Peter Delacorte

Writer and non-speaker of German


Mika KozmaComment

My parents met in the early 1940s when they were both editors at Dell Publishing.  My mother judged people almost entirely on the quality of their grammar.  I say "almost entirely" because she also came down hard on pronunciation.  One of my earliest memories involves the word caramel.  I was four years old and I--a red-blooded American kid--omitted the second a.  Mom gave me the coldest look imaginable and said, "It's not cahrmel, it's caramel."  She loved Walter Cronkite but shook her head and moaned at the television when he pronounced "forte" as "for-tay," or said "puh-weblo" for "Pueblo." My sisters and I are not quite as fanatical as our parents were, but I doubt there are too many families who spend time on the telephone discussing how "the boat sunk in heavy seas" made it past the copy desk at the Times. I hope to use this space to raise questions about English grammar and usage--such as, was the confusion of your and you're so rife in pre-Internet days, or is it a recent phenomenon that most Americans seem to have been absent during fourth grade English?  And how about phenomenon/phenomena or criterion/criteria?  Which is singular and which is plural? Listen to any talking head on the TV and you'll be misled.

Here's a puzzle.  Do you say, or do you know someone who says, anyways instead of anyway? I'm aware that the superfluous s occurs frequently, as in afterwards instead of afterward, but for some reason anyways makes me stop and think. There doesn't appear to be any geographical or sociological pattern to it.  Deviators from anyway  seem to be random. There are three of my acquaintance--from upstate New York, southeastern Pennsylvania, and Southern California--all college graduates, all without noticeable affect.

Anyway, here's another.  When did the redundant is become so fashionable, as in "the thing is, is that we have to get out of here?"  What's that second is doing there, and where did it come from?  Listen to a speech by Barack Obama and it pops up constantly.  The president also pronounces "divisive" as "divissive," but so (unaccountably) do a lot of politicians.