and Her Pet Peeves
Imperceptibly Updated for 2014
Miss English is still thriving as she strides purposefully toward the nine-tenths-of-a-century mark, but she’s finding the world almost intolerable these days, and displays a fretful pettishness almost every time I encounter her.
Last week, a young man from the cable company (previously described as “a darling fellow” by my illustrious friend) had inadvertently left his Droid behind in her ancient Central Park West apartment. She noticed a message on the screen, which Miss E. was inspecting through her thick specs in hopes of finding a way to stop the device from playing the Perez Prado riff that meant a communication was incoming.
Well, the very sight of “u” for “you” and “r” for “are” practically sent her finger reaching for the “9” button I’ve told her to press and hold in case of an emergency in such situations. Then there was the sentence “If this old bat doesn’t learn to use her remote after I explane it this time Im going to loose my mind.”
Frankly, I can barely open my mouth around Miss English these days. When I took her to Ruby Foo’s for her birthday, the whole evening was pretty much ruined when she insisted that I was mispronouncing “daiquiri,” a drink I was ordering for her, for God’s sake, since no one else I know has drunk it since the 1970s.
It causes Miss E. some consternation to admit that despite her name, her English is not perfect either. She’s been known to boldly split infinitives after a few lemony rum drinks. I gave her a copy of Patricia T. O’Conner’s Woe Is I for that same birthday, and received a frantic call at 4 a.m.; apparently Miss E. had been confusing “irritate” and “aggravate” for years. Despite these freakish inconsistencies, no one could deny that Miss English has a deep fondness for the language that shares her name, and in her honor I present a list of her pet peeves, slightly amended as of yesterday. If you think I’m going to invite her to proofread it, think again:
1) There is no such word as “alot.”
2) One does not go to the store “everyday.” It’s “every day.” “Everyday” is an adjective, meaning that something is used or fit for every day, common – “an everyday occurrence.”
3) Don’t put quotation marks around everyday words.
4) An apostrophe is never used with a personal pronoun; therefore you shouldn’t write “The movie bored it’s audience,” but “its.” It’s true! (In that little sentence, the apostrophe takes the place of the missing letter I.) Similarly, it’s incorrect to write “Who’s book is this?” or “The fault was their’s.”
5) “Pick-up” and “check-out” are not verbs. You “pick up” a sailor or “check out” a library book. No hyphen. “Pickup” without the hyphen is a noun. It’s the jolt you get from a bracing cup of Earl Grey, Miss English explains. “Checkout” is the time at which a lodger must vacate a room, or a counter or area in a store where goods are checked out. (I told her that we all know that, but she was cranky at the time and, I believe, ready for a nap.)
7) Miss E. has also expressed horror at the way in which the apostrophe has been misused to pluralize words. The hand-lettered signs are everywhere in her neighborhood, causing the dear thing to become virtually housebound for fear of seeing one more placard advertising “tangerine’s” or “video’s” or “pizza’s.” She has been heard to utter piteous birdlike shrieks at each new assault.
8) It’s chaise longue, not chaise LOUNGE..
chaise longue (shz lông) n., pl. chaise longues or chaises longues (shz lông). A reclining chair with a lengthened seat that supports the outstretched legs.
[French: chaise, chair + longue, long.]
Also, coup de grâce is pronounced “koo de grahs,” not “koo de grah.” That nice salad with tuna and potatoes is “sah lahd nee swahz.” Here’s a link she found that discusses the whole sorry situation.
(I’m afraid Miss English is “swinging after the bell” on the first one, as “chaise lounge” is now included in various dictionaries. I also told her that “like,” as in “I was like, forget it!” has now been granted the status of a so-called “discourse particle.” That was thoughtless and cruel, I admit.)
9) It’s “stu-d’nt,” meaning you really don’t pronounce the “e,” not “stu-DENT.” And on a related matter, a whole generation of young girls believe there is a word spelled and pronounced “diddent.”
10) It’s “between you and me,” not “between you and I.” Take yourself out of the sentence whenever you’re unsure (you wouldn’t say “The realtor was very rude to I,” which means that “The realtor was very rude to Darren and I” would be incorrect). Grammar Girl explains this.
I recently pulled notebook and pen from Miss English’s delicate claw when she fell asleep in front of the tube, and found that she had been noting every instance of the use of the word “amazing” in commercials for dark chocolate mini-bites, air mattresses, and erectile dysfunction medications. When she woke up, she directed me to add the overuse of “amazing” to her list. “Tell them to find another adjective,” she instructed curtly. I promised that I would try.
In the punctuation wars, Miss E.’s granddaughter Penelope is her latest and best ally, having taken over the task of roaming the streets on weekends and chronicling each egregious mistake spotted. Penelope then goes out under cover of darkness with a flashlight, a red pencil and a bottle of correcting fluid. It’s a thankless task, but somebody’s got to do it.