Poor Grammar, Poor Impression

Recently posted to a Hash House Harrier board:

Do to popular request, this Fridays hashy hour will be at the Old Chicago

Unremarkable, save for the fact that the guy who wrote this earned post-graduate degrees in marine biology and optical engineering.  I judge people by the way they speak and write.  C’mon, you do too; we all do.  My regard for this man is now diminished.

“Do to” is what they call an eggcorn.  That’s when you hear a word or phrase and supply words you know to spell out what you heard.  Thus, eggcorn for acorn, do to for due to, all tolled for all told, and so on.  Everyone does this to some degree.

How to prevent eggcorns?  Read.  You hear someone say “beck and call,” but you think you heard “beckon call.”  If you read . . . even if it’s just the newspaper . . . you’ll eventually see “beck and call” in print, and then you’re straight: you’ll never make that particular mistake again.

Okay, you’re all grown up, you don’t like to read, you’re not likely to take it up just because I say you should . . . how can you keep from coming across as a mouth-breather when you have to write something?  I mean, you can’t look up everything in the dictionary.  And even if you try, the dictionary isn’t going to help you if you think the “pique” in my “pique my interest” is “peak.”

Here’s what I do: if I think something I’m about to write is suspect, I Google it.  Try it.  Go to Google and type “peak my interest” in the search box.  You’ll get close to a million references, but glancing at the first few will teach you that it’s “pique,” not “peak.”  And now you won’t look like an idiot when you use the phrase in an email or letter.

Well, that takes care of eggcorns.  Now, how about possessives and apostrophes?  Nothing puts the trailer trash stink on you quicker than a missing or misused apostrophe.  There’s no excuse.  Same cure: read.  Same preventive medicine: Google.

No, you don’t have to thank me.  Really.  It’s all in a day’s work.

Comments welcome.  They will be graded.

© 2008, Paul Woodford. All rights reserved.

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