Monday, February 07, 2011

The Defender of The Language Never Rests, And She Takes Questions

This week, the Defender of The Language will be answering questions posed by irritated readers from across the globe. Let's start with Jill, from Oregon.

Hi, Defender. Like you, I find myself physically sickened by these morons who can't use the apostrophe correctly. Can you talk about the signs I see on people's houses that say things like The Taylor's and The Smith's? That's not right, is it?

Certainly I can comment regarding that. Those signs are not displaying the correct usage of the apostrophe and are, in fact, both egregious and upsetting. Unless the residents of those properties are known by a nickname like Donald Trump, who goes by "The Donald," those signs should have their apostrophes relocated. The houses are owned or occupied by all of the Taylors and Smiths; therefore, the apostrophe should reflect that and be placed at the end, thusly: The Taylors' and The Smiths'. The fact that commercial signage cannot be trusted shows in what a sad state we find Our Language. How abysmal, really.

Now let's hear from Costa in New Mexico.

Thanks, Defender, for being there and for taking my question. I know idioms are sometimes regional, but why are some people so stupid about them? For example, the idiom "cut and dried." If I hear one more person say "cut and dry," I think I'll shoot someone. Or am I the one who's wrong?

Oh, believe me when I say that I share your vast frustration. There is even a blog out there in the ether with the erroneous version of this idiom in its title. The correct idiom is indeed "cut-and-dried," and complicating matters further for lazy writers is the necessity of hyphenating it when it is used as a plain, not predicate, adjective. Sometimes, simple common sense can be useful in understanding some idioms. To say something is "cut and dry" just sounds awkward, both in tense and parallel structure. Makes me shudder.

Finally, someone calling himself ZuuZuuu in Pennsylvania writes:

Yo, Defendah! You're cool and all, but what's the big deal with spelling everything so perfect all the time and whatnot? Plus, English doesn't make sense, the way its spelling is, like, so random! Like, a double-o in "moon" is pronounced "ooh," right? So why is this sentence wrong? That girl is fat, so she needs to loose a few. Later, Big D.

It is with great restraint that the Defender of The Language will address only the issue germane to your last query and leave the myriad concerns of your...commentary for another time. Now, then. What you are really bringing to bear is the age-old Lose Vs. Loose battle that is, in a word, never-ending for those of us on the Front Lines of Language Defense. Let me just say this: In the English language, we already have a word spelled "L-O-O-S-E." It is an adjective meaning "free from restraint; unfettered, unbound" and it rhymes with other words spelled similarly, such as goose, moose, and caboose. Occasionally, the word loose can also be used as a verb, but it still means to set something free, to unfetter it, to release it from its restraints. Most usages of this are archaic or poetic. "L-O-S-E" is an active verb, and it means to fail to retain something; to come to be without an object. If you become confused because these words don't follow some sort of rules, simply accept that fact and resign yourself to the fact that part of being a mature writer is remembering a few important things on your own. Certainly that cannot be too terribly taxing, can it?

If you have a question for the Defender of the Language, leave it in Comments, or contact Nance here at the Dept. of Nance by clicking the email link in the sidebar. The Defender of the Language will respond weekly.


  1. Love your third question. Maybe the female in question is not fat but bloated with gas. In that case, t0 'loose a few' might answer quite well.

    Sorry, couldn't resist.

    Love your defender pic.

  2. deer definder;

    I'm a sine makir for the tee partee and kneed you're advise.

    how dew you spel constetutiun! Oh, and is this a quastiun mark!

    Anser quik.They are hafing a raly Toosdey an dont loose this.

  3. This may seem petty, but with all apologies to Truman Capote, I get tired of people saying "Tiffany's" and "Nordstrom's". Those are not the names of the stores. Macy*s, however, is Macy*s, whatever they mean by that * there.

    Please, people, you go to Tiffany for jewelry or, perhaps, to eat breakfast (if you're a high class hooker on the way home from a trick), and to Nordstrom for a wonderful shoe shopping experience.

    Seriously, when I was young and childless, I used to bring in my new dress, and have them find the shoes to go with it. They came out with shoes that weren't even out on display, and terribly cute. And if you tell them your budget going in, they don't waste your time with Jimmy Choos, either. Delicious.

  4. Deer Defnedre, smoetimes peepol are jsut lysdexic. Nod't make nuf of us.
    Perhaps toot a few, rather than loose a few?
    Seriously, though, Nance, I love this post, and you've started an unlimited series! Unfortunately, those who don't give a hoot (there's another one for your double o collection)don't pay attention to the correction in the first place, therefore don't remember it, and will repeat the error over and over. As a former univ. writing instructor, I've been writing/editing in academia, industry and publishing for more than 30 years, and the only reason I can stay in business is, ironically, that writers will simply incorporate all corrections without really looking at them. Since they have not absorbed the knowledge so that they can do it on their own, I get endless business from the same clients! I actually once had a rude department supervisor who said, "We don't care if our writers can write, or whether they pay attention to your critiques. That's not their job. YOU'RE the JANITOR. CLEAN IT UP!
    So take heart--while blatant and egregious errors are annoying, people do NEED us.

  5. sputnik--It would not be so hurtful and soul-sucking if the errors were there for me to fix. All I can do, in most cases, is see them and wish they were not there, or make note of them to others. As Defender of the Language, I cannot do it all, nor can I do it all of the time. Additionally, I am not paid to do it, as you are. This is a public service gig for me, largely, and a Labour Of Love. Thank you for YOUR service, however, to Our Language.
    (Although designating you/me as a "janitor" is somewhat unsettling, no offense to true janitors intended.)--DoL need to apologize; we all have our Language Pet Peeves, and when we hear/see them, it's like someone has poked us in the face with a meat fork. It's like hearing people place "The" in front of every retail outlet: The Walmart, The Target, The Kmart, etc. That splits my infinitives, too. I knew a woman who used to stubbornly pronounce the home store "Lowe's" as "Lowell's". I guess the signs weren't big enough for her. Sigh. (And don't think Macy's is getting away with using a star as an apostrophe, either. I refuse to indulge them in that pursuit. Silly.)--DoL

    Nancy--The tea party almost sent me over the edge, believe me. I have decided that they are far beyond the powers of any Superhero, unless there is an Apocalypse Man. Now there's one who may be able to reckon with them!--DoL

    Mary G--Certainly a woman suffering from excessive intestinal gas could be helped from "loosing a few"! If only dear ZuuZuuu had the instinctive wit to grasp the subtleties of such humour, but alas! He is probably still trying to tease out the complexities of his parents' "Beavis & Butthead" collection on DVD.--DoL

  6. Nance,

    Now don't get mad but I have to know the answer to this question..

    Is it true that the first 5 people who turn up at a Cavs game get to start?

  7. Nancy--Sigh. What's incredible to me is that so many people continue to show up! The Cavaliers have something like the second-highest attendance rate for home games in the NBA. You've gotta hand it to Cleveland fans...they stand by their teams through thick and thin.

  8. Good for them, Nance.

    We have had so many losing teams in Philadelphia I cannot count them. But, like your Cavalier fans we keep encouraging them with our faithful attendance and they respond with a winning team.Eventually.

    My Dad was a Phillie fan all of his life and the year after he passed away they won the World Series for the first time EVER.
    Everyone in our family had the exact same thought. From Dad's lips to God's ears...

  9. Every day at my place of employment I am confronted with emails, voicemail, and even the occasional live rendering of "Please respond (in some manner) to Tom or MYSELF."
    This maneuver could possibly be described as relatively smart people trying to sound even smarter but ending up sounding really dumb and pretentious.
    In a similar vein: "I feel badly." No you don't. Unless it takes you an hour to find the light switch.
    Anyway, I rail. But still they persist.
    Go Cavs.

  10. Zudok--Hello, and welcome to the Dept. The use of "myself" as a sort of reflexive object of preposition is an exercise in linguistic pretension. How it ever got started is both a mystery to me and an unfortunate event. The use of the adverb "badly" instead of the proper predicate adjective "bad" to refer back to and properly describe the subject is a constant source of agony to me. Good etiquette requires that we do not correct speakers when they make these egregious errors in conversation, and that is the number one reason they persist. You have my sympathy.

    Thank you for your support of our hapless NBA team, however; it is much appreciated. We can only continue to hope and be good and loyal fans.--DoL


Oh, thank you for joining the fray!

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