By Mims Cushing
Gentle readers, prepare to loathe this column. Be ready to stop reading it after the first paragraph. I sometimes receive what Martie Thompson, editor of this newspaper, calls “fan mail.” I won’t get any love notes for this one. That’s okay. It’s something I want to write about and it’s my column. Besides my kids and grands haven’t done anything heinous to write about lately.
The topic is grammar. I know. Boo hiss. But I’ll understand if your eyes glaze over. Let’s get started. I hope this is a teachable moment for you.
- Use “less” not “fewer,” when what is less is not quantifiable. “Less water,” is fine. Of course you wouldn’t say “fewer water” unless you say “fewer drops of water. You can count drops of water. “She has fewer cats than I have.” Not “less cats.” And do not use “… than me.” You can choose “I have” because you wouldn’t say “fewer cats than me have.” Always put the verb at the end of the sentence and you’ll be right every time.
- Farther refers to distance. Think “far” or “far off.” “St. Augustine is farther than …” (fill in the blank). When do you use further? When you want to mean “in addition,” as in “furthermore. You’d never say “farthermore,” right?
- “It’s” means “it is.” The apostrophe is added to mean Hey! I’ve taken a letter out and substituted it with that apostrophe. “It’s a fine day,” means “It is a fine day.” If you say, “The dog is chasing its tail,” there is no apostrophe needed because you are not saying, “The dog is chasing it is tail.” Very simple.
- Then we come to “anxious” and “eager.” Anxious means nervous. “The kids are anxious for Christmas to arrive.” Are they nervous? Only if they are afraid Santa will bop them on the head for breaking bad. Sorry, being bad. No, they are eager, which means excited. I understand it’s (it is) being used incorrectly by so many people that it’s now okay to use anxious and eager interchangeably. Be a grammar purist! Fight it!
- Next: I heard a newscaster use “bit” when bitten should have been used. She said, “The girl was bit by the shark.” Put “bit” in the blender, unless you mean, “The shark bit me.” I’m sorry you were bitten by a shark, but if you bit it, good for you.
- Now for my personal pet peeve: Using “very unique.” Total arrgh from me. Unique means one of a kind. So how can something be very unique if the word means … One Of A Kind? Her bracelet is unique. And by way — drop “very” in many instances. It’s an unnecessary intensifier. (I’ve taken more editing courses than I can count. You can trust me.)
If you test me on mathematics, I will run away and hide. My weak spot now and forever is arithmetic. But we have to talk more than do math, therefore English is more important for us (not “we!”) mortals than math. (Think “for us.” You would never say “for we mortals.”)
Send your pet grammar peeves to me in care of this newspaper. Well, perhaps this column can be useful. If nothing else, line your birdcage with it.