Grammar Mistakes, Part II: Which Weigh Do We Go?

more grammar mistakesDear Mr. Dad: Last week you wrote about a number of grammar mistakes that you find annoying. Reading through your column, those mistakes didn’t seem so bad. What’s the big deal?

As I said last week, English is constantly evolving, and that’s a wonderful thing. But no matter how much our language changes, we’ll always have to use words to get others to understand what we’re thinking. Grammatical errors sometimes make clear communication difficult. Here are some of the biggest offenders.

  • Dangling Modifiers. A modifier is a word that affects another part of the sentence. Separating the modifier from what it’s modifying often causes confusion. For example, in your statement, “Reading through your column, those mistakes didn’t seem so bad,” who was reading? I’m sure you meant that you were. But it sounds like the mistakes were the ones doing the reading. It’s better—and clearer—to say, “As I read your column, I didn’t think that those mistakes were so bad.” Dangling modifiers are everywhere: “The cops chased the robbers in their squad cars” (if the robbers are already in the squad cars, why do the cops need to chase them?). “We saw dozens of dangerous snakes and spiders on vacation in Borneo” (since when do snakes and spiders go on vacation?). Fixing dangling modifiers is usually pretty simple: “The cops got into their squad cars and chased…” or “While on vacation in Borneo, we saw…”
  • Uninterested vs. Disinterested. They sound similar but aren’t. An uninterested person is bored or simply doesn’t care. A disinterested person is unbiased or impartial. If you’re on trial for your life, you’d rather have a disinterested judge than an uninterested one.
  • 360 Degrees. One often hears about people who made “a 360-degree change.” They’re trying to say that their life changed dramatically, but making a 360-degree change means making a full circle and ending up right back where you started. To truly turn your life around, all you need is 180 degrees.
  • “Penultimate.” People use this word to mean something that’s beyond ultimate. But it really means “second to last,” as in “this sentence is the penultimate one in the paragraph.” This is the last one.
  • “Literally.” This word means, “Exactly as written or stated.” But people use it in place of “really, really, really,” as in “I was literally crushed when my girlfriend broke up with me.” The grieving ex-boyfriend doesn’t really mean that every bone in his body was smashed. Hopefully. The children’s literature character Amelia Bedelia is famous for taking things literally. When her employer told her to “draw the drapes,” Amelia picked up a pencil and paper and did a lovely sketch.
  • Homophones. These are words that sound the same but are spelled differently. There are literally dozens of them, and using the wrong one can distort what you’re saying in hilarious and/or horrifying ways. For example, putting your hands on your waist (the part of your body just above your hips) is quite different than putting your hands on your waste (your garbage—or worse). Your uncle would no doubt be very upset to find that he was married to your ant instead of your aunt. If you need to move a heavy object, a guy with big muscles would be a lot handier to have around than a guy with big mussels (the seafood). And if that guy with big mussels is broke, he may not have a cent (a penny)—but he probably has a scent (an odor). Other homophones include to, two, and too; way and weigh; flew and flue; road and rowed; and principle and principal.


Photo credit: Trikutam

Grammar Mistakes: That Just Ain’t Right

grammar mistakes are commonDear Mr. Dad: A few years ago, I read a column of yours that talked about grammar mistakes. I thought you were overreacting, but it seems to me that they’re getting more and more common. What’s worse, schools are contributing to the problem, sending out emails and newsletters that contain basic errors. If the schools can’t get it right, how are our kids supposed to learn? Should I just give up or is it worth fighting for proper English usage?

A: Don’t give up. Please. English is under attack and needs all the help it can get. Just to be clear, I have nothing against progress. If you’ve ever tried to read Chaucer or Shakespeare, you know that our language is constantly evolving. The way we use words changes over time and new ones are always cropping up (the Oxford English Dictionary adds or revises the definitions of hundreds of words every year). Just a few years ago, had you ever of hangry (being angry as a result of hunger), selfie stick, emoji, microaggression, butt dial, fatberg, or manspreading?

Personally, I love that our language is always growing and developing. And I’m all for learning new vocabulary and usages. At the same time, like you, I find myself rolling my eyes and groaning when native English speakers make mistakes on things they should have learned in third grade. Sometimes the results are funny. Sometimes they completely change the meaning of what’s being said. Let me give you a few examples:

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Sex-Starved Dad: Don’t Get Your Hopes–Or Anything Else–Up

Dear Mr. Dad: I’m a new dad and love everything about fatherhood. But my marriage is fraying. Our baby’s birth was uneventful and my wife’s OB told us that we could have sex again after six weeks. He’s eight months old now and my wife and I have had sex exactly one time since the birth. That’s it. I’ve tried talking with her about this, and her response is that she simply has no sex drive anymore. I’m 27 and my sex drive is pretty healthy. I feel bad bugging her to do something she apparently doesn’t feel like doing and I don’t want our relationship to end over this. I’m trying to be as sympathetic as I can, but is it normal for women to lose their sex drive for this long after giving birth? Is there anything I can do to increase her sex drive?

The reason most OBs tell new parents to hold off on having sex for those famous six weeks is that it usually takes that long for the woman’s body to recover. But that six-week guideline can lead to unrealistic expectations, which in turn can lead to resentment and relationship strain. Sound familiar? The reality is that plenty of couples take as long as a year to get back to their pre-pregnancy and pre-baby sex life.

Here are a few of the many factors that could be putting a damper on your wife’s sex drive:

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Talking about Islamic Terrorism

ismlamic terroristDear Mr. Dad: What happened in Paris last week has me shocked, upset, and frightened. The death and destruction are hard enough for my wife and me to grasp and to explain to our children, ages 7 and 10. But it’s getting increasingly difficult to answer their questions about Islam and to keep them from demonizing Muslims. We tried avoiding the issue, but that’s not working anymore. How can we talk to our children about terrorism and Muslims without slipping into stereotyping?

A: What a great question—one I’ve struggled with for a long time, and continue to do so—and the answer is anything but simple. As a parent, I think it’s incredibly important to teach our children about tolerance and diversity and to discourage them from making blanket statements about large groups of people who have similar characteristics, whether those characteristics are based on gender, politics, personal beliefs, sexual orientation, geography, religion, or anything else. At the same time, I firmly believe that it’s impossible to deal with a problem unless we honestly acknowledge what it is. And here’s where things get tough.

There are more than 1.5 billion Muslims in the world. Most are undoubtedly peace-loving people who have no desire to kill anyone. But how do we make sense of the fact that so many of the world’s conflicts, involve Islamic armies and terrorist groups? How do we make sense of the nearly daily murderous attacks proudly acknowledged by people who claim that their particular brand of Islam gives them the right to kill Christians, Jews, atheists, other Muslims, or anyone else who doesn’t believe what they do? And how do we keep from stereotyping Muslim countries or groups where people hand out candy and celebrate terrorist acts, openly advocate murdering “infidels,” or name streets and parks after suicide bombers who kill innocent civilians?

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Unmarried Dads Have Rights Too

60Dear Mr. Dad: My girlfriend is pregnant and we’re having some major relationship problems. I don’t think we’re going to make it. I’ve been very open about wanting to be a big part of our child’s life no matter what, but she has already started excluding me. She doesn’t tell me when her doctor visits are and refuses to take a labor and delivery class with me. I’m worried that she’ll keep excluding me after the baby arrives. What can I do? Do I have any rights here?

A: Over the years, I’ve interviewed a number of attorneys about this exact subject and many of them have told me the same thing: that dads—even if they’re not married to their child’s mother—have almost as many rights as mothers. But they almost always add that courts are generally more likely to enforce mothers’ rights than dads’.

Before you do anything else, I suggest that you talk with a lawyer. If you’re worried about the money, there are a lot of organizations that offer free or low-cost advice, as well as help filling out all the papers and getting them to the right places at the right time. It’s essential that you do this now: mistakes made in the early stages of a custody issue can lead to all sorts of problems later. Be aware that many legal clinics are reluctant to help fathers.

Once you’ve got that process started, take a few minutes and think about what may be going on in your soon-to-be-ex’s mind. To start with, all those pregnancy-related hormonal ups and downs can affect her behavior. Besides that, being a single mother isn’t easy and she’s probably concerned about making ends meet, daycare, where she’s going to live, and how she’s going to be able to raise a child by herself.

You have three goals: first, to show her that you understand what she’s going through; second, to show her that you really want to be involved in your child’s life; and third, to make sure that involvement actually becomes a reality. Something as simple as telling her that you’ll be available to care for the baby when she goes back to work (assuming that’s true)—will help you achieve all of those goals.

There’s also a fourth goal, although this one’s harder to accomplish: to educate her about the many ways your involvement will benefit the baby and the mom (besides providing support, which, of course, you’re legally and ethically obligated to do). For example, your involvement during the pregnancy reduces the risk that the baby will be born prematurely and that the mom will suffer from post-partum depression.

If the two of you can’t have a civil discussion—or at least a rational one—see if you can find someone you both trust to make your case.

Hopefully, her current, unreasonable attitude will turn out to be temporary. Once the baby is born and she has the time to recover, her thinking might be less guided by emotions and more by the desire to raise the child in the best possible conditions, that is, with the presence of a loving and supportive father.

If she doesn’t reach that conclusion on her own, talk to your lawyer about what you need to do to ensure that your rights (and your child’s) are protected. And don’t forget about your responsibilities. Putting money aside for your child (starting now) and documenting everything you do to fight for your right to see him or her will show a judge that you’re committed to being an involved dad.

Cheating Childhood

ask mr - cheating kid mug shotDear Mr. Dad: My six-year-old daughter has suddenly begun telling lies—right to my face—and she’s started cheating at games too. My wife and I can’t figure out where this is coming from. We’re a very religious family and we see lying and cheating as serious moral flaws. What can we do to stop our daughter’s behavior?

A: Unfortunately, at age six, your child may have a theoretical grasp of the concepts of honesty and integrity, but right now, she’s too busy conducting an important—and completely normal—social experiment to care.

Until now, she’s looked at the world in a rather naïve, black-and-white way, believing that everyone sees and experiences things in the same way and that everyone knows the same things. But in a great developmental leap forward, she’s now discovering what psychologists call the Theory of Mind. That’s when kids (usually around six) figure out that different people can see the same situation in very different ways, that they don’t always know what’s going on inside other people’s head, and that no one will know what’s truly going on in hers unless she tells them.

This is a perfect good-news-bad-news development. On the good-news side, there’s empathy—the understanding that someone else might feel something different than she does. Being able to put herself into another person’s metaphorical shoes will help her better understand diversity and start developing rudimentary conflict-resolution skills.

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