Thursday, October 30, 2008

Grammarmama: Get Your Preposition On!

It's been a while since I began Grammarmama, intended to be a mini-series to help you help yourself speak gooder by teaching your tyke how to talk proper. I know I've been sluggish in following my lay/lie post, but prepositions have brought me back.

I'm a tad sensitive to prepositions, a touch tweaked by them when they aren't used correctly. They are small but they can hurt; a little splinter in the sentence if you will.

And no, I'm not talking about stuffy grammar rules requiring people to murder their own tongues in order to avoid ending sentences with a preposition, e.g., "Crabkid, this behavior is the sort up which I shall not put," to borrow from Winnie Churchill. I'm not some fuddy-duddy pedant. I can be sententious. When I'm not using words like "sententious." Meaning this grammarmama has no beef with easy talking and writing. But some things, prepositionally speaking, do grate, like the following exchange, at bath time:

Mom: "Why did you just pour [a giant pitcher of] water onto the bathroom floor?"
Crabkid: "I did it on accident."
Mom: "By accident."
Crabkid: "By accident. I just poured it on accident."

Now "different from" and "different to" is something one can actively convo about, but "on accident" just plum don't exist, people. And so when Crabkid does these sorts of things she gets away with other things, like pouring water directly onto the bathroom floor, because I just can't get past the prepositional offense.

On the same token, there's something else that really gets me all kinds of unreasonably peppery when I hear it. Almost got you there, didn't I? On the same token! Sneaky Crabmommy! It's by the same token. NPR, are you listening? I hear you on your token all the time, but you're actually off it by two letters. Speaking of NPR, Terry Gross, can you please stop saying "you-man" when you mean "human"? It gets me all twitchy-like beneath my seatbelt.

If there's one thing I will teach my daughter it's what really counts and by God, if she ever falls in love with a youman who says "on the same token" I will just have to dispense with creature, whoever s/he is and I will do so by telling him/her all kinds of embarrassing claptrap real and invented about my child and our family. And if that doesn't work I will behave as crabaciously and ridiculously as possible, which is astonishingly easy for me, thereby sending the young grammatically challenged suitor far from the fold.

When Crabkid asks me why I did it, why I shunned her true love through my appalling behavior, I will feign total surprise! "I'm so sorry I ruined your relationship, darling! I did it on accident."

*Related segue: As a South African who came to the USA in my early twenties I have had to grapple with and learn to understand what appear to be American prepositional faux pas if you are coming from the outside in. For example, Americans love to double up on preps: "off of the train"; "outside of the house." And they like to add a prep where none is needed: "Listen up!" And yet, Americans can be mysteriously economical in their use of articles: "Get in back of the car" sounds quite odd to those of us used to "in the back of."

All that said, squashing snobbery in language is a good thing and I am a strong believer of the "When in Rome" approach to English, if and only if it doesn't contradict a fundamental grammar rule of American English. Not sure how many people really know this, but there are, in fact, numerous differences between American and Commonwealth English that extend far beyond the dropping of the "u" in "colour"; for example, American punctuation is significantly different from British punctuation and as a writer and editor and teacher I have had to learn those diffs dang well. So, you won't catch me living in the US but consulting the Oxford dictionary to orientate myself properly in this heathen land. I am happy to orient myself with Webster's, just so long as nobody asks me to get my token on.

Got any grammar beefs for me?


Suz Broughton said...

I can't find where your links are at. They aren't working *) and I want to read more. I am on need for a grammar lesson or two.

tonypark said...

Plurals and singulars.

Especially companies, government bodies and other organisations which should be singular.

Eg: "The government are..." instead of 'is'

"The company have..." instead of 'has' etc etc.

One of the worst offenders is an Australian electrical and homewares company called Harvey Norman.

When I hear "Harvey Norman are having a HUGE sale," I want to get me my HUGE .44 and cull me a few plurals.

(PS: As a South African, tell me, what is it with 'with'? Why do Seth Efricans say: "Are you coming with?" instead of "are you coming with ME?" What's that all about, Grammarmama?)

mommyknows said...

I've never heard anyone say, "on the same token". "By the same token", is always used here.

I hate that I spell words the 'American' way please my spell check and readers.


You get the message. Each time I deliberately making a spelling or I cringe. Why must I be so weak?

Crabmommy said...

Ahhhh, "come with"! A phrase that energized my mother's impassioned claims to the subtle distinctions of class in her family; to wit, those South Africans who say "come with" are "common and vulgar" lowerclass plebs and those who have the good sense to add the pronoun after the preposition can call themselves uppercrust whether they have a Rand in the bank or not.

tonypark said...

Ah, pronoun. That's the word I was looking for.

Thank you for that insight into South African society. I can use that.

And thank you for saivng the world, Grammarmama, one preposition at a time.

Unknown said...

I dislike ending a sentence with "at." Another annoyance is incorrect usage of "me" and "I." Then there's the word "often"; the "t" should be silent.

Anonymous said...


All your blog's topic were all informative. I learned a lot of things especially in your topics. Thanks for sharing....

Susan said...

I think it's 'hawk' instead of 'hock' when someone is selling something.

I love your blog. Always entertaining, and I'm so glad that there are folks who still care about language.

Amanda said...

Susan! holy crapoli!

Seriously, did Grammarmama make a spelling error? I am beside myself!

I'm going to blame the "hock" on my colloquial South African accent. Of course I meant "hawk" but was trying to indicate a regional voice there...erm...uh. I think, actually, that I was looking for the word "flog" but did a switcheroo for a misplaced "hawk," rendering it "hock."

Is someone protesting too much?

Anonymous said...

when i first moved to atlanta and started teaching, i couldn't believe the grammar down here. the kids would say, "it's mines" when they were claiming possession of something. Also, they would say "there it go" when pointing something out..instead of "there it is."

crabmommy said...

I mea culpa'd too soon!

Wait, wait. I researched it and "hock" works.

"hock:" Informal
Verb: to pawn or pledge

I was meaning it like that ya know? As in PRs coming to pawn their wares...

SO Grammarmama continues to reign SUPREME! (Thanks, Dawn!)

Anonymous said...

This (now former) Canadian has an issue with adjectives! As in, "that's real good" or "that's real loud." What happened to "really good" or even better, "really well" People, embrace the "ly"!

My heart does a happy little dance when I hear my little ones say things like, Mum (and oh yes, it's mum and not mom) that was really good, or I need to tie this properly.

As always, Crabmommy, my thanks (though I do sometimes think you should be Crabmummy).

CCLS Children's Librarian - said...

Oh boy, where do I begin? Grammar seems passe with most people these days, I thought I might be the only one who noticed!

Here are a few pet peeves:

The first car is "different than" the second. Should be "different from"

The group is comprised of Mary, John and "myself." Should be "me"

Never using commas -
"Anyway I should have told her but she couldn't handle it even though she needed to hear it."

"Irregardless" (not a word)

It doesn't matter if you're college-educated or not.....I've read and heard faux pas from corporate executives, teachers and librarians. God help us all!

Lisa U.