Butchering Grammar 10: Pet peeves and funny mistakes

The average North American consumes more than four hundred Africans.

Wow. A friend sent that sentence to me, and I was afraid for those unfortunate Africans who get consumed.

Unfortunately, astoundingly stupid sentences like this amphiboly get printed, posted, and advertised all too often.

An amphiboly is a fallacy worded strangely so that the meaning of the sentence could get misconstrued. Here is another amphiboly: “Iraqi head searches for arms.”  Note to self: Proofread carefully, and perhaps show what you have written to someone else who might catch your stupid mistakes.

Here’s another: A farmer’s market near my house posted a sign that said “Now Hiring Ripe and Tasty Tomatoes.” I’m not sure what to think about that one.

A couple of pet peeves make their way to the top of my grammar and proofreading list. First is the misuse of the words “who” and “whom.” A book I just finished reading tried to sound very proper, I am sure, by saying “Whom is the one you suspect?” Now unless “Whom” in this case is the name of a character in the novel, the author (and her editor) is guilty of butchering grammar.

“Who” is a subjective pronoun, just like “it,” “we,” “he,” “she,” and “they.” When the pronoun becomes the subject of the clause, “who” is properly used. “Who is the one you suspect?” becomes the clear winner here, because in this case “Who” is the pronoun.

“Whom” is the objective pronoun. It receives the action; this pronoun is the object of the clause. “He is the one whom you suspect.”

I must tell you about another great pet peeve of mine: “I feel.” Too many times each day I hear a politician, a speaker, an entertainer say “I feel it is important to…” This, to me, is a sign of the degradation of our intellect. Really what you’re saying is “I think” or “I believe.” Why can’t you just say that? Possibly because the assertion of your beliefs can be offensive to another person, so you disguise what you believe by saying it is what you feel? That’s pretty wimpy.

It may not surprise you to know that my students are not allowed to tell me what they feel, unless they are describing the state of their health or emotions. If they want to assert a point in my class, they must accompany that point with the correct words: “I believe,” “I think.” Don’t tell me it’s what you feel. “I feel it is important to assert your beliefs clearly and unambiguously.” Gag.


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