Here’s what I’d like to call Stuff That Drives Me Nuts. I’ve included eight. There are many more. So I’m sure you will be seeing sequels to this. Stuff That Drives Me Nuts, Part II? Son of Stuff That Drives Me Nuts? Stuff That Drives Me Even Nuttier?
You may be thinking that my obsession about such matters makes me wacko to begin with. Probably so. I’m going to rant anyway. Sit back, get comfortable, take notes. And please, do not go back into the archives of my blog in search of instances where I’ve committed my own infractions. Because then I’ll tell you to get a hobby.
1. Orientate is a bad, bad word. Orient is a fine word, meaning to get your bearings (or, literally, to find “east”). As Chicago Manual of Style (CMS) put it, unless you’re using the word orientate in the sense “to face or turn to the east,” do not use it.
2. Here’s another offender: irregardless. It is a word, but it sounds ridiculous. Sources say it probably developed by combining irrespective and regardless. Given that the definition of regardless is “despite everything,” it would seem that irregardless would mean “not despite everything” (as in “irregular” means not regular) but that is not what speakers mean when they say it. So don’t say it.
3. Weird. Is spelled WEIRD. Forget that rule about “I” before “E” except after “C.” The rule is WEIRD. That is, W-E-I-R-D.
4. You might find lima beans nauseous. But they DO NOT MAKE you nauseous. They make you nauseated. Whatever makes you feel sick is nauseous. When you feel sick, you are nauseated. I actually had a hotshot fellow intern at the paper in St. Louis correct me, out loud, while I was talking, on a weekend, in the dark, under the Arch, on what I think might have been a date. Actually, I’ve changed my mind. This is not something that makes me nuts; it is a mistake I no longer make. I find that particular reporter nauseous; he makes me feel nauseated.
5. The three Ps: peak, peek, pique. This only bothers me because I read a lot of trashy romance novels and see the words used incorrectly. A peak is like an apex, the top of a mountain; a peek is a quick look-see at something; to pique is to annoy or arouse. As he fondled her generous peaks, he peeked at them down her shirt, which piqued his interest in removing her clothing. Danielle Steel, eat your heart out, baby.
6. The word “fax” is a shortened form of the term “facsimile transmission.” It is not written FAX, because it is not an acronym. Each letter does not stand for something. And the plural is faxes. Go forth in the corporate world and spread the good news, children.
7. Welcome to the world of the print journalist who covers criminal courts. Do not listen to lawyers. Do not listen to police. Whatever you do, don’t listen to TV news reporters. For pity sake, DO NOT use “pled” as the past tense or past participle of plead. It is PLEADED. A defendant pleaded guilty to the charge. I plead with you. I am pleading with you. I have pleaded with you.
8. I only stick this one in because it amazes me how often people get this wrong. There’s an entire quiz application on Facebook centered around a quiz testing your knowledge of correct usage of these three words: they’re, their, and there. I’m sure you’re all so brilliant you never goof this; I’ll be brief.
a. they’re — the contraction for “they are”; Anderson Cooper has beautiful eyes; they’re dreamy blue and sparkling.
b. their — the generic plural demonstrative and personal pronoun; my parents want my old boxes of junk out of their house. (I think I have most of them, Mom!)
c. there — a shorter way to say “in or at that place”; as in the lyrics to the 1917 George M. Cohan war cry, “Over there, over there, send the word, send the word over there”
Keep in mind, all of these peeves are listed in section 5.202 of CMS, which is titled, “Good usage versus common usage” – implying that the general public will continue to manhandle the English language (particularly with the no-rules attitude of the Internet) while we editor types fight kicking and screaming for subject-verb agreement, gerund justice, and the like. And in my non-work life I'm not carrying on or causing a ruckus much. I realize if someone asked me to calculate a square root or figure out the dimensions of a parallelogram, I'm pretty much screwed.
My husband coos, "Numbers are your friends." I say, "Diagramming sentences is to die for!" Maybe we're even.