While writing this column today, I mentioned to my husband that it was National Grammar Day, March 4. He laughed and said, "What? We're only supposed to care about grammar one day a year?"
I didn't laugh. Because proper grammar aids clear communication, and better communication is a worthy goal for all of us, an occasional reminder of the power of words has merit.
Do I believe that words are not a laughing matter? Hardly! I admire those who use words to make me smile and laugh out loud. And sometimes I'm amused by the misuse of words. I confess I chuckle instead of cringe when I find an error in a national ad, such as Ford's "Go Further with Ford" campaign, or as they call it, their Global Brand Promise. I (and many others) maintain they should be going farther. Use farther in regard to distance and further when speaking figuratively. "Let's discuss this error further."
I chose to laugh instead of blush when my incredible and oh-so-tactful editor David Staats pointed out a hyphenation error in my column on, yes, hyphens. I had used a hyphen with an -ly word. As Mr. Staats pointed out, in AP (Associated Press) Style, "-ly words (mostly adverbs) and very aren't hyphenated as compound modifiers: early morning. Hyphens are used to avoid confusion. Because readers expect -ly words and very to modify the word that follows, no hyphen is needed."
Note what the style guide emphasized: "Hyphens are used to avoid confusion. If there is some doubt that the little mark can dispel, use it. Examples could be one-track mind, or small-town boy." If in doubt, change the sentence: "A boy from a small town," or "Her mind could not be budged from the subject."
Alert reader Jo-Ann Kachigian pointed out how a hyphen would have clarified a recent headline in the Statesman. The headline read: "How to get swimsuit ready in 3 months." Ms. Kachigian noted that it poses the question, "Get your swimsuit ready for what?" The article wasn't talking about preparing a swimsuit, but preparing ourselves for wearing one. A frightening subject. And a headline that would have been improved by a hyphen.
Moving from hyphens to simple (or not-so-simple) language choices, reader Brian Tandrow questioned the sentence, "I only ever go there on Fridays." He wondered if the ever was superfluous, cumbersome and grammatically incorrect. I posed the question to the Grammar Geeks group on LinkedIn. Most members who responded thought the sentence was fine, although one editor preferred "I go there only on Fridays."
Tandrow also cited a Fortune magazine article about high-resolution TVs. The article stated that the file sizes, for high-definition movies, are huge and that "a typical Blu-ray film is more than 10 times smaller." Brian proposed, and I agree, that stating "a Blu-ray file is one-tenth the size of the higher resolution files" would have been better.
Perhaps we should extend National Grammar Day beyond one day in March. So, March 4th and use your words well.