John McIntyre

Dunce English

A friend on Facebook posted the "Top Ten Grammar Peeves," which, to judge from the thousands of views indicated, has had a pretty good run. It is a deeply depressing document.

Some of it is relatively innocuous, pointing out that your and you're are different words, as are it's and its and their, there, and they're. All true but trivial.


So now we move from the trivial to the bogus:

"An apostrophe is never used to form a plural." Yes it is, to make individual letters plural—all A's. In some style guides, it's acceptable to form the plural of numerals with the apostrophe.


" 'Affect' is a verb. 'Effect' is a noun." Except that affect can also be a noun, as anyone knows who has ever witnessed the flat affect of a classroom full of undergraduates at 8:00 a.m., and effect can also be a verb.

"It's 'I couldn't care less.' 'I could care less' means you actually do care." I don't intend to trample this well-turned soil again, except to observe that when I ask if anyone has ever taken "I could care less" in any sense other than the ironic, no volunteer has stepped forward.

" 'Irregardless' is not a word." It is too. It has a standard spelling and pronunciation, anda widely understood meaning as an intensive form of regardless. It is, however, an informal and colloquial word, not much welcome in formal writing. But it is still a word.

This wretched little mixture of triviality and bad information got an enthusiastic endorsement from one commenter of Facebook, who announced proudly that she had posted the thing in her classroom.

Great. Another generation or two will enjoy all the benefits of incompetent instruction in grammar and usage.