Category: The Grammar Geek

My completely nitpicky pet peeves (humor)

Quotes. Made in notepad
Image via Wikipedia

Dear fellow geeks, geek leaders, and other random people who read this blog:

This is not a useful post.  This post, in fact, will show you how the inside of my brain works.  It can be a scary, scary place sometimes.  Also?  This isn’t a rant.  This is just nitpicky.  Also probably brought on by lack of sleep.  And it’s supposed to be funny, not cranky.  So if you read it as cranky, oops.

Here goes.  I hate it when you…

  • Change the subject line of the email.  I have multiple reasons for this:
    1. I don’t read subject lines.  I also don’t read chapter titles, article titles, etc.  I don’t know why.  It’s weird.  My husband makes fun of me for it.  So I’m not actually going to SEE what you put in there for my cute little eyes to see.
    2. It breaks my email threading.  I have a strange obsessive behavior that makes me adore my threaded email conversations.  I cuddle up with them at night (no, not really.  If you’re like me and don’t read titles, please go back and note the “humor” thing up top.).
  • Make plurals with apostrophes.  Just please don’t do it.  Unless you like watching me twitch.  In which case you should go ahead and do it, but don’t expect me to buy you a beer.  Ever.
  • Misspell Latin phrases.  If you can’t spell it, don’t use it.  You don’t sound erudite, you just make me twitch.  See previous bullet point about twitching.
  • Hug me.  There are a few non-family members who I don’t mind hugs from (Whose first names pretty much always start with “J”.  No, I don’t know why.), but otherwise, there will be twitching.  But this one doesn’t get you exempted from the beer buying, so this one is a lesser evil in the Jenn hierarchy.
  • Correct my order of punctuation and quotation marks.  Yes, I know I do it “wrong” for American English.  No, I don’t care.  Pthththt.
So, gentle readers, what are your completely ridiculous pet peeves?  (Other than being called “gentle readers”, that is.  I think that one’s weird, but I’m still leaving it in there.)

The Grammar Geek LOVES This


  • The bandage was wound around the wound.
  • The farm was used to produce produce.
  • The dump was so full that it had to refuse more refuse
  • We must polish the Polish furniture.
  • He could lead if he would get the lead out.
  • The soldier decided to desert his dessert in the desert.
  • Since there is no time like the present, he thought it was time to present the present.
  • A bass was painted on the head of the bass drum.
  • When shot at, the dove dove into the bushes.
  • I did not object to the object.
  • The insurance was invalid for the invalid.
  • There was a row among the oarsmen about how to row.
  • They were too close to the door to close it.
  • The buck does funny things when the does are present.
  • A seamstress and a sewer fell down into a sewer line.
  • To help with planting, the farmer taught his sow to sow.
  • The wind was too strong to wind the sail.
  • After a number of injections my jaw got number.
  • Upon seeing the tear in the painting I shed a tear.
  • I had to subject the subject to a series of tests.
  • How can I intimate this to my most intimate friend?

The Grammar Geek: IEeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!

Once again, I’m venturing into grammar geekery about something that constantly makes me twitch: the usage of i.e. Somehow, folks in my life seem to think this little abbreviation means “for example”. For example, “We’ve seen minor issues following patch installation, i.e. application hanging, credential prompting, etc.”


The nifty little abbreviation that actually means “for example” is e.g.

  • I.e. is an abbreviation for id est from the Latin meaning “that is, in other words”.
  • E.g. is an abbreviation for exempli gratia from the Latin meaning “for example”.

The abbreviations are often italicized because they are abbreviations of foreign words. However, they are both common enough that you’ll often see them in non-italicized font. For example, “etc.” is also a Latin abbreviation, but it is incredibly common and therefore never italicized.

The Grammar Geek: The Reign in Spain

I have to admit that I’m really tired of people “raining in” the downloading of music to their networks. I mean, not only is downloaded music a complete annoyance for companies, but water + networks = total badness–trust me, I have experience with this one.

They’re actually trying to rein in this practice. You know, like using a horse’s reins in order to stop or slow it down?

And I’ve only seen people try to reign in their users once or twice. This one almost makes sense if you’re looking at your network geek as a king or queen. But almost does not an idiom make.

So the saying is to “rein in” a practice that you wish to restrain. Got it? Excellent.

The Grammar Geek: Win Some, Loose Some

And the Grammar Geek is back!

A comment on one of my old Grammar Geek posts reminded me of something that makes me twitch: too many letters in lose. In other words, it seems like more and more geeks are spelling lose “loose” on various listservs, comments, tweets, and blogs.

  • lose: there are 12 definitions of this word in the online Merriam-Webster Dictionary, but, in short, it means to become without something. You know, like losing weight, losing the software license key for MS Office, losing one’s mind… Note that losing something causes a loss. And you’re a loser.
  • loose: on the other hand, loose has fewer definitions (7 or so) from the same source, most meaning not dense, not fastened securely, or to set free. Note that loosing something sets it free, and if it comes back to you, it’s yours. And you’re probably not a loser–I guess you’d be a looser, but that just sounds funny, doesn’t it? And, while looser is a word, it means more loose, as opposed to one who looses.

If you don’t have a headache after that last sentence, I hope that you now understand how many times to use the letter o when you have misplaced something. (That would be once, for those of you who forgot…)

The Grammar Geek: Over Their!

I completely forgot my weekly “Leading Geeks” post, but since I actually get more hits on this blog for the Grammar Geek posts, I figured I’d write this one.

Most of you know about the classic there/their/they’re confusion:

  • There: is a pronoun that refers to a place that’s not here :).
  • Their: possessive pronoun meaning something belonging to them (whoever they are).
  • They’re: a contraction of “they are”.

And yet people mix them up all the time. My theory? Carelessness. I’ve actually caught my fingers typing the wrong one randomly (Fingers? Meet brain. Brain? Fingers.). If I don’t re-read my work, I sometimes find that I’ve sent an email using the wrong form!! The horror!

If you never really knew the difference, now you do. If you’re wondering why your fingers and brain occasionally disconnect, I can’t help you, but let me know if you ever figure it out (I have a theory it has something to do with habit). Just re-read before hitting send, print, or publish, and you’ll catch most of your mistakes.

The Grammar Geek: Death Throws

Recently, I’ve seen a lot of posts that start, “We’ve been in the throws of an upgrade to Exchange 2007…” or something like that. They keep using that word. I don’t think it means what they think it means.

What they really mean to say is, “We’ve been in the throes…”

Yes, throes.

According to the Merriam-Webster Online dictionary, here’s the deal:

  • Throws means a lot of things. From pitching a ball to intentionally losing a game to hitting someone. While upgrading to Exchange 2007 might feel a lot like being on the receiving end of all of these, this isn’t quite the word to use.
  • Throes only has two definitions: either a pang or spasm, or a hard or painful struggle. Sound a bit more like being in the midst of an upgrade?

Glad you all understand now. Please stop making me twitch.

The Grammar Geek: Cousin It

My husband asked me to write about dangling prepositions, but I read some posts today on various groups and sites that had its/it’s confusion, so I’m going to get on my soapbox about that instead.

The word, “it”, can be problematic when made possessive. See, it doesn’t have an apostrophe in its possessive form (see? Just like that.). It’s just one of those things you have to memorize.

Wait, what was that? Oh, I just used “it’s” to mean “it is”. “It’s” can also mean “it has”. It’s a contraction (read: It is a contraction.).

To make things more difficult, my last job was in an Information Technology department, abbreviated “IT”. Unlike the pronoun, “it”, “IT” follows normal proper noun rules. If a telephone belongs to the IT Department, it is “IT’s telephone”. If IT is going out drinking the email subject reads, “IT’s going drinking!”

To recap:

  • its telephone = the telephone belonging to it
  • it’s a telephone = it is a telephone
  • IT’s telephone = the telephone belonging to Information Technology
  • IT’s a telephone = the Information Technology department is at the bar, letting voice mail pick up all the calls.

Okay, so technically, IT should be abbreviated “I.T.” to eliminate confusion, but that’s WAY more annoying to type…

The Grammar Geek: Oxford Commas

From what I’ve seen, most folks, while writing lists in sentences, write them as “x, y and z”. I, however, write them as “x, y, and z”. The difference is that last comma before the “and” in those lists. (Yes, I know that I committed my favorite error in those examples above.)

That last comma is usually called an Oxford comma or serial comma. Wikipedia says it can also be called a Harvard comma, but, as an MIT alum, I think Harvard is quite obnoxious enough already without a comma named after the place.

Overall, I’m a big fan of writing (a) as I speak, and (b) as clearly as possible. When I am verbally using a list, I pause for the same amount of time between saying “x”, “y”, and “and z”. So my brain says that I should use the Oxford comma when I write the list. I also find that, in most cases, using the Oxford comma makes a list easier to read–it reads clearly as a list to my eyes.

The Wikipedia entry has all sorts of fun ambiguity examples that I’ll refrain from duplicating here. I have to say that, despite my love of this comma, I no longer correct it when I proofread documents from authors who don’t use it. I barely twitch, even. Does this mean I’m gaining maturity?

The Grammar Geek: Avoiding Confusion

This post isn’t about grammar per se, but about a good way to find your own grammatical errors in your business writing:

After you’ve written something, read it out loud.

Why? Well, maybe you were interrupted mid-sentence and wrote the end of it hours later. I’ve done that and ended up with all sorts of messes, like doubled or missing words or subject-verb agreement issues. If I read what I wrote out loud and I am careful to read it word-for-word, I will hear the error and be more likely to correct it. After all, most of us know what proper business English sounds like, even if we don’t know the rules behind it.

This technique works best if you can walk away from your work for several hours (or overnight), because you are less likely to read what you thought you wrote and more likely to read the actual words on the page. When I wrote computer training manuals (a very long time ago), I discovered that I often mentally supplied missing words as I proofread my work. Unfortunately, many of my errors made it to press, where I’d find them a week or two later. Quite embarrassing!

Along with reading your work aloud, consider having your own proofreader–preferably someone who doesn’t speak or write like you do. This second set of eyes will be much more likely to catch your mistakes, and can save you from embarrassing gaffes.

(On this blog I usually simply read things aloud immediately after writing and then publish–hence any errors you might find!)