Therapist: "Why would you do that?"
Me: "Well, it's the basis of my next book: Usage choices that incite people to near violence."
Therapist: "And this was your idea?"
Therapist: "Maybe you ought to look at that."
So for this week's column (and for my own therapy) I thought I'd strike back by talking about the most common failings of the pompous grammar police — mistakes they're likely to make even as they're criticizing others.
Take, for example, this rant posted by Shannon at a site called "The Sneeze:"
<< [A] friend has a tendency to throw in superflous [sic] vowels in words such as "real-a-tor", and consonants in words like "and" when she means "an". >>
Now, setting aside that misspelling of "superfluous," notice how Shannon puts her comma and period outside the quotation marks. Well, as I've discussed here many times, in American English, periods and commas go inside quotation marks, colons and semicolons go outside and with exclamation points and question marks, it depends on whether they pertain to the quoted matter or to the sentence as a whole.
Here's another punctuation flub from someone named Jenstate posting at "Metrodad: Confessions of a Grammar Nerd."
Notice that comma after the single quotation mark. What's up with that? Did Jenstate think that her question mark needed help? In these situations, one punctuation mark is always enough.
Another topic that rallies the outraged grammar spammers is "less" versus "fewer." They all seem to get it half right, as Metrodad himself demonstrates.
Carl's: "Yeah, a few. Less than regular chili though."
Me: "You mean fewer?"
Me: "You mean your chili has fewer beans, not less."
Carl's: "Are you (expletive deleted) kidding me? You want the God (expletive deleted) chili or not?">>
Now, what we have here is someone who's way, way too proud of his basic grasp of "less" and "fewer." As Metrodad knows, "less" applies to singular things — which usually means mass things like "gasoline," "trouble" and "intelligence." Conversely, "fewer" applies to plural things — which usually means countable things like "items," "friends" and "legs to stand on."
But common sense will tell you and the experts will confirm that when you're talking about beans, you're not talking about them individually. You're talking about them as a mass. And that's why the supposedly inferior restaurant worker was right and the smug, ranting grammar freak was wrong.
And just writing about that here is better than any therapy I can imagine.
JUNE CASAGRANDE is a freelance writer and author of "Grammar Snobs Are Great Big Meanies." You can reach her at JuneTCNaol.com.