Thursday, March 03, 2011

The Defender of The Language Returns, For Evil Never Sleeps In The Minds Of Those Bent Upon The Destruction Of English

Once again, the Defender of The Language will use this space to take questions from vexed readers residing all across this Great Land of Ours. She will try her best to repair these breaches in that Sacred Trust. First to share a concern is Reverend Nigel Ellsworth, from Maine.

Oh, Defender, cheers! I had the most embarrassing conversation with one of my parishioners. She wanted my guidance with regard to her teenaged son. He had started hanging around with a bad lot of friends, and she was worried about him starting up with drugs. She wanted my advice as to how to, in her words, "nip it in the butt." I almost wept with embarrassment! Surely that is not an accepted alternative to the idiom, is it? Isn't the proper saying still to "nip it in the bud?"

That must have been embarrassing, indeed, Reverend, for both of you, although your congregant was oblivious to her mangling of this common idiom. You are correct. The saying is "nip it in the bud," and if you visualize it, you can imagine exactly what the metaphor is behind it. It means to deal with a problem when it first appears, before it has a chance to grow larger. Now you, and even your hapless parishioner, can see why "nipping it in the butt" is both awkwardly embarrassing and nonsensical. Certainly it is painful for the problem at hand, but it's illogical: how would nipping anything in, butt solve the problem?

Next, Chrystal from Providence has a question. Chrystal? Chrystal! You're up! DO YOU HAVE A QUESTION OR NOT?

Huh? You don't have to shout at me. God! Whatever. My question is this. My boyfriend has this big paper due tomorrow and I'm helping him with it. His grammar and stuff is terrible. We just had a humongous fight over two stupid words, everyday and a lot. He keeps pushing both of them together, no matter what. I told him like twenty times that he's totally wrong. He won't believe me. Can you tell him he's a big freaking idiot so that I'm not the one he's mad at and I can still go to Prom?

Well, Chrystal, tear the tags off that dress, my dear. You are going to the prom. Let's deal with everyday first. When written as one word, everyday is an adjective, and it means "commonplace, ordinary, usual." It would be describing a noun. You could use it thusly: These are my everyday shoes. If written as two distinct words, it then describes a time--"each day." You could then use it in this way: I eat cereal every day. Your second issue, a lot, is somewhat easier. As a skilled and careful writer, you should simply avoid it, especially in a lengthy, scholarly paper. It is inexact and flabby. You are, however, correct. It is always, always, always written as two words, whether describing a great deal of something or, more correctly, a parcel of land upon which you might place a building. I would prefer that you only use it for the latter.

Finally, we will hear from Felicia, stationed in Guam.

Hey, Defender! Memorias, everyone! I realize that I'm in a whole different country over here, but I still speak English, and the majority of the people I deal with on a daily basis do, too. I've noticed a disturbing trend, and I wondered if I missed something since I've been stationed here. Did "have went" suddenly become proper? Am I the wrong one?

Felicia, thank you for your service. The short answer to your question is a resounding NO. The perfect tense of the verb "go" is and always has been "gone," whether it is with the helping verb "has," "had," or "have." It is, therefore, correct to say I had gone to the gym rather than the horrid I had went to the gym. As to the reason why you are suddenly hearing such dismaying speech in Guam, I have no idea, but I am as distressed as you are. What a terrible ordeal for you so far from home. Buena Suette.

As always, if you have a question or concern for the Defender of The Language, leave it in Comments or email Nance here at the Dept. of Nance by clicking the email link in the sidebar. Questions and issues will be addressed in the next column.


  1. And then there is 'allot'. Not to be confused with 'all out', as an umpire would call it.


    I love it when you do this - may I submit a question?

  2. As a person who actually has been nipped in the butt, I feel compelled to respond. It all started when I was playing tag football with my neighbors. Their boxer decided he wanted to play, too. As I was running away from his owners, he ran up and quite forcefully nipped me in the butt! My running away from his owners obviously was a problem for him, and so he dealt with the problem swiftly and effectively, figuratively nipping it in the bud by nipping me in the butt. So there :-D

  3. When my husband was in middle school, kids used to ask him to borrow them a pencil, like this: "Hey, dude, borrow me a pencil". He figured they were idiots and ignored them.

  4. Mikey G.11:19 AM

    I love this segment a lot :-)

  5. Mikey G.--Thankfully, you included an emoticon (suitable, by the way, for casual online communication, but not for more formal written documents, ever!) in your comment, or I would have been stricken anew with Grammar/Usage Despair. On another note, I am glad that you enjoy these posts, and I hope you find them affirming. --DoL poor, abused husband. What a terrible childhood he must have had. I hope you continue to surround him with lovingly provided proper grammar and usage in both speech and writing in your marriage to help ameliorate such awful memories. How I wish I could just ignore it all, but alas! I cannot.--DoL

    Carolina Linthead--What a colorful and colloquial anecdote. Thank you for sharing. I did notice, however, that you still had to employ the original idiom to explain your...situation. Hmmmm....Be that as it may, I hope your dog bite healed nicely, and that you did not take it out on the boxer, a breed I'm especially fond of.--DoL

    Mary G--Oh, the horror! I overheard the lamentations of a couple of teachers recently, and it would seem that "allot" has suddenly come to the forefront of freshman writing as the alternative to "alot" as a heinous occurrence. My work, it would seem, is never done. With regard to your query, of course you may submit your question, as is invited by Nance in the final paragraph of DoL posts. I await it with bated (notice the spelling!) breath.--DoL

  6. Hi Nance,

    I would appreciate your explaining the rule of "was" and "were".

    "She looked at me as though I WAS crazy"

    "She looked at me as though I WERE crazy"

    Thanks allot. I could not resist that,Nance,but my question is sincere.

  7. Nancy--I will submit your general question to the Defender for a future post. The short answer to your present question, using the examples you gave, however, is that you would say, "She looked at me as though I WERE crazy." The reason lies in the term "subjunctive mood." I'll let the Defender explain it more fully later. Thanks for submitting a question!

  8. I'd like the Defender to comment on the (mis)use of "there's". I hear it frequently these days, by both the well and poorly educated : "There's problems in Wisconsin these days." Or "There's things we'll never understand." It's driving me insane!

  9. Dear Defender: I'm like, in awe of you for the butt-kicking you deliver every day! I was in the mood just recently to edit an e-mail in "tracking" mode, and then return to sender. What's the etiquette on that one, dearest?

  10. I rarely blog anymore, Nance...but I still come by now and again. Can I say that THIS has to be one of the best pieces you've written? I actually laughed this morning. Thank you.

  11. aplo--I'm so glad to provide you with some laughter. I know how you feel these days. March is a long month; our spring break is right before Easter--SO LATE--and Ohio's governor just got away with a Wisconsin Move. I'm heartbroken and angry, and I feel abandoned by the news media and organizations like MoveOn, who are pouring money and effort into WI and Indiana like crazy and simply ignored us. Today in the workroom we said that we have a new mission statement for our school: "Abandon hope, all ye who enter here." We weren't kidding. The overriding atmosphere in our building among staff is one of hopelessness. And where is President Obama? He has left teachers high and dry. Believe me, we will NOT forget.

    Melissa B.--I am a Defender of The Language, so I am not willing to weigh in on what is essentially an etiquette issue. I would direct you to a Miss Manners-type individual for your query. Many times, defending The Language is at odds with social constructs, and at times, I must defer to such things. Sad, but there it is.--DoL

  12. I like this series! Although it's making me a bit paranoid about my grammar. : )

  13. Anonymous11:01 PM

    Oh wow! I Love this!So funny, and helpful! I hate to admit that I always forget the "everyday/every day" rule and probably use it improperly all the time.

    (I only wish I'd read this before I sent that email to you a few minutes ago. Sigh.)


  14. Nina--I don't view friendly emails as a chance to whip out my Virtual Red Pen. And I would hope that this is true of all professionals who work in the writing/English-related fields. I'm always happy to get correspondence from friends and family, and the last thing on my mind is whether there is a comma missing or a spelling error. That's not important to me in this instance; content is. That, and the fact that someone was kind enough to think of me and THEN take time out of his or her busy life to sit and write me a note. How lovely!--Nance

    Lisa--Paranoid, I hope not. More conscious, well, that would be, in the words of Martha Stewart, "a good thing." This is not to say that your grammar has ever been brought to my attention as needing attention, but I think everyone should be a bit more mindful of The Language overall.--DoL

    RD--I thank you for your suggestion. Your comment actually has two concerns that might need to be addressed. Check back for your issue to be discussed in the near future.--DoL

  15. Nance this is a much needed service and rather amusing I might add! I will most likely be obsessive compulsive for the rest of the day about my writing. Sigh.


Oh, thank you for joining the fray!

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