Posted on May 12th, 2015

Remember that 8th-grade teacher who scolded you when you said, “Me and my friends”?  If your teacher was like mine, then she kept correcting you - “It's my friends and I” - until she drilled it into your head and now you can't say it any other way without twitching a little. Unfortunately she was right... most of the time.  After all, this wouldn't be English if it wasn't needlessly complicated.

Sometimes it's incorrect to say, “[So-and-so] and I,” and you have to say, “[So-and-so] and me” instead – even if it makes that nagging voice reappear, wagging its metaphorical finger at you. If you're talking about something that's happening to you and to others, then chances are you need to use “me,” as in, “They're throwing a party for my friends and me!” or, “That family vacation was a nightmare for my parents and me.”  If this seems wrong to you, imagine these statements with the other people taken out of them: “They're throwing a party for me!”  Pretty intuitive, right?  Now try it the other way: “They're throwing a party for I!”  You don't have to teach 8th grade to realize that doesn't sound right.

A similar rule applies if you are the one performing the action.  You don't say, “Me and my cousin are going to the lake” because if you were to remove the other person (sorry, cuz), you'd be left with, “Me am going to the lake,” and that's clearly not right.  That's how cavemen talk in bad jokes.

What we're looking at here is the distinction between subject and object – who “gives” the action of the sentence vs. who “receives” it.  When you're the subject, you are “I,” as in, “I hope the Beltway isn't totally jammed today.”  But when you're the object, you're “me,” as in, “Grammar drives me crazy!”  This is why it's okay to say, “It's high time I did something for me for a change.”

And you know what?  It is.  Go ahead, do something nice for yourself.  Because once you get all these little nuances of English mastered, you're going to sound more professional – on the page and in person – and that's going to take you places.  It might seem like a stupid little rule to get caught up in, but it will pay off when you're dealing with the type of person who values these things.  It just so happens that many of them are employers.  So go ahead and congratulate yourself – you're one baby step closer to getting hired.

Posted on May 1st, 2015

You'll notice what I didn't title this post, which is, “We Do Grammar Different” (we'll get back to the subtitle in a minute).  Many individuals and even corporations would go ahead and chop off what they think is an unnecessary extra syllable at the end, based on the idea that it sounds better - more casual, more conversational, more like “how the kids are saying it these days.”
Well, I don't.  I keep the -ly suffix because when I was in school, I learned about a little feature of the English language called “parts of speech” (if you're older than 25, you may've heard of this), the gist of which is that words are classified into specific types and each type has its own function.  Here are two examples:
DIFFERENT is an adjective.  Adjectives modify nouns, as in, “Oh hi, Kelly, your hair looks different today,” or, “Gosh, the tone of this post isn't much different from the last one – sarcastic, yet accurate.”  Adjectives describe things.  With me so far?

DIFFERENTLY is an adverb.  Adverbs modify (drum roll, please) verbs – in other words, they describe actions.  Let's switch up the last two examples a bit, thus:  “Wow, Kelly, you cut your hair differently this time,” or, “Man, I wish they had written this example a little bit differently, but I still can't stop reading!” 

To sum up: you do not do things different.  That's like saying you do things red, or tall, or bankrupt, none of which would make sense.  You do things differently – or at least you will, if you want to make fewer grammatical errors in your speech and writing.
This, of course, segues to our next common error, confusing “less” with “fewer” and vice versa.  Less refers to a smaller amount or smaller degree of something, fewer refers to a smaller number or quantity of something.  This is simple to remember and thus easy to fix if you keep in mind that some things can be quantified (i.e. counted) and some cannot.  
For example, water.  Can you count water? 
The answer is no – at least until you divide water up into units of measure, such as liters, gallons, or bottles or sips.
Thus, when you drink two bottles of water one day and only one bottle the next, you would say either you drank fewer bottles of water or less water, because both are correct.  What you would not want to say in this case – unless being incorrect is just your style – is less bottles.
Or say, you are counting your money.  If you have fewer coins, you have less money; not if you have less coins, you have fewer money.  Get it?
So here's the rule:
If you can count it, speak in terms of how many and use “fewer”
If you can't count it, speak in terms of how much and use “less” 

I hear “less” and “fewer” confused all the time, even on NPR!  So, if you would prefer to sound educated, then you might want to say things a little bit differently.

Posted on April 1st, 2015

The Extreme Left: A Few Words About Driving in DC

It's no secret that traffic is horrible in this city; a recent article in The Washington Post confirmed that DC “has again risen to the top as the most congested metropolitan area in the United States.”  I'm confident that we all have more than enough anecdotal evidence to confirm this, if it doesn't give us stress ulcers first.  But what can be done about it, when all signs show that this is only going to get worse?

Now I know what you're thinking, but put away your business plan for that worker-owned, green, recycled material, bicycle factory powered by 100% renewable energy and keep your day job. This is a car town and it's going to stay that way because everyone in this city has somewhere to be. Whether or not it's the place they should be going is another matter, but they're going and a lot of them are driving cars to get there.

Here's a simple rule that would help, if only the right people would listen: if you're in the left lane, and you're not making a turn or passing the cars in the right lane, get out of the left lane!

Let that sink in for a second. Think about all the times you've wished someone else would follow this rule... and all the times you've broken it.

It's a really easy rule to follow. We're taught it in driver's ed; it works just as well on the streets of the city as it does on highways and interstates. If you're not passing someone, and you're not making a turn, get out of the left lane.

Say it to yourself a few times.  Yes, out loud.  Sing it in the shower.  Chant it under your breath when you go into Warrior Pose at yoga class, or whatever gets you to remember it, because there's no reason not to do it.  Lingering over there, clogging up the lane and slowing down the whole flow of traffic, just ruins everyone's day.

Posted on March 17th, 2015

While I Was Trying to Explain This To You, My Head Literally Exploded
Before we get into the details of how you've been using the word “literally” wrong, or how annoying it is when you do, or in what specific way it makes you sound silly, a couple of caveats:
1.     I am not judging you as a person; nor should you judge yourself.  We tend to take the “love the sinner, hate the sin” attitude in this matter.
2.     You're in good company; even intelligent, professional people, from NPR commentators to government officials, get it wrong all the time.  It's no excuse, but there's no sense feeling lonely while you blunder.
Now you may already be feeling defensive, because you're an educated person and you think the way you've been saying “literally” is probably right because most of the time you use words correctly, and that if you had been using it wrong an English teacher would have told you, and anyway it's just a word and words are open to interpretation, right? Well, yes, sometimes they are, but in the same way that “1” can't really be interpreted as “0,” or “Republican” as “Democrat,” you can't really use “literally” in certain ways.
Here's a list. It is not exhaustive, but it's pretty comprehensive for a non-academic blog.
-It does not mean figuratively, as in the case of the woman I heard once say to a colleague, “I was literally dead on my feet yesterday.”  Presumably this was not the case, as she didn't appear to be dead when she told this story, but the important point here is that she actually meant figuratively, which is the opposite of literally.  Being “dead on your feet” is a figure of speech that emphasizes exhaustion by exaggerating your case (unless you happen to be both dead and standing up, which I don't think anybody can manage for very long). Now there might be a time that you do literally take the money and run, but I'd rather maintain plausible deniability, so if that happens, don't tell me.
-It does not mean strongly, vehemently, or any other word that imparts emphasis.  Many people use it that way, and some dictionaries even list that as one of its meanings, but the people who are in charge of dictionaries these days are so craven that they'll include any made-up, misused word if enough people use it, because who wants to be like, y'know, correct?  Totes ridic.
-It does not mean seriously, as in not in jest. This is why you think you can, but in fact cannot, say, “Dude, I mean it, stay away from my sister or literally I will kill you” without committing assault.
-And it doesn't really work in matters of opinion; no one is “literally the best” unless specific criteria are under consideration.  So while you could be literally the tallest person in a room, you could not be literally the most annoying, because there's no objective measurement of annoyance (although if there was, correcting the grammar of your friends, neighbors and co-workers would post huge numbers).
Part of what makes this so difficult is that English words are often rich with multiple definitions.  For instance, “I had to cut Bob today” could mean you fired him or that you're a violent felon.  So it's not that we are without sympathy – just that I think you, and other well-spoken, well-educated people, should hold yourself to a higher standard and use complex words correctly.  So please do so from now on, or I will literally lose my mind.

Posted on February 1st, 2015

We plan to write blogs which are germane to our business but we are also going to write about things that stick in our craw.  We hope they make you laugh and that folks take them as they are meant to be...serious - funny - pay attention to this - stuff.

no categories