Grammar Media Watch: Pronouns, Punctuation, Word Choice |
The Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation

Media Watch: Pronouns, Punctuation, Word Choice

Let’s begin this installment of “Media Watch” with a headline we could do without:

• “Manning and Co. bring in ’da noise”

Did you catch it? Why the apostrophe? It should not be there unless one or more letters are omitted from the front of da (like the missing be in ’cause). That’s not the case; da is a condescending spelling of the, as uttered by a rowdy football fan. It appears that the headline writer added the apostrophe as a wink to the reader, a way of saying, “Of course, I don’t talk like these hooligans.”

• “This ugly episode must be overcome in favor of defeating ours’ and Russia’s mutual enemy.”

Another diseased apostrophe. The possessive pronoun ours never takes an apostrophe, any more than yourshers, or theirs does. But even if we remove it we are still left with the frightful ours mutual enemy. The sentence calls for the possessive adjective our. So make it either our and Russia’s mutual enemy or Russia’s and our mutual enemy.

• “RMJ is an acronym for Recycle My Junk.”

No, RMJ is an initialism. There is a key difference between acronyms and initialisms. If you can say it as a word, as with NASA or ROM, it is an acronym. If you pronounce each letter, as with FBI or RSVP, it is an initialism.

• “His choice is Jackson, whom he said already knows the job.”

Why is it that so many people seem to use whom only where they shouldn’t? Look what happens if we move he said to the back of the sentence: His choice is Jackson, whom already knows the job, he said. Obviously, the right choice is who, the subject of knows—and emphatically not the direct object of said. So make it His choice is Jackson, who he said already knows the job.

• “Ironically, Shakespeare’s greatest literary contemporary died the same day he did.”

The first word should be “Coincidentally.” When something is ironic, it has a grimly humorous or paradoxical twist, as if the universe were playing a wicked practical joke. Thus, it is ironic if a speeding car crashes into a “drive carefully” sign. But where is the irony here? Do not use ironically when referring to an odd or remarkable coincidence, such as two famous writers dying on the same day.

• “Before they fled, he and his mom had a going-away party.”

The article was about a fugitive who had committed quadruple homicide. We understand that we’re living in the Age of Informality, but there is something spectacularly inappropriate about calling a sociopath’s enabler mother “his mom.”


Pop Quiz

The following are sentences recently heard over the airwaves. See if you can make them better.

  1. “It fell a tenth of an inch short of the all-time record.”
  2. “It’s complete trash, garbage—there are other adjectives I’d like to use.”
  3. “One of the suspects immigrated from Syria.”
  4. “How dare him say that?”
  5. “He and his company are flaunting the system.”


Pop Quiz Answers

  1. “It fell a tenth of an inch short of the record” (all-time record is a pleonasm).
  2. “It’s complete trash, garbage—there are other nouns I’d like to use.”
  3. “One of the suspects emigrated from Syria.”
  4. “How dare he say that?”
  5. “He and his company are flouting the system.”

If the article or the existing discussions do not address a thought or question you have on the subject, please use the "Comment" box at the bottom of this page.

2 responses to “Media Watch: Pronouns, Punctuation, Word Choice”

  1. Jim F. says:

    “Ironically, Shakespeare’s greatest literary contemporary died the same day he did.” This statement reminds me of another issue, although not about the English language. Shakespeare and Cervantes died, or at least had burial services, on the same nominal date in one sense. However, they didn’t die on the same day. At that time, Spain was using the Gregorian calendar. Britain did not adopt the Gregorian calendar until 1752. Thus, I suspect that the “literary contemporary” referenced above was Cervantes. The statement not only uses “ironically” incorrectly; but, if it refers to Cervantes, it would also be false. This brings another question to mind: is being careful with language associated with being careful with facts or at least the appearance of being so?

    Thank you very much for your very practical newsletters. I wish everyone would read them and so keep themselves on their toes better.

  2. chrisgg says:

    While I agree that we should say, “To whom did you give the book?” I think there is an argument that “Whom did you see” is not necessarily correct. That’s from considering the root derivations of the grammatical declensions. In English grammar we have lost some of these declensions and tend to think only in terms of object and subject of verbs when it comes to who/whom. This is so different from German for example, although even they have lost some of the forms.
    In German, as you probably well know, there are the dative, accusative, nominative and genitive declensions. In English, we have he/she for nominative and his/her for genitive(possessive). For dative we have him for masculine but borrow the genitive her for the female dative case(I gave her/him). You can usually tell the dative case by seeing whether to or from can be placed before her or him. I gave him/her…or I gave to him/to her are basically the same and we have come to leave out the ‘to’ and ‘from’ except in question form. However, in the accusative you couldn’t say: “I saw to him” or “I hit to him”. For accusative we have no separate form for male or female in English and borrow him and her for that too.
    Going back to German, we have er/sie for the nominative he/she, sein/ihr for the genitive his/her, ihm/ihr for the dative to him/to her(as in English the feminine dative form is borrowed from the genitive), and ihn/sie for accusative . ‘Who’ or ‘whom’ translates as Wer(nominative), Wem(dative), Wen(accusative).
    “I saw him/her ” (ich sah ihn/sie) uses the accusative case of he (ihn) and borrows the nominative female sie for the feminine accusative. “Who did you see” would translate as “Wen hast du gesehen?” Wen is the German accusative form of who but there is no word for it in English. In contrast, “I gave him the book” (ich gab ihm/ihr das Buch) uses the dative form, and in German you would ask, “Wem hast du das Buch gegeben?”. There is no doubting the similarity of ‘ihm’ to ‘him’ and ‘wem’ to ‘whom’, both dative forms in German. However, there are verbs that take the dative form in Germans such as ’to believe’, so that the Germans say” I believe him” as “Ich glaube ihm” in the dative. We could not say “I believe to him” so there are exceptions. Perhaps we could then say “Whom do you believe” if the declension root is dative. Perhaps ihm and him really both stem from the same dative root. In order to get round the lack of an accusative form of ‘he’ and ‘who’ in English we just use the dative form ‘him’ without the ‘to’ and ‘from’.
    So after all that waffle, my argument is that ‘whom’ might only be correct when the root declension of the verb is dative in origin, not when it is accusative, as with the vast majority of verbs. We need to invent “hin, hen and whon” as much needed accusative forms of he/her/who!

Leave a Comment or Question:

Please ensure that your question or comment relates to the topic of the blog post. Unrelated comments may be deleted. If necessary, use the "Search" box on the right side of the page to find a post closely related to your question or comment.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *