Grammar A Sportswriter Cries “Foul!” |
The Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation

A Sportswriter Cries “Foul!”

by Bruce Jenkins, San Francisco Chronicle sports columnist

The hyphens are coming, and beware—they’re taking over. Commas, not so much. Commas have gone extinct. These are a couple of my pet peeves when it comes to grammatical violations in print. More on that later. In the meantime:

Somehow, a guy named Al showed up in all right, and it’s now “alright.” Nope. Wrong. And I have no time for “anytime.” It has to be two words: any time. Once you’ve written “any hour” or “any minute,” how can you go with “anytime”?

How about the second time in as many days? As many days as what? Should be in two days.

Going forward. It’s not bad grammar, it just has no place. What, as opposed to going backward? Eliminate going forward from every usage, in print or conversation, and it won’t be missed.

Then there’s the sentence that takes forever to reach the point—and by the time you get there, you’re no longer interested:

“The occasion of the Wallace brothers burning down the Gazebo with the very last match at their disposal and then pretending it never happened at the after-party at Bob’s house takes a special place in history.” Taken literally, what takes a special place in history?

As for hyphens, here are a few really dreadful ones I’ve seen in responsible newspapers lately:

The tension-level was high
He’s the odd-man-out
Dare-we-say he was confused?
That’s the elephant-in-the-room
The best record of all-time

Commas? Somehow, they have been deemed unnecessary. More actual examples:

Thanks for trying guys (maybe you should go back to gals)
Don’t go Tiger (go ballistic, or go east)
Say It Ain’t So Spain (it ain’t so hot, either)
“Meaning what ace?” (actually saw this in a David Milch script)
“This isn’t a funeral you know.” (True, but I think my friend Pete recognizes it.)

Then there’s the misplaced apostrophe, so common on the street:

“Fresh sandwich’s”
“She fly’s with her own wing’s”

Long ago, in the press box of the old Comiskey Park in Chicago, there was a sign on the women’s bathroom that said “Ladie’s.” It was a charming sign, in the form of a baseball—seams and all—but that apostrophe drove me nuts. Year after year, covering the Oakland A’s, I wasn’t able to walk past that thing without seething.

Then in 1990 the park closed down. Visitors knew they’d be making their last visit to the storied old yard. On my last night there, about a month before the season ended, I dawdled and stalled until I was the last person in the press box. And I was prepared. I whipped out a bottle of Wite-Out and made that apostrophe vanish.

Postcript: Wayne Hagin, a broadcaster at the time (can’t remember what team), knew about my mission. One night near the very end of the season, he yanked that sign off the bathroom wall and stashed it in his briefcase.

It now resides in the guest room of my house. Ladies welcome.


Bruce Jenkins’s new book, Shop Around: Growing Up With Motown in a Sinatra Household, is available in bookstores and on Jenkins is the son of Gordon Jenkins, who worked with all the greats of the pre-Elvis era (including Judy Garland, Nat “King” Cole, and Sinatra). The Miracles’ “Shop Around,” the first big hit of the Motown empire, turned Bruce’s life around at the age of 12. Shop Around is a book for soul-music lovers and anyone whose parents were on entirely different musical wavelengths.

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8 responses to “A Sportswriter Cries “Foul!””

  1. Nicky C. says:

    I love your newsletters and thought provoking articles. However, this time I don’t agree with your take on any time. This is what the Cambridge Dictionary has to say:

    anytime: at a time that is not or does not need to be decided or agreed.

  2. Lidy V. says:

    As a Dutch speaking person and student of English (exam year interpretation) I do not understand this one in your series. Especially the lines on comma. Sorry!

    • We understand how a non-native English speaker might be puzzled by those lines. In each case Bruce Jenkins is demonstrating how leaving out a crucial comma leads to a misunderstanding of the sentence. Allow us to explain the first one, then you may be able to make sense of the others. “Thanks for trying, guys” means that the guys are being thanked for “trying.” However, “Thanks for trying guys” means that someone is being thanked for “trying guys.” We hope that helps.

      Thank you for writing.

  3. Bill S. says:

    I love the Blue Book, a copy sits in each of the 3 bathrooms in my house, but why are you grammarians so adamant against alright? It seems to me there’s a genuine need for it. Sometimes the kids are all right, sometimes they’re alright. Clearly 2 different things.

    • The rules are the rules, and alright is still considered nonstandard. According to the “Usage Note” in our American Heritage Dictionary: “All right … probably should have followed the same orthographic development as already and altogether. But despite its use by a number of reputable authors, the spelling alright has never been accepted as a standard variant …”

      Thank you very much for your kind words regarding The Blue Book; we appreciate that.

  4. Rita Skeet (Mrs) says:

    What is your position on the phrase “get-go”. I grind my teeth each time I hear it. What’s wrong with the phrases”from the start” or, ” from the beginning” or many similar?

    • Get-go is an idiom or colloquialism that made its way into common usage as many other coined words and phrases do. We would prefer “from the start” and “from the beginning” in formal writing.

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