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e-newsletter answers so many of my questions. Other proofreaders look to me to resolve arguments, especially about commas, and I rely on you!
Trying hard is good, but trying too hard is another matter. Hypercorrection is the technical term for mistakes in grammar, punctuation, or
pronunciation that result from trying too hard to be correct.
Perhaps the most common hypercorrection involves pronouns. We constantly hear things like Keep this between you and I or The Wilsons invited he and his wife to lunch. In those examples, the correct choices are the object pronouns me instead of I and him instead of he (me is an object of the preposition between; him is a direct object of invited). The authors of
such sentences seem to have decided that I and he sound more classy than me and him, so they must be correct.
Here are a few more examples of this vain tactic:
All dictionaries list two pronunciations, OFF-en and OFF-tun, but OFF-tun is classic hypercorrection. The t should be silent, as it is in soften and many other English words (e.g., listen, moisten, Christmas). Ninety years ago Henry Fowler wrote in Modern English Usage that the t in often is pronounced “by two oddly consorted classes—the academic speakers who
affect a more precise enunciation than their neighbours’ [and] the uneasy half-literates who like to prove that they can spell.”
“A $8,000 price tag”
You run across items like this in newspapers from time to time. The copy editor chose the article a, rather than an, even though anyone
reading aloud would say “an eight-thousand-dollar price tag.” Acting on the principle that an is used only
before a vowel, the copy editor concluded that a dollar sign preceding a numeral cannot be considered a vowel—therefore a was the
clear choice. In truth, the rule states that an is used before all vowel sounds. The letter h is not a vowel either, but no copy
editor would prescribe “a honor.”
“The Jag-wires have scored 90 points in their past two games,”
said the sportscaster. He was talking about a professional football team called the Jacksonville Jaguars (American pronunciation: JAG-wahrs). The mistake
was hardly an isolated incident; many announcers say “Jag-wires” over the course of the six-month pro-football season. Here is why: The most
avid football fans in America are from the South, and many Southern Americans say “wahr,” “far,” and “tar” instead of wire, fire, and tire. Professional broadcasters are required to remove all traces of regional accents from their speech. In
their zeal to speak unaccented English, these announcers sometimes overcompensate with “ire” when words contain an “ahr” sound,
even though, like jaguar, it belongs there.
And that is how hypercorrection has unleashed upon the world the dreaded jag-wire.
Because of the e-newsletter’s large readership, please submit your English usage questions through GrammarBook.com’s “Grammar Blog.”
Remembering Jane Straus
Last Thursday, February 25, marked the five-year anniversary of the death of Jane Straus following a battle with brain cancer. Our long-term e-newsletter
subscribers will remember Jane as the visionary who founded the GrammarBook.com website, began issuing weekly e-newsletters containing helpful
grammar tips, answered questions from readers, and was the author of the first ten editions of The Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation.
The e-newsletter now reaches forty-five thousand subscribers worldwide each week; almost three hundred thousand copies of the Blue Book have been sold; and about one million
people visit the website each month. Jane would have been gratified to know how many people have been helped in their quest to improve their English
Please join us in taking a moment to remember and honor the extraordinary person who was Jane Straus.
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He had a photographic memory that was never developed.
Bakers trade bread recipes on a knead-to-know basis.
Acupuncture is a jab well done.
Learn all about who and whom, affect and effect, subjects and verbs, adjectives and adverbs, commas, semicolons, quotation marks, and much more by just sitting back and enjoying these easy-to-follow lessons. Tell your colleagues (and boss), children, teachers, and friends. Click here to watch.