Parenting Perspectives: Which brings us to the subject that annoys meOK, the election is finally over, and we’ve gotten back to our “normal” lives. I stopped recording on my DVR every TV show I wanted to watch so that I could fast-forward through the ugly political ads, and I’m weaning myself from going home after work every night and watching MSNBC. (But I do so like Rachel Maddow, and Chris Matthews was even growing on me.)
By: Kathy Tofflemire, INFORUM
OK, the election is finally over, and we’ve gotten back to our “normal” lives.
I stopped recording on my DVR every TV show I wanted to watch so that I could fast-forward through the ugly political ads, and I’m weaning myself from going home after work every night and watching MSNBC. (But I do so like Rachel Maddow, and Chris Matthews was even growing on me.)
But now, without the annoying advertising, I can return to more mundane irritants, so I am turning to all the English grammar teachers out there, whether they are teaching my grandsons or not.
Now, I have great respect for teachers. I think there is no more important job. But I have a request:
Please, please teach your students the proper use of – and the difference between – “that” and “which.”
I have to admit I would probably be hard-pressed to explain the rule simply, but I know the difference when I see it. And, believe me, in this business, I see it a lot, often from otherwise excellent writers, including an editorial columnist for the Chicago Tribune.
So, I am blaming the sources of their education.
I don’t pretend to be a grammar expert. I have to pause and think about affect and effect and the proper use of lay and lie.
And I still have a letter in my desk drawer written by a reader in 1999 chastising me (although she didn’t know it was me) for using he instead of him (the objective case rule) in a headline over a photo. She said it made her stomach ache. Mine, too, when I realized my error.
And don’t get me started on the use of hyphens and commas. I do try to think those through, though, and not just scatter them like grass seed.
But the that-or-which issue is one of my major peeves.
The Associated Press stylebook has a good explanation of the rule:
“Use that for essential clauses, important to the meaning of a sentence, and without commas. Use which for nonessential clauses, where the pronoun is less necessary, and use commas … Tip: If you can drop the clause and not lose the meaning of the sentence, use which; otherwise use that.”
OK, teachers, paste that on the forehead of each of your students. It would make future copy editors so happy.
And as long as we’re on the subject of grammar and punctuation, I’ll throw out a couple of other annoyances.
As I often mutter under my breath at work (actually sometimes loudly): “People who. People who. People who!” Not “people that,” although most of us say it in conversation. That’s all right. Just don’t write it.
Miss Potter, my high school English teacher – you know, the one all the seniors warned you about – would be proud of me for remembering not to say/write “the reason is because.” It’s just the reason is. Even Barack Obama got that one wrong in a recent speech.
And an apostrophe does not make a proper name plural. It’s the Joneses, not the Jones’. How many times have I seen that on personalized signs for sale at craft fairs. I refrain from going up to the artisan and saying, “That’s wrong, you know.”
Sometimes editors just aren’t appreciated.
A fellow copy editor shared the following quote from Craig Johnson, author of the “Longmire” novels, on which the really good A&E series is based:
“Don’t approach a bull from the front, a horse from the rear or a copy editor from any direction.”
See what I mean?
Kathy Tofflemire is a copy editor at The Forum.