Five Recently-Spotted English Mistakes that Make Me Want to Push the Writer into a Vat of Writhing Hagfish

First of all, so that you may all understand fully the depths of disgust that these grammar/vocabulary errors engender in me, here is what a hagfish (also known as slime eel) looks like:

Yes, it is a very ugly creature.  These English mistakes are also ugly creatures:

1.  “You” when it should be “your” — example:  “Drinking more water may actually prove beneficial to you health.”  The other day, I nearly fainted from horror when I discovered that my beloved BBC world news had fallen victim to this egregious mistake.  I suspect that the mistake is the result of writers rushing to meet deadlines.  My advice:  either type slower or spend a minute reading over the document before you publish it.

2.  “Your” when it should be “You’re” — Honestly, I was cheering for Ross when he chastised Rachel (on the TV show Friends) for making this increasingly common error, even if his timing was slightly inappropriate.  Although these two words sound the same, one word shows possession, while the other word is a contraction for “you are.”  I cannot tell you the number of news blogs guilty of not knowing the difference.  My advice:  Give up contractions until you know the English language better.

3.  “Infamous” used incorrectly — “Infamous” does not mean the same as “famous.”  Nor does it mean the same as “noteworthy” or “notable” — despite what your thesaurus might tell you.  Just recently, I was very perplexed when one of the news headlines on Google News referenced “Pippa Middleton’s Infamous Bridesmaid Dress.”  Since the dress in question was quite lovely (and was apparently chosen by the bride — or at least approved by her), I could not understand what was wrong with the dress.  After reading the (poorly written) article in question, I understood: the writer just needed a few dunks in a vat of hagfish to help her learn to only use words she fully understood the meaning of.  My advice:  Don’t just automatically substitute words from a thesaurus; look up the meanings first!  Connotation is a dangerous thing!

4.  Going from single to plural to avoid upsetting feminists — The pronoun “their,” for those who didn’t know, is plural.  It implies that there is more than one person.  English, sadly, does not have a singular pronoun that means both “he” and “she”.  When you are speaking about one person, you cannot say “their motive was blah blah blah.”  Nope.  It’s “his motive” or “her motive.”  I know that the hip thing right now is to be gender neutral (though I am perplexed as to how this can be practically applied — like it or not, the genders are different.  A two-year-old child can explain some of these differences, if you are in doubt), but the English language just wasn’t built that way.  Using the male form as all-inclusive worked for centuries, but now it makes feminists see red, so butchering grammar is apparently the better alternative.  My advice:  Use he/she and him/her if you’re really that concerned about it.  It looks a little clunky, but is highly preferable to looking stupid.  (And believe me, getting dunked in a hagfish vat would certainly make a person look stupid — and doesn’t make saying “him” or “his” look quite so distasteful after all.)

5.  Okay, this last one isn’t necessarily a mistake, but it just makes me want to throw more people into the hagfish vat:  Overuse (and abuse) of the word “amazing” — Read the facebook statuses of any of the ever-growing demographic of mindless drones (sadly, these are very often young women, which really pains me), and you will see things like this:  “We had the most amazing dinner last night.  The pizza was amazing.  The whole evening was like amazing.”  Really?  The food actually astonished you?  It caused great wonder or surprise?  Did your jaw actually drop as you bit into it?  If you were that surprised that it was so good, why on earth were you eating at that restaurant in the first place?  My advice:  One hour in the hagfish vat — just because these people annoy me that much.

ugliest animal

If no hagfish are available, we could also throw the offensive ones into a vat full of squirming aye-ayes . . .

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About HistoryGypsy

I'm a high school history teacher and author of upcoming novel Sidhe Eyes. I live in gorgeous Qingdao, China, where I spend much of my free time studying the fascinating and frustrating Chinese language, eating odd things, or taking long walks along the Yellow Sea. At "While We're Paused" I have the pleasure of blogging about things that catch my interest: good books, language, history, poetry, writing tips, grammar rants, random humor . . . I don't like to get in a rut! Some of my favorite writers include (and this is by no means an exhaustive list): Dorothy Sayers, J.K. Rowling, C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, Agatha Christie, Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, William Shakespeare, Jules Verne, Baroness Orczy, Geoffrey Wawro, John Lynn, Bill Bryson, the Bronte sisters, John Christopher, J.M. Barrie, O. Henry, Roald Dahl, and Robert Graves. I usually find myself reading no less than three books at a time!

Posted on November 27, 2011, in Editing, Grammar, Stephanie Thompson and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. Finaly someone agrees! Though I am grateful to early feminists for their contributions to women’s rights, the feminists of today only annoy me. I hate using their or her as a substitute. The ‘their’s and ‘her’s add just the merest suggestion of entity, the smallest hint of a person beyond the use of the word. I have sometimes gotten sidetracked in building a skeleton character to perform all the given actions in whatever text. Him/he is, through the wear of time, totally soulless and personless, only a noun.

  2. This post is amaz-….phew! Stopped myself just in time 😉 Whilst my jaw made no contact with the floor and my heart beat remained steady thoughout, I would make it know that I still thoroughly enjoyed your post 🙂

    Now, your big grammar brain is much larger and more well informed than my own, so this may be some big grammar brain thing that I don’t quite comprehend…or it could just be a typo “(though I am perplexed why how this can…”. It’s the ‘why how’ confusing me?

    Just a heads up, I am posting an award to the Lantern Hollow Press crew tomorrow 🙂

    • The “why how” creation is the result of a computer keyboard that ignored my wish for a / and instead gave me a space. Thanks for catching that — I hate to have mistakes in a post!

  3. Hagfish are the shrieking eels’ smaller cousins, I suppose?

  4. Amen–especially on no. 4. I tell my students to do one whole proofread of their essays looking only for the words their, they, and them, and checking to see if they have plural antecedents. Does it do any good? It might if they would actually do it!

  5. I would like to propose that graduate students who verbify their nouns with -ize to sound more academic should also join the hagfish. I recently read a dissertation defense announcement which described the topic as, in part, how modern technology “problematizes” the instruction of basic writing skills.

    I am forever grateful to the professor who taught my undergrad technical writing course. She promised to hand back any paper that contained the word “utilize,” which would then make the paper’s grade (when it was revised and turned in) subject to her late grading penalties.

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