Drum roll please…

At long last, it’s time to reveal the Big Kahuna, the Top Dog, the Numero Uno Bête Noire of Summer 2011. Before I name the Best in Show, I would like to offer a final justification for why I’ve put this list together. First of all, I had no intentions of trying to scold anyone or of suggesting that I am rigidly prescriptive about language. In fact, I often enjoy the way language rules can be broken when we are being resourceful or creative because this might result in new meanings or useful distinctions.

I also wanted to make clear that I focus on the errors that native speakers make with their own language. Of course there are some learners of English that may make the same mistakes, but confusing grammatical structures in a second language is understandable. Learning another language is a huge undertaking and errors are a natural part of the process. Native speakers have less reason to be confused, especially with the more basic structures that should have been learned in elementary school. Continue reading

Bête Noire #2: “It ain’t over till it’s over.”

(If you need to catch up, check out Bêtes Noires Three, Four, and Five.)

Raise your hand if you remember when Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” was released in 1991. Remember how great it was? How it totally blew you away when you first heard it? And how, three months later, it had been played exactly 23,452 times on every radio station and you swore that you’d throw up if you had to hear it one more time? If you’re too young to remember this happening to Nirvana, then just substitute whatever media darling du jour is being ruined by the evil of overexposure. Continue reading

Bête’s Noire’s Number Four: Apostrophe’s*

“I now understand that the punishment’s my parent’s gave to me were mean’t to make me a better man.”

Apparently, they weren’t interested in their son’s writing skills.

Granted, this is an extreme case (though not fictional, unfortunately).  Not many people believe an apostrophe actually belongs in the word ‘meant’. But hardly a day goes by during the semester that I don’t see this error in student work. The issue, of course, is simple. It’s a case of mistaken identity. A plural suffix –s is being confused with the possessive suffix of –’s.

I can understand being confused about where to put the possessive suffix. The rules aren’t elaborate but can present some snags: Continue reading