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Friday, 21 December 2007


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Define "well into 2008". If you want to check on a promise made, that had been written down on a note for a reminder but which become lost, to see whether you have kept your word or not, have you lost it or loost it?

Quite so. My personal demon is the casual stupidity that leaves so many folks writing "it's" when they clearly want "its". The grammar rule on this is simple and ironclad, yet so many people get it exactly backwards. Sigh. I blame television.


You're *****ing it.

:-) (Drives me crazy too...)

You deserve a brake, Mike.

Not to hijack your rant, but what bothers me is "pre-planning". If you're planning it's already "pre"!
It's enough to make me loose my mind...
Have a great holiday.
Thanks for the gift of TOP.

How about "your" when "you're" is meant. One of my personal bugaboos.

Featured comments also work fine on Bloglines :)

To me, the loose/lose problem is minor compared to the lie/lay problem that seems to be endemic these days. It's not just web postings, but "professionals" such as TV and radio commentators and newspaper editors who just don't know the difference. We're probably close to the point where lay will become officially accepted as an intransitive verb.
So when you lay down for a nap you are likely to loose your lose change.

Boy are you wasting your time.

One of my pet peeves concerns Americanised (?) spelling. In particular spelling aesthetic as esthetic. I'm not advocating the use of the grapheme which is probably past rescue but Ae is to my eye a satisfactory substitute and a clearer indication as to how the word is pronounced.

I recently came across the word "Enjeanu" in a web post and it took me a while to intrepret it. I fear the internet can only increase such bastardisations.

Couldn't agree with you more on loose and lose Mike!

Aperature? Amatures? Two lenses, but one len?
(I could go on....) :)

Best wishes to all, including the bad spellers.

What drives me nuts is the misuse of the apostrophe on the internet. Everyone feels they must sprinkle it liberally in sentences such as:

'I really like the photo's that he exhibits'


'My camera's are all junk'

Even Phase One had this on their website in large bold letters:

'Phase One: Choice of the Pro's'

I think I have become a curmudgeon.

Another gripe is

...breaking off in mid-sentence?

Just a guess....

Mike J.

I recently came across consistent misspellings of "aperature" as "apature" by a large number of supposedly photo-smart folks on a certain brand-dedicated forum. This supports the theory that the 'net is spreading the problem of poor spelling and worse grammar.

I fear Clay may have suffered a stress-induced heart attack mid-sentence.

A usage rant? I think it is time for a new tact!

While I have to admit all these typical errors bother me too, I also have to admit to having read and enjoyed Steven Pinker's The Language Instinct, in which we learn that usage rules rather than the other way around.

All of our grammatical and spelling rules are descriptive rather than prescriptive - that is, they describe the observed usage of language rather than prescribing how language should be used. I think for those of us who are careful and, hopefully (...and, as an aside, hopefully's a word that usage has change out of all recognition in my lifetime) eloquent users of language, usages that grotesquely and insouciantly flout the rules we know, grate unbearably - but that's our problem (how's that for too many subjunctive and paranthetical clauses?!).

I'm right with you on this one, Mike. I come hear every morning with a mug of hot water, great websight!

Nothing worse, someone going threw school and learning how to spell the wrong word right. They should get there money back and go yell at those loosers that taut them that.

I don't know what I wood've done if that happened too me to. I'd half the mind to take revenge, smack 'em on the head with a peace of would.

I always tell my kids, "pay attention in school". Life's to short, than you dye.

What a waist, spending all that time learning and ending up as a gopher for a plummer. The dementions of this educational disaster are huge. I guess it's better then getting stuck on a dessert island with nothing to eat!!

Oh, and 8^).

(I realized that the pun about being tactful with this topic might hide the fact that I was simply providing an example of my pet usage peeve.)

I read you through a feed and see the featured comments just fine.

The feed I read is http://theonlinephotographer.typepad.com/the_online_photographer/atom.xml

My favorite peeve is the pink ribbons to show support for breast cancer research. While I support the cause, what throws me is when you innocently ask someone what the ribbon means, the response is usually along the lines of "I support breast cancer." I wonder if people listen to themselves when they answer a question.

My pet peeve: their / they're / there

Oooh, it drives me nuts to see such frequent misuse between these words. There's a particular fellow on a photo forum who is such a consistent offender (and generally dreadful writer) that reading his notes has an effect on me similar to hearing fingernails scratching a blackboard. I want to anonymously pay this guy's tuition to a remedial English class.

How about "there" for "their" or "they're"? And, as another poster noted, many people do not understand the proper use of the apostrophe "s" for the possessive. The comma is another common problem: many people simply do not know how to use them.

As a college professor, I and my colleagues struggle constantly with the poor writing skills of recent high school graduates. This is not to question the dedication of most HS teachers (although I do know a number of individuals who should not be in that occupation). I rather attribute the general decline in writing ability lackluster funding for public education, and a lack of parental support for good reading habits outside the classroom. To paraphrase the well-known saying on food consumption: "You are what you read!" Sadly, many parents these days to not get this.

The net is not making the situation worse, there have always been just as many bad spellers, it is just reflecting the situation more accurately. Before the internet, the only people who knew how badly we spelled were our teachers! In the days of print media the only thing we ever read was written by someone with aspirations to be a writer and proofread by an editor. This guaranteed a certain level of quality. But now the power of the media has been wrested away from us grammar/spelling snobs and given to the people. It's a good thing, of course, but it requires some patience and tolerance on our part! The price of democracy and all that.

I agree that 'loose' seems to be the most widespread misspelling on Internet forums.

Another one that annoys me is 'lense' for 'lens'.

In columns by more knowledgeable people, 'pouring over' for 'poring over' (as in studying a text) seems to crop up quite regularly. Maybe they made the mistake of pouring over their dictionary :-)

Relax, Mike, and enjoy your holiday break.

It bothers me to-er-too.

Other common spelling errors that immediately come to mind:
your / you're
there / they're
than / then
and of course, its / it's
In fact, I have become a bit accustomed to incorrect spelling that when I come across "its" spelled correctly, I sometimes do a double take.

But I can see some logic as to why people use "it's" instead of "its". We usually add 's to form a possesive, as in "cat's meow". So some people add 's to it to form the possesive.

Another very common mistake is using "less" instead of "fewer" (as in less people), and "amount" instead of "number" (as in amount of photographs).

Hmmm. Didn't see that dangling sentence..

But while I have a full head of steam, how about using 'affect' instead of 'effect'?

For instance: "I don't know how this situation will effect me personally, but I hope it has no affect on my family."

Seizenal Greetings to all.


I tell people that Loose rhymes with Goose, and generally they spell it correctly after that.

This may be stretching the conversation a bit, but what drives me nuts is that the President of the United States STILL says noo-cue-ler instead of noo-klee-ar, and everyone refers to the quarterback of the Green Bay Packers as Brett FaRve while the name is spelled FaVre.
Even Brett, on his own website, says FaRve. Are there any other examples where it is acceptable to reverse letters when pronouncing words? Am I missing something here? Does spelling matter any more?

I found it ironic that that an earlier commenter who complains about a common grammatical error makes a typographical one himself! (Geoff Wittig)

In ending a sentence with a quoted term, the sentence's end punctuation (period, question mark, etc.) should be included within the quotes. See Strunk&White's "The Elements of Style."

Isn't nit-picking fun?

"If something is in the process of becoming lost, you are "losing" it, not "loosing" it."

Except in the case of arrows in tall grass, and sometimes pets , where after you loose them you have may have lost them. ( and why is untie the opposite of tie, but loose and unloose mean the same thing ?)

Oh, and aperture isn't spelled "aperature" or "apature" , but what really bugs me are all the people who write "lense" for lens.

A "zee" sound is a "zed" sound in the rest of the world.

I take no credit for this but it came in my email a while ago and is pertinent to the perpetuation of pathetic spelling performance

Owed two a spell chequer

Eye halve a spelling chequer;
It came with my pea sea;
It plainly marques four my revue
Miss steaks eye kin knot sea.
Eye strike a key and type a word
And weight four it two say
Weather eye am wrong our write -
It shows me straight a weigh.
As soon as a mist ache is maid
It nose bee fore two long,
And eye kin put the arrow rite
It's rare lea ever wrong.
Eye have run this poem threw it;
I am shore your please two no
Its letter perfect awl the weigh,
My spell chequer tolled me sew.

"If something is in the process of becoming lost, you are 'losing' it, not 'loosing' it."

I love you for saying that! It would be easier for me to list the grammatical pet peeves I DON'T have than the ones I DO.

I highly recommend the book "Eats, Shoots, and Leaves" by the way.

Welcome to the Internet! It's annoying, but we're stuck with it.

When I was writing my first book,* I discovered to my chagrin that I consistently misspelled certain common words. Not lose/loose or it's/its (except for the occasional typo), but words like similar. Or is it similiar? I can never remember. Fortunately, my copy editor pointed it out.

But here on the Internet, we're all our own copy editors. Since it's dull and time consuming, most of the people who can copy edit their down material don't bother. I don't see that changing.

* Basic networking text. Buy a copy if you have trouble sleeping.

The greengrocer's aphostrophe is not limited to the Internet and predates it for a while... The Internet just makes such error's spread faster. :-)

BTW, I think it's interesting that I found a lot of visually gifted people to have problems with the language. A friend of mine says that you can have only so much organization if your life and if you're organized in one area, all the others will suffer. Maybe it's the same with visuals and language. :-)

In my freshman English composition class, on the very first day of class, the professor wrote the following message on the board: "alot" is not a word. Neither is "allot." If you ever use either of these derivations on any of your exams or written assignments you will be given an 'F' for this class. You do not want to test me on this.

To this day it drives me nuts to see this.

What gets my rice krispies poppin' is people who say "I could care less", when they should be saying " I couldn't care less". They sound like ignoramuses (Ignorami?). Another phrase that plucks my language nerve is "dead body". In the context with which this phrase is used, death is always implied. Dead body sounds childish, "corpse" is the proper, adult term. Kind of like saying "Evil Doers" instead of "criminals".

Hi Mike,

My peeve is the way many North Americans, especially sports broadcasters and marketers, make up words. A classic is the use of the word ineptness instead of ineptitude. English is a funny language and doesn't always follow logical patterns, but that's still no excuse.

Mike, I wish you a very happy holiday! You bring a lot of joy into the world of photographers and one of the high spots of my day is checking your blog to see what you or your correspondents have to say. All the best in 2008 and keep up the great work!


I've found that many "native" English speakers have trouble reading the poem,
"The Joy of English Pronunciation" - George Nolst Trenité (1870-1946).

I hate real estate agents and auctioneers who say the expected price is in the "early" or "late" something hundred thousand dollars as if the number was time based.

Grete blog Mike, always a pleasure to reed! ;)

My biggest gripe has to be the failure to use a closing quotation mark. It seems the longer the quote, the more likely the trailing quotation mark is forgotten. This drives me nuts!

I also think the rule of placing the end-of-sentence punctuation mark inside an end quotation mark makes no sense at all -- especially when the quote is within the sentence (as opposed to comprising the sentence). Does the sentence end before the quote, or does the quote end before the sentence?

There, their, they're
Your, you're, yore
and so on.......

It's easy to see how confusing these words can be to the average semi-literate web reader/writer - I blame television, if these people had read books for entertainment as children they would know how words look in print rather than just knowing how they sound.

I share your anguish Mike, Merry Christmas, Robin

Misspellings of "aperature", eh?

Physician, heal thyself.

It is they way of the world, web or otherwise.
Bad grammar. bad spelling, and pronunciation, has been and will be for as long as we exist.

so...let us just communicate and get on with.....photography!....

Thanks PBurs

Just remember:
A sentence is a complete.

I get more frustrated by casual phrases like "You do the math", "Go figure" and "Don't go there". All are tautologies, I believe. I don't want to do the math(s), I shouldn't have to figure anything (out) if you posted a coherent message; and I wasn't going anywhere in the first place.

Through continued overuse words and phrases such as "different than", the common misspelling "lense" and using "spelled"* instead of "spelt" are almost tolerable now and barely register more than disdain for the dimwit that used them ;-)

As for M8, RU OK and other mobile phone-based stuff, hey, don't even go there!

* Somewhat disappointingly, I read that this is acceptable use across the water. Hpy xmas.

How about "to much to bear?"


I'm not going to belittle anyone for their pet peeves, because, after all it's a PET PEEVE! But I think trying to read something of more import into one's pet peeves is downright silly.

The 'loose' business is one that's interested me for at least 20 years, because I think there's genuine linguistic drift going on.

I'd predict that in some modest number of decades, "lose" will be an archaic spelling, and that you'll have two words pronounced "looss" and "looz" but spelled the same way.

(And, at some time after that the pronunciations may merge, but that's harder to guess at).

I've seen 'loose' used for 'lose' in erudite and well-edited journals. Not often, but it's there.

I believe the similar spellings, similar pronunciations and closely related meanings (as evidenced by several commenter's puns) make it likely that they are going to merge. Grammatical context almost always makes the distinction clear. I had to think a bit to come up with a sentence that didn't. There's no impediment to it. Which doesn't mean it will happen, but that's my bet.

And, so what? It's just English being a living language. Ya hate language change? Better stick with Latin.

As for lay and lie, sorry but that train long left the station. The interconnection is terribly complicated. OED has five pages for "lie" and nine for "lay." (oh, my eyes, my eyes!)

But, pretty much, you can find citations to support any intermingled use of them. It appears to me to go through fashion (kinda like the serial comma). But one can't assert that using lay for lie is misuse or illiterate. Not historically, nor in common use today, even amongst the educated. (BTW, I say I'm going to lay down.)

OK, my pet peeves are around pronunciations! I HATE it when people say "EYE-talian," "nucular" and "Febewary." Makes my teeth hurt.

I'd love to blame it on bad education, but the smartest person I know (and that's VERY, VERY smart, and much better read than I says "Febewary." And another smart and well-educated friend says "EYE-talian."

Sigh, "I is surrounded by Fillistines!"(to quote an old comic strip)

My other pet peeve is people who KNOW that they can't spell (and regularly demonstrate it) and WON'T use a spell checker. A few typos are normal in everyone's writing. But two misspelled words each and every sentence? C'mon!

And, remember...


pax / Ctein

There are some people who need to be reminded that "Cannon" don't make cameras.

My pet peeve is the qualification of unique, as in "more unique" or "most unique". Something is either unique or it isn't. Period.

The loose/lose thing drives me crazy also! But it's hardly the only blatant example of poor spelling and grammar out there.

Regardless of what everyone else says (including many folks with several advanced degrees) "irregardless" is my number one verbal peeve. "Orientate" is number two.

That reminds me, something is lose in my camera lense and it isn't focussing right.

"I also think the rule of placing the end-of-sentence punctuation mark inside an end quotation mark makes no sense at all."

That's typography, actually. It's common in American typography to include most punctuation marks inside the quotations. The question mark, colon, and semi-colon are exceptions. However, various British/European forms are beginning to make inroads in American practice, so maybe that one will too.

Mike J.

"A sentence is a complete."

Well, no. Ellipsis. . . .

Not to mention the minor sentences.

Mike, well noted about the punctuation. English is pretty well known for borrowing not only words but also sentence forms from other languages. One of the better known is certainly the one from Yiddish. "Borrowings, I don't mind."

What Ctein said.

I don't think the Internet is to blame for the bad English (er- non-standard usage) we see; I think it's just that before the popularity of the Internet, we weren't generally so exposed to non-edited/proof-read writing. People who mark student essays will I'm sure tell you that bad spelling, punctuation and grammar are nothing new.

The Internet if anything probably exerts a positive influence, because previously we weren't generally so exposed to pedants.

Sometimes the best writers mix up homonyms (their, there; to, too) not because they don't know the difference between them, but because they're not paying strict attention to the spelling of the words. Rather, they are focusing on the sound of the sentence and the flow of the paragraph. Their mistakes should be caught by copy editors -- the writers themselves are occupied by more serious matters.


I have for many years loathed "reiterate". "Iterate" means to repeat. Why don't folks just leave it at that? Do they feel a deep desire to "re-repeat"?

As Ctein said: NONE OF IT MATTERS!

Have a happy new year!

"However, various British/European forms are beginning to make inroads in American practice, so maybe that one will too."

Excellent news and about bloody time, too! :-)

Anyway, most of my pet peeves have already been discussed but nobody has so far mentioned 'seperate', which is so annoying it deserves a separate category to itself.

And then there's the illiterate 'would of', 'could of' which just makes the writer look like an ignoramus when, had he made the effort, he could have appeared quite intelligent.

Oh and what about 'different' when the writer really means 'differently'? That really does make me simmer gently (being English, I would never do anything as dramatic as boiling over....;-))

What is the problem with the word 'separate' which almost invariably ends up as 'seperate'?

However the inapropriate use of words irritates me more. My current pet hate is 'awesome'.

According to OED 'inspiring awe' or in informal use 'excellent'. The informal use of excellent I suspect is in the superlative sense of the word.

My take on the definition is that the sight of one side of Mount St Helens blasting halfway into space could be justifiably described as being 'awesome'.
However, as I once saw on-line, a picture of Grandma's cat asleep on a couch being descibed as 'awesome'.....I don't think so.

"As Ctein said: NONE OF IT MATTERS!"

Well, none of it matters *absolutely*, perhaps, but it matters to some of us *relatively*. Once you know what proper English and standard grammar look, sound, and read like, it's irritating and dislocating to be tripped up every fourth word or every fourth sentence by typos, bad spelling, unresolvable ambiguity, or ungrammatical constructions. Especially if you have to read a sentence three times trying to decide what the hell the writer was getting at.

As an editor (and I'm not a great copyeditor, mind you--I take lots of liberties with the language, don't much care to be told I have to follow rules, and have limited proofreading skills) I used to distinguish between two kinds of errors--those that looked bad or were embarrassing but didn't change the intended meaning of the text, and those that changed the meaning of the text. The latter I considered far worse than the former.

The classic example of a typo that changes meaning is writing "tbsp" instead of "tsp" in a recipe! Four tablespoons of salt instead of four teaspoons in your gumbo, and you'll probably be more persuadable that correctness matters at least occasionally.

And that's one of the main problems with bad writing, and why it matters "relatively"--because communication is only approximate in any case, and boils and pimples all over your prose that make it more ambiguous and harder to decode aren't helping you to communicate. Whenever I read "loose," my mind says "loose" to me, not "lose," and my thinking immediately leaps away from whatever the writer's meaning was. That's partly my brain in action--I'm sensitized to that one, whereas "lie" and "lay" don't shout out to me--which is why I admitted it was a pet peeve. But the fact is that when you commit atrocities on the language, you're at least potentially obfuscating your own meanings and distracting and in some cases misleading your reader. That's why it matters.

Mike J.

Dear Mike,

I really enjoy columns like this one, because it keeps me familiar with what's going on with the language. Not that I really care about everyone's pet peeves (only MINE are important, of course), but it highlights the discontinuities in the language usage.

SWE is one thing, of course; it's a dialect that does, axiomatically, have a standard form. And I think that's really what you're talking about. And it *IS* important because it's supposed to be the commonly-shared-and-understood form (our "Latin" as it were).

But English in general and writing in general? They adapt, and they have numerous forms, not mutually compatible nor understandable.

SWE does change with time, vis the serial comma business, but it has arbiters. And that's a good thing. But English, otherwise, is owned by the speakers, en masse. It's our most fundamentally democratic institution, not controlled by any nation/state, spun by any political operative, dominated by fat-cat donors, nor overruled by dubious statute or court decision. It's an operational consensus anarchy.

It is what it is. Which is why I think it's such fun. And gently resist those who attempt to dictate its course.

pax / Ctein

Joe Cameron's remark about reversing letters reminds me of the town here in Texas called 'New Braunfels'. Guess how everyone pronounces it? New Brawnsfels. Weird. That middle 'S' comes out of nowhere.

Alexander: I'm one of those folks who can't internalize all the rules for commas. I've always got 10-20% extra that shouldn't be there. I'd call commas 'rocket science'... 'cept I can do rocket science!

My housemate does'em perfectly. She can't explain why all the nuances of their use make sense to her any more than I can explain why they don't to me.

Snatching a small victory from the jaws of defeat: I was arguing with Paula (before I learned better) about my placement of a comma, so we went to the Chicago Manual for the final word. After some search, we found the obscure case I was dealing with, and sure enough she had it nailed perfectly.

But... I noticed that the example the Manual gave was incorrect! (and Paula agreed) I felt mildly vindicated knowing that even those lofty definers of what SWE should be didn't always get it right.

Julian & Kevin: My spelling downfall is ivariably words what have several "e's" and "a's" that sound similar (often more like schwa's). I can't keep them straight. 'Separate' is a good example, but there are many others that give me a lot more trouble. I'll simply get them wrong the first time I write them. Some I can only get right by trial and error, until the spell checker tells me I hit it.

You can't imagine how many ways I can misspell 'necessary.'

I'd be doomed without spell-check. Now, if only they'd build me comma-check.

pax / Ctein

Ditto on all the common misuses listed, especially "lose/loose." ("How did you lose your dog? I put on his collar too loose.") (PS- No, that's not "to loose," but "too loose." Man, those double "oo"s are tricky!) But another one that's really kinking my film on the Nikor reel lately is the misuse of "that" and "who." Whenever someone says "...people that..." I cringe, because you're supposed to say "who" when referring to people, and "that" when referring to things, eg. "I hate people who drive cars that have loud stereos blasting," etc. Just a friendly reminder to fellow picky people everywhere.

Damn it (dammit?) I have to seriously grant Ctein's point: it may be a real shift happening before our eyes. Phonetically "loose" for "lose" does make sense. It wouldn't pass notice on the other internet discussions with literary focii (focusses?) which I monitor, though.

I do, however, wonder what that "duck tape" is that Americans recommend to each other in times of inclement weather. Is it similar to duct tape?

Season's off topic greetings to all,

Regards from a summer Christmas - Ross

Well, Ross, there is a brand of duct tape marketed as Duck Tape (http://www.ducktape.com), so that solves that mystery.

I just wanted to add a note that on a personal level, I'm probably as irked as Mike is about Loose/Lose and other ...um... unorthodox orthographies and usages. However, I always remind myself that English is a changing language, and change always causes discomfort to many. (How many complained during the Great Vowel Shift?) So since the offenders on the Internet are not students handing in essays for me to mark, I feel I must refrain from passing judgement. They are just speaking their own form of the language.

But in the interests of playing along, my pet peeve these days concerns sentence constructions such as "I wish I would have known." It seems to be taking hold in the idiom, and I'm afraid I'll soon sound hopelessly archaic saying "I wish I had known." I would probably be best if I adopt the usage myself and repeat as my mantra, "I could care less!"

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