Saturday, May 13, 2006

Don't Make This Everyday Mistake Every Day

Two headlines from the same editor/writer:
Tuesday, June 7, 2005: "You Learn Something New Everyday." No, you don't. In fact, if it's new it cannot be "everyday."

Monday, April 24, 2006: "Here's a Combo You Don't See Everyday." Quite so, and with good reason.
Two more examples:
Thursday, February 23, 2006: "Here's a Byline Team You Don't See Everyday."

Friday, April 28, 2006: "It's Not Everyday."

So all of these headlines contain the word "everyday," and its use is wrong in every single case. Every one.

The offender is Kathryn Jean Lopez, an educated and intelligent woman who has, we are informed, "been praised for her 'editorial daring,'" and who "stands athwart history," in William F. Buckley, Jr.'s immortal words, at National Review and at National Review Online.

How can she be so wrong, then? Isn't "everyday" a word?

Why yes, it is.

There are two good -- and short -- treatments of this error. First, we can turn to The New Fowler's Modern English Usage, edited by R. W. Burchfield. His entry on "everyday" (found on page 270 of the 1996 paperback edition) is admirably succinct:
When used as an adj. (an everyday event, everyday clothes, etc. meaning 'commonplace, usual: suitable for or used on ordinary days', everyday is written as one word. In contexts where it means 'each day' (she went shopping almost every day) two words (every day are needed.
Patricia T. O'Connor turns her attention to "everyday" as well, in her delightful Woe Is I: The Grammarphobe's Guide to Better English in Plain English. In chapter 5, "Verbal Use," she includes a section, "One Word or Two?" which includes this entry:
everyday / every day. We mix them up daily (or every day). The single word, everyday, is an adjective. It describes a thing, so it can usually be found right in front of a noun: "I just love my everyday diamonds," said Magda. The time expression every day is two words: "That's why you wear them every day," said Zsa Zsa.
How to Avoid This Error:

Time for mnemonics:

If you mean "commonplace," or "usual," notice that each is one word, and the term you need is also one word: "everyday." Okay, but how do you remember the tip? Notice that "commonplace" is one word, but made up of two words -- and so is "everyday."

If your meaning is "daily," then remember either Burchfield's "each day" or O'Connor's "time expression," and there you are: two words.

(This error is not mentioned in the first edition of Fowler, and in the Second (edited by Sir Ernest Gowers), the word "everyday" is treated as "(adj.). One word." That's it. This would appear, then, to be an error of recent vintage. Ah, for those halcyon days before rap "music," the designated hitter, and "This isn't something you see everyday...")

(Cross-posted to The Anger of Compassion.)

Friday, May 12, 2006

To Gift

A question on "gift" as a verb was posed in one of the comments below. The Ceely establishment owns many, many books on the English language, and should be able to answer anything to at least some degree. Here is what The New Fowler's Modern English Usage (3rd edition, R.W.Burchfiled, ed. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1996) says on the subject:
gift (verb). Despite its antiquity (first recorded in the 16th c.) and its frequent use, esp. Scottish writers, since then, it has fallen out of favour among standard speakers in England, and is best avoided. On the other hand, gifted [as in] 'talented' (a gifted violinist) is standard. (p. 330)

This doesn't exactly answer the question as to where is comes from, but we have not yet acquired the big OED (in several volumes) that specifically discusses origins. My answer does tell us that you probably won't see the use of "gift" as a verb much in America, but may see it in England, mostly in older publications.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

A Historical Lesson

I have seen the words "historic" and "historical" used with both "an" and "a," as in "an historic ocassion." Here is lesson XXI from Illustrated Lessons in Our Language by G.P Quackenbos, 1882.
...Whether an or a is to be used, depends on the sound with which the following word commences....
An is used before words commencing with a and i, and most words commencing with e, o, u, and h not sounded. A is used before all other words.
A must be used when the following word commences with the sound of u in unit; as, a unit, a ewe, a eulogy, a humour.
A must be used before one; as, a one-horse wagon.
A must be used before words commencing with h sounded; as, a hat, a hen.

That would also include a historic ocassion and a hysterical person.
The confusion stems from usage seen in the King James Bible, when all words having a French origin that began with h were pronounced with the h silent, such as "an hotel." This is no longer correct, even in England. So drop the n before historical.
(Source: Harper Dictionary of Contemporary Usage, 2nd ed. New York: Harper & Row, 1985: p. 1.)

(Illustrated Lessons in Our Language by G.P Quackenbos, is Available on CD at Lady's Maid Books.)

Monday, May 08, 2006

Arguments on the Apostrophe "s"

I recently acquired a book entitled, The Question Book. A General Review of Common School Studies. "To be used in schools, in connection with text books," by Asa Craig (10th edition, Caldwell Prairie, Wis: Published by the Author, 1878). Looking through it, I could not imagine who would do well with such questions. Even our most studious and scholarly-minded university students would have trouble with these questions. There is no indication in the book which grade or age group is targeted here, but I would have to say high school. The book covers US history, geography, grammar, reading, Orthography (phonics), Civil Government, Physiology, and Physical Geography (geology).

The grammar section was of most interest to us. I present you with question #50:
How are letters and figures made plural?

The answer is: "By annexing 's.

Since this was something I have been doing for years, it made sense. However, after a brief discussion with Craig, I realized that this use of the 's is considered incorrect and always has been in many circles. I refer you to The Green Grocer's Apostrophe, which has been abused for so long that many people don't realize it is incorrect. It's seen more in the UK than here, though not exclusively.

So, we know we don't use the 's in reference to a plural, but its use has been sanctioned in the case of numbers for many years. Or it used to be. Looked at objectively, it really is just plain wrong.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

1000 Mistakes Corrected

I have in my possession a wonderful book called, 1000 Mistakes Corrected and Peculiarities of Language Noted, by Prof. W.H.Larrabee and Prof. H. A. Buttz, New York: N. Tibbals & Sons, 1873. This one was a real find. I have not yet scanned it for the store, but I will in the future. Craig and I went through the entire book one afternoon, noting which mistakes have actually been corrected over the years, and which ones were lost in the battle for grammar supremacy. Here are a few interesting tidbits.
II - Spurious Words

Spurious words are words which are not proper words. They are words which good writers reject. They are such words as someone introduces without precedent or authority, and others use, to express an idea, for which there are already enough significant words; or they are derivative words which are formed in a manner contrary to or not warranted by the laws and analogies of the language...

100. Casuality. -- Say Casualty. [I have to say I am glad we won that battle. This is not one I have ever seen or heard. AC]
102. Donate -- is improperly formed and is not needed. The critics condemn it. Say instead, give, present, bequeath, grant, confer, endow with, or devise. Instead of "Mr.---- has donated $10,000 to ---- college," say he "has given $10,000." Donation is correct. [Hey! Did anyone else know this? I didn't. Nor the one below. We just keep on using them, blissfully ignorant that there was ever any controversy about the use of such words. AC]
109. Jeopardize -- is unnecessary. Jeopard is the proper word, and has the same force that is intended to be attached to jeopardize. We may also say "put in jeopardy."

Well, English is a living language, after all. But there are so many words like this one in this book. I am not claiming, of course, that we return to these particular word prejudices. I merely like to point out the differences between then and now.