, and I complained. On my last trip to LA I noticed the signs had been changed to say that "many bags look alike." whew.

Sent by J.K. Frazier | 3:53 PM | 7-23-2007

it seems like she has more interest in control than grammar. james joyce was not fond of commas so he rarely used them. what does she think of that?

Sent by lisette murray | 3:54 PM | 7-23-2007

If the Grammar Vandal says "you know" one more time I'm going to scream!

Sent by Ed Machak | 3:55 PM | 7-23-2007

I agree with jo The adverb is becoming obsolete. I can't think of any examples now, but lots of advertisments use the adjective where the should use the adverb.

Sent by stubri | 3:56 PM | 7-23-2007

I, too, am amazed at the number of badly written signs. However, I am also amused to listen to Kate and the call-in folks speaking and count the number of times they said "like". A fun listen.

Sent by Jen | 3:56 PM | 7-23-2007

The grammar vandal has confused grammar with usage in many of her comments. For example, one of my pet peeves, the use of "beg the question" for "raise the question" [which I hear frequently on NPR], is a matter of idiomatic usage. It has nothing to do with grammar. And spelling has nothing to do with grammar, either. And most punctuation has very little to do with grammar, being properly a branch of the rhetoric of writing. Grammar describes the structure of a language, not its paint.

Sent by Dennis Clark | 3:59 PM | 7-23-2007

1. I am amazed at how afraid even educated people seem to be to use the word "me" when referring to themselves. Almost everyone now uses the word "myself" when they should use the word "me". (ie. If you have questions, see Bill or myself.)
2. Why do so many people think every word beginning with "h" needs the word "an" in front of it, even when the "h" is not silent? (ie. A hungry man, becomes an hungry man. A historic event, becomes an historic event.) I could understand it if we were British and dropped our "h" in most words.

Sent by J D Wieand | 4:04 PM | 7-23-2007

Grammar, like syntax and nearly every other aspect of language, is not set in stone. It is fluid and open to innovation. Five hundred years ago, I might have said, "Methinks this lady is a control freak," but today that would sound strange to the modern ear. If she is really so horrorfied by what she considers a missing comma, then she might want to take on a larger project. My suggestion: help to edit and therefore "fix" the collected works of James Joyce, William Faulkner, and Cormac McCarthy, three authors who clearly don't understand the proper use of commas in English language prose.

Sent by Robinsson Tully | 4:13 PM | 7-23-2007

The grammar vandal's comments on your program were as milquetoast and full of errors as her blog. She needs to get off her high horse and stop being so didactic.

Sent by Wendy W. | 4:40 PM | 7-23-2007

It drives me nuts when people say "you and I" when "You and me" would be grammatically correct. For example, "This land is your land. This land is my land. This land was made for you and I."

The most heinous miscreants, though, are those who neglect to distinguish between punctuation, spelling and grammar -- as did the guest today on NPR.

Sent by Dave Coyne | 4:42 PM | 7-23-2007

I am a long-time American expat who has recently returned to the US. I must admit I find this habit of so many Americans, young and old, to interject the word 'like' into every other sentence to be another symptom of our lazy, inarticulate society. Your guest, the so-called Grammar Vandal, used it profusely. Even NPR, with your high standards of journalistic excellence, and hopefully good grammar as well, sets a poor example. For example, as much as I like Terry Gross and her program, she, too, seems to find it necessary to interject 'the word' frequently. It is especially obvious how she shifts into 'cool speech' when interviewing artists and performers. Perhaps it's my age, but I was really hoping that you radio personalities at NPR would set an example, rather than follow the crowd.

Sent by D. Hagen | 4:57 PM | 7-23-2007

JD - do most words have the letter "h" in them? I didn't realize that.

Robinsson - I'd rather read Leo Rosten. I suppose you also like Hemmingway?

Sent by LEN | 5:00 PM | 7-23-2007

I can't believe no one caught this yet...
When one of the callers asked the host "How are you today?", her response was "I'm good, thank you."

As I was once taught - "missionaries do 'good' - you will do 'well' to remember that." The proper response should have been "I'm well, thank you".

Sent by gbj5 | 5:30 PM | 7-23-2007

Actually, the host's use of "I'm good", while it may not technically convey the intended meaning, is gramatically correct. Interpreted literally, "I'm good" would indicate "I am behaving properly."

Sent by The Nerd | 8:16 PM | 7-23-2007

What is with the use of "???" in place of " ' ", especially in blogs? (I have not yet seen this in private email)

Sent by 200 kOhm | 8:20 PM | 7-23-2007

I agree with Ed Machak's comment above. Please ask the so called "Grammar Vandal" to discuss the appropriate use of "ya know" in a sentence. Additionally, why does the word "like" proceed most of her responses?
Hopefully, her atrocious use of the spoke word will catch up with her written skills once she has experienced a bit more of life outside of the sorority house.

Sent by Brian G. | 10:25 PM | 7-23-2007

She also said, in reference to her friend, "That is so her!" I do believe "That is (so) she," would be the proper grammar, Vandal. Don't get me started on the article ("that") with no noun following it.

Sent by FZ | 11:38 PM | 7-23-2007

I can't help but be reminded of my copy of "Eats, Shoots, and Leaves," which included a sheet of punctuation stickers. Aside from circles and commas which can also be combined to form quotation marks, apostrophes, colons, and semicolons, it had round stickers that said, "The Panda Says 'No!'" written on them.

Also, my friends and I took the SAT two years ago, and faced with the "Where-does-the-error-occur-in-this-sentence?" and "Choose-the-best-replacement-for-the-underlined-portion" where all the possibilities were wrong, and having finished 15 minutes early, we corrected the test's grammar mistakes.

I agree with the guest: shouldn't mistakes like that be caught somewhere? I mean, the SAT is designed to test your grammar; if I'm going to waste five hours of my life being tested by someone, it had better be by someone who is smarter than me, or at least somewhat meticulous.

Sent by Morgan | 1:03 AM | 7-24-2007

The vandal's blog starts "don't make grammar errors... ." Shouldn't that be "grammatical errors" or "errors of grammar" since grammar is a noun?
I totally agree about "Run Easily." Use the adverb.
A good way to annoy your child is to correct the grammar, syntax and spelling of every document sent home by her school, and have her return them to the adult responsible. Turned her into a stickler, though. Wish I could do the same for certain NPR hosts who are mistaken or casual about the meaning of 'unique' (eeek), and can't distinguish between 'persuade' and 'convince.'

Sent by kathill, Los Angeles | 1:16 AM | 7-24-2007

Kate McCulley's commentary was FULL of grammatical errors, and she has certainly never diagrammed a sentence!

Sent by cathy w | 7:23 PM | 7-24-2007

I believe the grammar vandal's beef with the street name "Professors Row" is off base. This is a case where "Professors" is an attributive rather than possessive noun, and thus modifies "Row" (e.g., "writers union" or "shareholders meeting"). See The Chicago Manual of Style at 6.23, and don't quit your day job.

Sent by Carol | 5:45 PM | 7-25-2007

i dun no wut she tawking bout cuz i haved gewd grammar lol mayb we r gettin stupider shrugs

Seriously, though, although I am sometimes a word Nazi, it doesn't bother me if your sentences are cohesive. It bothers me when it's horrible such as using TXT or IM speech in emails, blog posts, etc. where one has time to articulate a response. I don't expect everyone to be Professor English but it should be perfectly understandable.

Sent by Kamran | 4:08 PM | 7-26-2007

Carol - in the 15th edition of The Chicago Manual of Style (available online at www.chicagomanualofstyle.org), section 6.23 is on "Et al." Perhaps you meant section 7.27, "Possessive versus attributive forms"?

What's your day job?

Sent by LEN | 6:21 PM | 7-26-2007

I have the 14th edition of CMS, hard cover.

Sent by Carol | 4:20 AM | 10-3-2007