Episode 149: December 19, 2008
Grammar Girl here.
Today I'm announcing the top five Grammar Girl pet peeves of 2008.
About a month ago, I asked Grammar Girl listeners to submit their pet peeves for consideration for the peeves of 2008 list, and boy, do you have a lot of peeves! What surprised me most was how little overlap there was between all your peeves. I expected there to be clear winners, but there weren't. I don't know if you read other people's comments and decided not to post if your peeve was already there or if you're all so different that everyone just has his or her own peeve. Some of your annoyances did fall into groups like classic errors and political speech, so I tried to make sure that those groups were represented in the final list.
Before we get into the final list, I have one honorable mention for Joshua Heimann whose complaint didn't make the list but did make me laugh. He complained about people making up words like "conversate" and "pronunciate" and noted that it needed to terminate, not stopitate.
And now, the list --
At number five, we have carelessness. You hate seeing errors in professionally produced materials, you hate seeing errors in comment posts where other people are talking about their peeves, and most of all, you hate it when people call you pedantic for caring about language. So number five on the 2008 pet peeves list is a careless attitude about language.
Number four is misuse of the word "myself." Many of your pet peeves fall into the classic category -- the kind of language errors that we hear year in and year out and aren't particularly special to 2008. You hate it when people misuse "less" and "fewer," use the wrong version of "your" and "their," mispronounce words such as especially and espresso, and have verbal tics such as using "like" every four words. But the biggest pet peeve in this category, the one that is number four on our list, is when people misuse the word "myself." "Send the message to Squiggly and myself" is wrong; it's "Send the message to Squiggly and me." "Myself and Bob are going to the meeting" is wrong; it's "Bob and I are going to the meeting."
Number three on our list is overuse of the word "tapped," as in Obama tapped so-and-so for secretary of lawn mowing. Peeves about political speech were rampant this year. Many of the suggestions for peeve of the year that I received had some connection to the election. People were annoyed that politicians altered their pronunciation to sound folksy, misused the word "enormity," spoke about "an historical election," misused "Democrat" as an adjective, and overused phrases like "double down" and "team of rivals."
But the winner in the political speech category is the overuse of the word "tapped." The Oxford English Dictionary includes a definition meaning "to appoint" for the word "tap," but also indicates that the use is a U.S. colloquialism, meaning it's questionable to use it in formal situations. All through the election we heard about people being tapped for positions, and it's only gotten worse with Obama making so many recent appointments. There's nothing technically wrong with using "tap" in this way, and I know it's a short word that can fit nicely into a tight headline, but I'd like to suggest to headline writers that there are other words they might consider using, including "appointed," "selected," "chose," and "designated."
As an aside, I think it is amusing that another slang meaning of the word "tap" is to arrest someone. The meaning comes from police tapping people on the shoulder right before they arrest them. Let's hope the people being tapped for political positions aren't eventually tapped in that other sense of the word.
Number two on the list of 2008 pet peeves is the phrase "baby bump." When I read Erica Podegracz's suggestion of this phrase for peeve of the year I knew it had to be on the list! It's not in any regular dictionary, but the Urban Dictionary, a site where people can enter their own definitions for terms, calls a baby bump "The protruding abdominal bump from a woman's stomach when she becomes noticeably pregnant (1)." The Celebrity Baby Blog did a story back in March about the origins of the term and they believe it started in Britain about four years ago (2), but it seems to them that the phrase is gaining popularity, and it seems to me that it's being overused. All year we were hearing about baby bumps on Jennifer Garner, Angelina Joile, Ashlee Simpson, and various other celebrities who may or may not be pregnant. Some people think it is cute and descriptive, but to me, it sounds so descriptive as to be childish -- like when someone asks for a purple snow cone instead of a grape snow cone.
And finally, the top pet peeve of 2008 is the use of the word "slay" as a noun. Fred Firestine from New York first pointed out the trend to me. For example, a recent headline from Fox News read "Slay Suspect Amanda Knox Stars in Feature Film in Jail." Which prompted Fred to ask "slay suspect? Shouldn't it be 'slaying suspect'?" And once Fred pointed it out, he and I both kept seeing more examples. For example, CBS news wrote "N.J. Slay Suspect Confesses," the Boston Herald wrote "Fare Found Guilty in Cabbie Slay," and the use seems common at the New York Daily News which has repeatedly used "slay" this way. It seems to be confined to headline writing for now, so I'm guessing that the writers are using it to save space, but it's just plain wrong.
In every one of those headlines "slay" is being used as a noun or in the place of a gerund such as "slaying." But I dutifully checked all my dictionaries and the only definition of "slay" as a noun has something to do with weaving and looms. "Slay" is a verb -- "to slay," meaning "to kill." Someone can be a slayer and an incident can be a slaying, but to say someone is a slay suspect isn't good English. Substitute some other nouns to see how silly this use is. You wouldn't say "Adidas is selling more run shoes" or "Shoot suspect evades police." So in the hope of stopping this trend before it becomes more widespread, I name the misuse of "slay" as the top Grammar Girl pet peeve of 2008.
So there you have it.
The Top Five Grammar Girl Pet Peeves of 2008
2. Baby bump
Thanks to everyone who submitted a peeve. I enjoyed reading through them and I'll use many of them as topics for future shows or even more likely as topics for the grammar tips that now come out in the free weekly newsletter.