Office of Public Humiliation: Division of the (Kinder and Gentler) Grammar Police

“English usage is sometimes more than mere taste, judgment, and education — Sometimes it’s sheer luck, like getting across the street.”
– E. B. White

“The greater part of the world’s troubles are due to questions of grammar.”
– Michel de Montaigne

from ETNI’s “Grammar Quotes

How do we control grammar? We have to have some rules, right? Otherwise, no one would understand each other. Maybe. English is a mongrel mutt of a language, full of all sorts of odd imports and add ons and historical oddities. It’s no wonder we get it wrong so often. Have you ever wondered why nothing rhymes with orange or pajama?

One explanation is that they are both words adapted from non-European languages. Orange, according to, “is possibly ultimately from Dravidian, a family of languages spoken in southern India and northern Sri Lank.” []. Pajama, is from the Persian word for pants []

English, too, is a world language without a central governing authority. So when I lived in the Philippines people would ask me if I wanted help with my luggages, or if I thought the feedbacks were useful. In the U.S. we would consider both uncountable nouns that don’t need an s to form a plural.

So maybe there is no real way to keep this in check except via a kind of low key public humiliation. I bet Mr. Spiller was a little red-faced about his button, which says more than he meant to say. And now there are FLIKR groups (where I got the image) where you can help out the language by spreading the shame.

“Quotation Mark” Abuse:

Atrocious Apostrophe’s:


About Ray Watkins

I was born in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, at Our Lady of the Lake Hospital. I grew up in Houston, as a part of what we only half-jokingly call the Cajun Diaspora. At a certain point during the Regan administration, I had to leave, so I served in the Peace Corps, Philippines, from 1987-89. I didn't want to return to the United States just yet, so I moved to Paris, France, where I lived for three years or so. I then moved back to Austin, Texas, where I had received my Masters Degree, and (eventually) began a Ph.D., which I completed in 1999. I spent a year at Temple University and then accepted a position at Eastern Illinois University where I worked until May of 2006. I now work exclusively on line (although that may change) for Johns Hopkins, the Art Institute Online, and I can be reached most easily via email: raywatkins [that 'at' symbol]

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