Friday, March 14, 2008

More Rebellion Against Overzealous Grammarians (But Not By Me)

Grammar serfs, unite! All you have to lose are your copies of Eats, Shoots, and Leaves!

Or is it Eats Shoots and Leaves? I guess it depends upon whether you are talking about a panda in his natural habitat or one that walks into a bar with a gun. (If you don't get it, I respectfully suggest the book, however it's punctuated).

Disclaimer: Actually, I did read the above mentioned book and I did enjoy laughing as I did so. I am not a complete grammar 'Philistine.' And I am a Yekke myself--oh, not literally, no ancestors of mine come from Germany--but my Yekkeism has to do with shoes!
We all have our...erm...foiables.
So if you are weak of heart, or get high-blood pressure at the mere thought of differences in usages, why then, just surf on by.

I had to laugh at the Grammar priggishness that is home grown right here in New Mexico. Who'd have thunk it? On Wednesday I opened our local and independent Albuquerque Journal Newspaper to read this headline:

"1 in 4 Teenage Girls Have Sexually Transmitted Diseases."

Being that I was rather shocked by the information, (Oy), I did not prepare myself for the letters to the editor and e-mails to the editor the next day. Not about how very serious this problem is for a multitude of reasons, mind you. No, the messages to the editor were about the grammar in the headline. And it provoked this response:


"Wednesday's headline...touched a nerve among offended grammarians who said it was just plain wrong. Many grammarians agree, taking the position that the verb in such constructions should be the singular "has" to agree with the subject "one."

However, other grammarians say such phrases as "one in (a larger number)" should take a plural verb in keeping with "notional agreement" of subject and verb, because the phrase carries the notion of a larger number rather than an individual.

Merriam-Webster's Dictionary of English Usage says:
'This appears to be a case where actual usage (emphasis added) is more often governed by notional agreement than by grammatical agreement; the writers who use the construction realize that it represents a statistical proportion and thus stands for a multitude of individuals.'

...Who's right? It's debatable...."

Steve Williams, News Editor
(The Albuquerque Journal, Thursday, March 13, 2008, page 2).

Did you notice the emphasis I added?
Actual usage.
In this case, as in the one I wrote about a few days ago, actual usage appears to trump the picky rules. I have been accused of having "difficulties with people" because I pointed this out right on my blog. It's probably true. But if I do, so does Steve Williams, News Editor of the local Newspaper.

Viva la compagnie!

And have a great weekend, everyone: grammar serfs and grammar yekkies alike!


momof3feistykids said...

IMO, the Grammar Zealots are correct. The subject of that sentence is "One" and the verb should be "has" rather than "have." I don't think the actual usage trumps anything. Similiarly we say "everyone is" even if we're referring to six billion people.

But seriously ... do all these folks writing to the paper have that much time on their hands? And aren't they more concerned about the *statistic* cited in the ungrammatical headline, and where those folks are getting their information? Yeesh!:-D

Steph (Who is pretty anal retentive about English usage, but may be too much of a WASP -- and lacks the Teutonic roots -- to call herself a Grammar Yekke *LOL*)

Mama Squirrel said...

I dunno, though...if you don't think about it too hard, "have" just sounds better. Because if that one-in-four girl "has" diseases, how many diseases can one girl have?

Melora said...

I agree with Merriam-Webster. I Know that "one" is singular, but I also know that that particular "one" stands for many, so "have" seems right to me.

As a side note, do we Believe what that headline is saying? Oh my.

denise said...

Love it. Good read. Good giggle. :)