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Dec 11, 2006

Pet Peeves for Pinky

Pet_peeve_04_by_grammar_nazi_club Not coincidoddly inspired by Pinky's recent comment, here's a fine topic for Monday -- Pet Peeves.

Most of mine don't occur to me except as they happen, but here some that come to mind:

  • hypercorrection ("The waiter served water to Jim and I")
  • spelling errors (though I'm getting less sensitive)
  • presumably progressive people using an over-broad brush in criticizing conservatives and/or stupid people
  • people who repeatedly complain about something without doing anything to fix/avoid it
  • people tossing cigarette butts onto the street or sidewalk
  • people biking against the traffic
  • public restrooms with hard-to-use (or empty) soap dispensers
  • public restrooms with the newfangled "tornado" (or something like that) 120 dB paperless hand dryers
  • blog illustrations yoinked without attribution
  • overcooked steak.

No longer on my pet peeve list (or at least, no longer as painful):

  • the use of "nauseous" as a synonym for "nauseated."  I've accepted that it can now mean just that, as well as meaning "causing nausea".
  • the use of "them" (or "they") as a gender and number-neutral prononoun ("I will always tip a waiter at least 15%, even if they forget to serve water to Jim and me.")
  • my mom's inability to understand that a rising peso-to-dollar exchange rate is meaningless unless she also considers inflation of peso-denominated prices, not to mention the cost/effort of carrying things halfway around the world
  • incorrect use of apostrophe's
  • lack of parallel structure in blog entries
  • "excessive" or "inappropriate" use of quotation marks.

What you got?  Feel free to use your own definition of "pet peeve".  Some people would exclude serious and/or large things (like US foreign policy), or things that just annoy through no particular person's fault (stickiness, in general -- but not, say, tabletop stickiness as a result of negligent wait staff).  I'm easy.


image yoinked from the very funny Demonic Redemption at deviantart.com. 

09:38 AM in Weblogs | Permalink


Ok, I have to ask, being yer basic unedumacated science major - what is parallel structure and why is it important in a blog?

My one big pet peeve, that irks the holy hell out of me, is the phrase "needs done." As in, "The laundry needs done." I hate, hate, hate that. It's "needs doing" or "needs to be done." I think it's a midwestern slang thing.

Posted by: Celeste Copeland | Dec 11, 2006 10:34:11 AM

Celeste -- under no circumstances should you move to Pittsburgh. There, they talk just like that. And more:
"The card needs warshed."

Posted by: Phil | Dec 11, 2006 11:20:32 AM

Wait, why is something that's wrong called "hypercorrection"? Isn't that, like, an oxymoron or something? Weird.

I have so many pet peeves about language. Don't EVEN get me started.

Posted by: minty | Dec 11, 2006 12:03:34 PM

oh phil. i have so many pet peeves that it would be easier to for me to list what DOESN'T annoy me. I fear I am becoming more and more cranky with each passing year. I am thisclose to standing in my yard with a rake and brandishing it at any passersby. Except I don't rake.

(but the main peeves I have as of this moment are the perennial sticky hands, made-up words, and drunk people elbowing me in the head)

Posted by: pinky | Dec 11, 2006 12:54:57 PM

Pinky -- just because you don't rake doesn't meant you can't brandish. (But let's try not to overextend that analogy to, say, drunken idiots at concerts: (insert crude analogy here)).

Minty -- I'll try not to get you started. But here's an answer to your question, from ITOD:

"Linguistic Overcompensation
Hypercorrection is what occurs when someone deliberately tries to avoid making an error in the use of language but overcompensates and in so doing makes another error. The classic example of hypercorrection is the use of “you and I” when “you and me” would actually be correct. The rule, which we were all taught as children, is never to use the word “me” in the subject of a sentence, so something like “You and me are friends” would be incorrect. But because this rule was so thoroughly hammered on, many people came to feel uncomfortable about using a construction like “you and me” anywhere in a sentence, even when it’s absolutely appropriate, as in “The inheritance will be split between you and me.” When someone mistakenly uses “you and I” in an attempt to avoid breaking the “don’t use ‘me’ incorrectly” rule, he or she has hypercorrected, which is to say, flubbed."

link to full article: http://itotd.com/articles/306/hypercorrection/

Posted by: Phil | Dec 11, 2006 1:02:18 PM

I like using "they" as an indefinite singular pronoun: I think it's my nod to political correctness. And I think it sounds fine except in the most formal of speech. I have Sarah to thank there.

I really do hate mis-spellings, especially when I see them on a sign or some other public forum. I think the paramount thing, in any case, is to get the correct idea across without distraction. It also helps me to remember that English ought to be spoken, not written. :)

Another English bug/feature I think about a lot is how many different places one uses the letter "s," with or without an apostrophe, to modify a word. It's confusing, even to educated, native speakers.

I used to hate English. Now I like it, maybe even love it, and take pride in using it. And here I thank that god damn genius of a speaker, Winston Churchill.

Posted by: Joseph H. Vilas | Dec 11, 2006 2:03:46 PM

The quotes for emphasis still bug the crap out of me. I work pretty hard to avoid the singular "they/them." If you plan ahead, or are writing, you can generally slip everything into plural, so you can make it gender neutral and match up in number.

Spelling is something that I'm pretty forgiving of, particularly because I'm not terribly good at it myself, but I expect people to try. I mean, if you KNOW you don't know how to spell something, how hard is it to go to dictionary.com? You can even add it as a search engine in the search bar in Firefox. And a quick proofread won't catch everything, but it's just good manners. People who know they can't spell and don't even try really bug me.

And I understand in informal, quick e-mails or entries or things, but if you're writing something longer than a couple of sentences, enough to really be called a paragraph, is it really that hard to capitalize and use punctuation? It just makes things so much easier to read... (I hope nobody minds excessive ellipses... :)

Posted by: Michael Bacon | Dec 12, 2006 11:04:13 AM

My list of pet peeves, like Pinky's, is growing longer by the day. I dislike being so cranky.... but alas. Perhaps if I start sleeping more my list of pet peeves will shrink.

Top Pet Peeves for Now:
1. People who drive slowly in the left lane (WTF??)
2. People at work who don't communicate with each other - even though they're working on the same project
3. Men who talk down to women

I am, however, massively cheered up and amused by the stick figure comic up there. Yaay, proper use of "your" and "you're"! Yaay, happy stick figures!

Posted by: Grace | Dec 12, 2006 11:37:32 AM

Parallel structure: when I wrote zines, I used to stick in bogus parallelism just because I thought it was fun and made things more readable. My blog entries are usually even less considered than my zines were, and probably cheaper for me to put out too. With blog entries and e-mail, I'm generally just not going to criticize others on matters of form: I'll just vote with my fingers and go read something else. :)

BTW, Firefox 2.0 seems to come with built-in spell-checking for some fields, which is helpful.

Posted by: Joseph H. Vilas | Dec 12, 2006 1:37:18 PM

Bullet points! Just kidding. My absolute pet peeve that makes me so very mad is people who pull up outside the grocery store to drop off their SO and make everyone entering and exiting the store dice with death as they cross the road with NO visibility. The common American misuse of 'momentarily' used to bug me but I'm over it now.

I love that cartoon.

Posted by: Marianne | Dec 13, 2006 8:38:43 AM

I encountered Grace's Pet Peeve #4 in the Whole Foods parking lot last night:

4. Poorly parked cars (e.g., over the lines or at a funky angle, forcing drivers of adjacently parked cars either to shift over themselves or have skinny little spaces in which to wriggle into and out of their cars).

Poorly parallel-parked cars bug me too, but at least that's more understandable. People who park badly in lots just annoy the crap out of me.

Posted by: Grace | Dec 13, 2006 1:06:38 PM

Poor parking in the Wellspring parking lot is especially bothersome, as the lot is crowded and busy, and the spaces are small.

Posted by: Joseph H. Vilas | Dec 13, 2006 11:35:06 PM

People saying "literally" when they are actually speaking figuratively. Like, "that defense is literally killing people out there!" What, who let them bring switchblades on the field? And who's going to clean up the blood?

And with that, the general watering down of words of emphasis. I read an old wire report from a college football game from the 40s, I think, which described the amazing feats that the running back was achieving as "almost incredible." Of course, that sounds pretty tame these days. We'd probably say, "beyond incredible," or some such thing, but in the strict definition of the word, it means, "not believable." As in, if it actually were incredible, not just almost incredible, we wouldn't even believe the wire report that it had happened. We'd say they made it up.

Posted by: Michael Bacon | Dec 14, 2006 6:32:57 PM

The paradigmatic example for Michael's last pet peeve is "I literally died laughing." I guess intensifiers just aren't the words they used to be. :)

Posted by: Joseph H. Vilas | Dec 15, 2006 10:18:46 PM

Regarding Michael's posts, part I: Last night I was listening to WNCU's "Fast Break -- for the intelligent sports fan" and the "almost incredible" reference came to mind. OF course, I couldn't remember where the heck I'd heard about the "almost incredible" until I got here. Duh!

Part II: on the "they" -- the argument I'm told is that using all plurals makes for smoother language, but with a potential tradeoff in language that's less strong, less vivid, or not quite right for the thought to be expressed.

For example(s):

Example 1
A. When the cook asks for salt, don't give him pepper.
B. When the cooks ask for salt, don't give them pepper.

"B" avoids the gender problem, but isn't nearly as vivid (in part because the situation described is more likely a singular event (one cook in a kitchen, asking for salt -- not a bunch of cooks all asking for salt at the same time).

Example 2:
A. If a hungry man asks you for a meal, don't give him a lecture.
B. If hungry people ask you for a meal, don't give them lectures.

I think most readers would say that "A" is more vivid -- it isolates one encounter between you and another human being. He has a singular situation and request, and you have to decide how to respond. The plural used here would be more abstract, and the imagined person(s) would edge toward facelessness. But then, of course, you still have the gender problem.

A vote for "they"?

Sting, in his hit single from ~1985, cast his vote for the singular "they", when he sang:

"If you love somebody...if you love someone... set them free"

Geez, did I hate that song -- mostly because of the grammar choice which I didn't buy at the time. (And also because I really didn't like the tune, either, but I digress.) But in the time it takes a person to grow up and bu liquor, I've come to be comfortable with the approach. Not happy, mind you, but comfortable (or at least accepting).

For now, I'm happiest when I see prose where the author can comfortably switch back and forth between genders. Imagine a book on management where the author sometimes writes in one paragraph, "If one of your staff has an idea that looks good but needs more detail, ask him to think it through and write it down". Two or three paragraphs later, the author might say, "or if another one of your staff that looks good but needs buy in from another department, suggest that she invite her counterpart to help vet the idea." This "back and forth" approach can't work everywhere, of course, but I like it where I can get it.

BTW, I used to have four of the first five editions of William Zinsser's "On Writing Well." It was interesting to see how in his early editions, he came down strongly on the side of using the masculine singular for singulars of indeterminate genders. In one of those volume, he also mocked the people who proposed the new object pronoun "thon" as a gender-free alternative to "him" or "her". If I recall, he changed his mind by around the fourth edition and encouraged the mixed-gender approach where possible, with the "masculine-as-gender-free" option where mixed-gender wouldn't work. I think he's up to a seventh edition now, but I've quite reading.

Speaking of which, if *you* are still reading, please accept my thanks and apologies for the rambling, especially if one of your pet peeves is long, rambling lectures in the field labeled "Comment", not "Commentary".

Posted by: Phil | Dec 16, 2006 12:31:01 PM

Pet Peeve No. X: Emails that display all the recipient addresses in the "TO" field when -- for reasons of privacy, practicality, or clutter-prevention -- the addresses should be in the "BCC" field.

Part of the reason this drives me nuts is that my compulsive consulting/teaching mind *always* wants to tell the sender, "Hey, didja know there's a better way?" But very often, my relationship with the sender isn't sufficiently open for me to offer unsolicited advice, so I have to suck it up.


Posted by: Phil | Dec 16, 2006 12:37:12 PM

On the Pet Peeve No. X: I know at least one person whose email filters are set to dump anything that has been sent to him as a BCC, which means I have to send him a separate copy of all those mass emails that are otherwise going to a long BCC list.

Posted by: patryce | Jan 1, 2007 7:54:16 PM

Celeste -- I hope that your pet peeves don't include "long-unanswered blog questions" because I'm just now getting to yours.

To use "parallel structure" means, more or less, to "stick to one format when you're doing a bunch of similar things." I'm sure you learned it at some point, even if you forgot the term.

We usually talk about parallel structure in the context of written syntax, like this:

Parallel structure -- "I like to eat good food, drink good wine, and smoke good cigars."
Non-parallel structure -- "I like to eat good food, drink good wine, and smoking good cigars."

But the principle of parallel structure applies elsewhere, and you probably saw it in your early training at the computer. For example, consider the admonitions to pick a consistent system for naming variables or subroutines. That's another example of parallel structure in practice.

Fun, yes? Yes!

Posted by: Phil | Jan 29, 2007 11:27:37 PM

Last night I had the TV on for background noise, and boy did I get it (noise, that is). A show from the Hallmark channel portrayed life in the ~1920s South, and OMFG the accents were terrible. Ick. Ick. Ick. Bad accents by actors portraying Southern characters in historical settings -- definitely a pet peeve.

Posted by: Phil | Jan 29, 2007 11:30:56 PM

A Pet Peeve remembered when it happened this weekend:

On the road, when people turn on their blinkers AFTER they've started to change lanes.

Posted by: Phil | Mar 18, 2007 11:54:55 PM

Pet Peeve:

When people fail to differentiate between "public radio" and "National Public Radio". "Public radio" in the US generally means not-for-profit radio sponsored in part through voluntary contributions from listeners. NPR is both a producer and syndicator of programs which are most often aired on public radio stations. But NPR is by no means the only source of programming for public radio, and many public radio stations don't use any NPR programs.

A loose analogy for the language overlap between public radio and NPR: television and MTV, with one an occasional subset of the other.

Posted by: Phil | Jun 14, 2007 1:03:05 PM

Use of the word "prestigious" in front of any award or title (Professor Gaines was awarded the prestigious Hunsucker Fellowship for asshattery.)

Posted by: Phil | Sep 1, 2007 3:30:57 AM

p.s. regarding "A Pet Peeve remembered when it happened this weekend: On the road, when people turn on their blinkers AFTER they've started to change lanes."

I hate it when *I* do this, too.

Hugh Prather is one of my many who have noted that the faults we hate most in other people are often duplicated in ourselves. (Dammit.)

Posted by: Phil | Oct 13, 2008 12:59:49 PM

I have no idea what I meant about the "television and MTV" mention above. Maybe I meant "music videos" and "MTV"?

Newly remembered pet peeve: when people say "I'm writing a grant" when they mean "I'm writing a grant application." I'm on the search committee for a nonprofit and reading tons of resumes right now, and every time I see "grant writing experience", I want to throw that candidate right out the door. But I don't, because I understand that "grant writing" is now the common and accepted shorthand within the nonprofit field. I still hate it.

Posted by: Phil | Jan 13, 2009 8:41:48 PM

"due to unusually high call volume..." Argh! I hate this lie so much because it the language -- distinctive and once chosen so carefully -- has turned into not just b.s., but elaborate b.s., said over and over and over and...

Argh. Heard it last night on the AAA line (I think my ignition is busted).

BTW -- I think I've got a substitute for "prestigious" -- "prominent." I know they don't mean exactly the same thing, but both are applicable to the thing that they describe. I just read this in a New Yorker article: "Ramachandran, who is fifty-seven, has held prestigious fellowships at All Souls College, in Oxford, and at the Royal Institution, in London." How could the New Yorker editors let that slide by? Laziness, I think.

William Zinnser said of travel writing, something like this: if, while writing about travel, you find that a sentence has come out of your pen with surprising ease, cut it out. It came out with ease because you've already seen it many times and is now cliche.

Posted by: Phil | Jun 1, 2009 12:23:52 AM