Globe and Mail readers are very well-read and, rightly so, are sticklers for good grammar. Not a week goes by without a few notes. This month, one reader asked writers to "please stop the redundancy" by adding "why" after "the reasons."
One man despaired over the mixing up of flout and flaunt. "If we mix up the two words, soon the distinction will be lost and neither word will mean anything."
Another marvelled at this sentence: "Although he lost his mother to lymphoma at the age of 11, as a scientist [Dr.] Allison did not at first set out to cure cancer."
So, the reader said, "By age 11 she was not only a mother but had succumbed to cancer? I think in elementary school we called this a misplaced modifier. … With sympathy for the task you folks have as editors!"
Some readers are more exasperated than amused. One wrote, "You've got to be kidding me" before listing a few grammatical and spelling mishaps in The Globe.
There was this online caption for a photo of polar bears: "Meet the newest residence" of the zoo. Spellcheck, of course, doesn't catch the fact that bears are more likely to be residents. That error had been caught and fixed before the reader's e-mail arrived.
Also in his list were a few apostrophe errors, including this recent confusing online headline: "Despite plunging ruble, sputtering economy, Russian's still back Putin." Oops. This was also caught and fixed quickly.
The readers I hear from understand that typos and mistakes happen, but it drives them to distraction to see basic grammar lessons forgotten in Canada's national newspaper. And not a week goes by that I don't hear from them.
Below are a few of the most egregious irritants that have been sent to me over the past year.
"Do Globe editors and writers really not know how to use an apostrophe?" one reader asked. "Consider these two [online] headlines from the past 24 hours: 'The jet-setters guide to Canadian literary festivals' and 'Tromping of Rangers shows its too early to judge Maple Leafs.'
Of course, you see what is wrong here. The jet-setters needed an apostrophe to show that it is their guide, while the "its" in the Rangers headline should have been "it's," a shortened version of "it is," not the possessive of "it."
Here is one about a newspaper headline: "What if anorexia wasn't a disorder, but a passion?" one reader asked. "Although it may be futile for me to rage against the slow death of the subjunctive mood, I really think the title should have been "What if anorexia WEREN'T a disorder … I don't mean to be critical of an otherwise excellent newspaper, but if I was you I'd watch out for these slips," the reader joked.
Homophones and other errors
It's not just the editors who face the readers' annoyance; it is the writers, too, when they include such awkward phrases as "chalked full" instead of "chock full," or "to whit" rather than "to wit," or "back-peddled" rather than "back-pedalled." Or this one: "the ceremonial flag poll." Yes, it's a flag pole.
Other homophone errors included the more common principal and principle as well as a foul that should have been a fowl.
Awkward or vogue phrasing
Here's one reader plea: "Please can you educate your writers about the expression 'beg the question.' Writers everywhere have fallen upon this expression as though they have found the Holy Grail. It's a solecism and does not mean 'raise' the question, which is how they invariably use it!"
My husband and I
Should we blame the Queen for this? Not really, because she uses it correctly. That wasn't the case in a Globe story, which had someone requiring "my husband and I to sign our names."
When the Queen uses the phrase, she means it as the subject of the sentence, while in the Globe story it is wrong because it is the object of the verb.
The easiest way to think about this is to remove the extra person (my husband) and see how it sounds. That is, you would never say that she asked I to sign my name.
As for less and fewer, who and whom, and many others that are cringe-inducing, it's worth remembering that terrible typos and spelling mistakes can hit anyone at any time.
Imagine you are the Pittsburgh Penguins this week, publishing the official game program. Featured on that cover is a huge photo of the great "Sindey Crosby." Major oops, in big type.