Garner’s Usage Tip of the Day: yet.

yet.

Part A: Beginning Sentences with. Like other coordinating conjunctions, “yet” is perfectly acceptable as a sentence-starter. It’s a rank superstition to believe otherwise. E.g.:

o “Yet if a student can — and this is most difficult and unusual — draw back, get a critical distance on what he clings to, come to doubt the ultimate value of what he loves, he has taken the first and most difficult step toward the philosophic conversion.” Allan Bloom, The Closing of the American Mind 71 (1987).

o “Yet God must by now be hardened to blasphemous bulls.” Christopher Ricks, Beckett’s Dying Words 170 (1993).

o “Campaign professionals . . . are becoming the new breed of influence peddlers. Yet they don’t need to register as lobbyists in Washington.” Jeffrey H. Birnbaum, “Washington’s Power 25,” Fortune, 8 Dec. 1997, at 144.

Part B: Idioms Involving “yet.” There are two common negative phrases revolving around this word: “no person has yet done something” and “the person has yet to do something.” Some writers have ill-advisedly conflated the two idioms to come up with their own brand of illogic — e.g.: “No artist has yet to capture the essence of the Thai sea.” Advertisement of the Tourism Authority of Thailand, Island (Mag.), Fall 1995, at 7. The writer has inadvertently suggested that every artist has already captured the essence of the Thai sea.

For information about the Language-Change Index click here.

Quotation of the Day: “Much bad writing today . . . is learned, an act of stylistic piety which imitates a single style, the bureaucratic style I have called The Official Style. This bureaucratic style dominates written discourse in our time, and beginning or harried or fearful writers adopt it as protective coloration.” Richard A. Lanham, Revising Prose vi (3d ed. 1992).

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Garner’s Usage Tip of the Day: y’all (3).

Today: “You all.”

Many speakers in the South and Southwest, even highly educated ones, use the uncontracted “you all” as the plural form of “you.” This is a convenient usage, since “you” alone can be either singular or plural — and therefore is sometimes ambiguous.

True, “you all” is unlikely to spread beyond regional usage. But speakers who (like the author of this book) grew up with the phrase won’t be easily dispossessed of it. It’s handy, and it’s less susceptible to raised eyebrows than “y’all.”

There is, however, a noticeable tendency in urban areas to replace this phrase with “you guys,” even if those addressed include females. One Texas writer calls “you guys” a “horrid Yankee construction.” Steve Blow, “What’s Up with Y’all?” Dallas Morning News, 27 Sept. 2002, at A25. This may have resulted from the great influx of a geographically diverse population in major cities such as Dallas throughout the 1980s and 1990s, coupled with a growing sense among natives that “you all” and “y’all” signal provincialism.

For information about the Language Change Index click here.

Quotation of the Day: “The connexion of each paragraph with that which precedes and that which follows it should be at once apparent. Though . . . the paragraph may in one sense be regarded as complete in itself, it is complete only as each link in a chain is complete.” A. Cruse, English Composition 29 (1923).

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LawProse Lesson #176: “Who” vs. “whom”

Who vs. whom.

Edward Sapir, the philosopher of language, prophesied in 1921 that “within a couple of hundred years . . . . not even the most learned jurist will be saying ‘Whom did you see?’ By that time the whom will be . . . delightfully archaic . . . . No logical or historical argument will avail to save this hapless whom.” Language 156–57. Well, in the last 93 years whom hasn’t exactly become archaic, and it doesn’t look to be in danger of full extinction. There may yet come a day when no distinction is made between who and whom, but until then, lawyers and nonlawyers alike ought to understand how to use these words correctly.

As an overall guideline, keep in mind that who acts as (1) the subject of a verb or (2) the complement of a linking verb; whom acts as (1) the object of a verb or (2) the object of a preposition. Some examples make this clearer.

Who as the subject of a verb:

Ex.: Please tell me who wrote that superb brief.
[Who is the subject of wrote.]
Ex.: He hired an accountant who he believes can handle the task. [Who is the subject of can (he believes is simply a parenthetical assertion).]

Who as the complement of a linking verb:

Ex.: They know who you are. [Are links the subject you to the complement who in this inverted construction.]
Ex.: He is who he is. [Who is the complement of both instances of he.]

Whom as the object of a verb:

Ex.: Judith, whom I call a friend, is moving to our neighborhood next week. [Whom is the object of call.]
Ex.: Those are the professors whom she thanked in her speech. [Whom is the object of thanked.]

Whom as the object of a preposition:

Ex.: James Robert is the attorney to whom we are indebted. [Whom is the object of to.]
Ex.: For whom does the bell toll? [Whom is the object of for.]

Of those four usages, who most strongly encroaches upon whom‘s territory as the object of a verb. In this one instance, whom feels creakier year by year. Yet formal writers stick to it.

William Safire took an interesting approach for those who fear seeming pedantic (by using whom) or being incorrect (by using who for whom): “When whom is correct, recast the sentence.” “On Language,” N.Y. Times, 4 Oct. 1992, § 6, at 12. It seems unlikely, however, that anyone will have much success with “For what person does the bell toll?”

Next week: whoever vs. whomever.

Further reading:
Garner’s Dictionary of Legal Usage 944-45 (3d ed. 2011).
Garner’s Modern American Usage 860-62 (3d ed. 2009).
The Chicago Manual of Style § 5.52, at 218 (16th ed. 2010).

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Garner’s Usage Tip of the Day: y’all (2).

y’all (2).

Today: Number.

Although the traditional use of “y’all” is plural, and although many Southerners have stoutly rejected the idea that it’s ever used as a singular, there does seem to be strong evidence that it can refer to a single person — for example, “See y’all later” spoken to someone without a companion.

One possibility is that the speaker means “you and anyone else who may be with you” or “you and anyone else who comes along.” Another possibility is that “y’all” may in fact refer to one person. Getting at the truth depends on understanding the speaker’s state of mind.

For good summaries of the debates over this point — they have sometimes been heated — see Nancy J. Spencer, “Singular Y’all,” 50 Am. Speech 315 (1975); and Marvin K.L. Ching, “Plural You/Y’All by a Court Judge,” 76 Am. Speech 115 (2001). For an argument that “y’all” can be singular, see Jan Tillery & Guy Bailey, “Yall in Oklahoma,” 73 Am. Speech 257 (1998); for an opposing (and more persuasive) point of view, see Ronald R. Butters, “Data Concerning Putative Singular Y’All,” 76 Am. Speech 335 (2001).

Next: “You all.”

For information about the Language-Change Index click here.

Quotation of the Day: “You become brief because you have more things to say than time to say them in. One of the chief arts is that of knowing what to neglect.” Samuel Butler, The Note-Books of Samuel Butler 97 (1912; repr. 1926).

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Garner’s Usage Tip of the Day: y’all (1).

y’all (1).

Today: Spelling.

This sturdy Southernism is most logically “y’all,” not *”ya’ll.” Only the “you” of “you all” is contracted. And in modern print sources, “y’all” is ten times as common. So *”ya’ll” (which misleadingly resembles “he’ll,” “she’ll,” and “we’ll”) deserves an edit — e.g.:

o “If ya’ll [read 'y'all'] want to stink up your breath and your clothes and start forest fires and make other people sick and get heart disease and cancer . . . well, you just go right ahead.” Jim Jenkins, “Thank Goodness Smoking Was Not Addictive,” News & Observer (Raleigh), 26 May 1994, at A18.

o “‘Ya’ll [read 'Y'all'] have got to help me a lot,’ Bentley, a registered nurse at Chalmette Medical Center, told the students about class planning.” Cassandra Lane, “Nunez Nurse Students Back in Classroom,” Times-Picayune (New Orleans), 25 Feb. 1997, at A1.

o “‘Geeeeeeez,’ Puck yelled from above. ‘Ya’ll [read 'Y'all'] look like ants from up here.’” Jim Souhan, “Forever,” Star Trib. (Minneapolis), 23 May 1997, at C12.

In the late 20th century, some writers began spelling the term without an apostrophe: *”yall.” See Jan Tillery & Guy Bailey, “Yall in Oklahoma,” 73 Am. Speech 257 (1998). This spelling is not yet widespread (and not recommended).

Why has the spelling been so much trouble? “Y’all” is the only contraction in English in which a stressed form is contracted to an unstressed one. See Michael B. Montgomery, “A Note on Ya’ll,” 64 Am. Speech 273, 274 (1989).

Language-Change Index — *”ya’ll” for “y’all”: Stage 2.

*Invariably inferior form.

Next: Number.

For information about the Language-Change Index click here.

Quotation of the Day: “A real writer learns from earlier writers the way a boy learns from an apple orchard — by stealing what he has a taste for and can carry off.” Archibald MacLeish, “On the Teaching of Writing,” in Writing in America 88, 90 (John Fischer & Robert B. Silvers eds., 1960).

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Garner’s Usage Tip of the Day: Miscellaneous Entries

Miscellaneous Entries

yogurt; *yoghurt. The Turkish loanword “yogurt” (= a thick cultured dairy product) is so spelled. *”Yoghurt,” a variant spelling common (but not dominant) in British English, is rare in American English. In fact, “yogurt” is more than 200 times as common as *”yoghurt” in American print sources. *”Yoghourt” and *”yogourt” are likewise variant spellings best avoided.

yuck; yuk. The standard words for expressing distaste are “yuck” and “yucky,” not the yuckier forms *”yuk” and *”yukky.”

zeitgeist. Though originally capitalized as a German noun, this word is now fully naturalized and should be lowercased and printed in roman type in both American and British English.

zero. When used as an adjective (as it rarely is), “zero” should modify a plural noun, not a singular one. The only number that takes a singular noun is “one.” E.g.: “In 1985, New York City had 71 days that were out of compliance with the EPA standard for carbon monoxide; that number declined to two days in 1991 and zero day [read 'zero days' or 'no days'] last year.” Gregg Easterbrook, “Winning the War on Smog,” Newsweek, 23 Aug. 1993, at 29. The plural is “zeros,” not *”zeroes” — although “zeroes” is the correct verb form.

*Invariably inferior form.

For information about the Language-Change Index click here.

Quotation of the Day: “Excessive alliteration is one of the worst offences against ease, not only because it is uneuphonious, but because it is affected.” Adams Sherman Hill, The Principles of Rhetoric 136 (rev. ed. 1896).

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Garner’s Usage Tip of the Day: Xmas.

Xmas.

This abbreviation for Christmas is popular in advertising. The prejudice against it is unfounded and unfortunate.

The X is not a Roman X but a Greek chi — the first letter in “Christ” (Gk. “Christos”). “Xmas” has no connection with Generation X, X-ray, or X as an algebraic variable.

According to the late poet and philologist John Ciardi, “Though commonly frowned upon by grammarians as slovenly and by the pious as profane, ‘X’ has ancient antecedents as the symbol of Christ and the cross, so much so that illiterate Jews at Ellis Island refused to sign with an ‘X,’ insisting on making an ‘O,’ called in Yiddish ‘kikl,’ little circle.” John Ciardi, A Browser’s Dictionary 421 (1980).

Should you write “a Xmas gift” or “an Xmas gift”? The answer depends on how readers hear the word in the mind’s ear. If readers hear “Christmas,” then “a” is the correct indefinite article. If readers hear “Eksmas,” then “an” would be correct. An informal survey suggests that most people say “Xmas” as “Christmas”; so “a” is probably the safer bet.

For information about the Language-Change Index click here.

Quotation of the Day: “In my academic dialect, that of literary study, writing plain English nowadays is tantamount to walking down the hall naked as a jaybird.” Richard A. Lanham, Revising Prose 2 (3d ed. 1992).

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Garner’s Usage Tip of the Day: wring.

wring.

Part A: Inflection: “wring/wrung/wrung.” The past-tense and past-participial forms of “wring” (= to squeeze or twist) are sometimes erroneously written “rung” — e.g.: “Cathy Turner had to guard the gold medal around her neck closely last night. If she wasn’t careful, someone might have rung [read 'wrung'] her neck with it.” Mary Kay Cabot, “Turner’s Gold Draws Heat,” Plain Dealer (Cleveland), 25 Feb. 1994, at D1.

The erroneous past form *”wringed” sometimes appears — e.g.: “She wringed [read 'wrung'] her hands as she prepared for the piercing.” Lisa Jones Townsel, “Third Time’s the Charm,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 12 Sept. 1998, at 40.

Still another erroneous form, always as the past tense and not as a past participle, is *”wrang” — e.g.: “He wrang [read 'wrung'] every ounce of bluesy longing out of ‘I Want a Little Girl.’” Joe DeChick, “Better Than Ever: CNY Jazz Orchestra,” Syracuse Herald-J., 16 Apr. 1997, at B4.

Language-Change Index — (1) “rung” misused for “wrung”: Stage 1; (2) *”wringed” for “wrung”: Stage 1; (3) *”wrang” for “wrung”: Stage 1.

Part B: “Hand-wringing.” This phrase is sometimes mangled into *”hand-ringing” — e.g.: “Mary Tyler Moore now gets by without the haunting, hand-ringing [read 'hand-wringing'] insecurity that once dogged her everywhere she went.” Bob Thompson, “Rediscovering Mary,” Toronto Sun, 10 Mar. 1996, at S3.

Language-Change Index — *”hand-ringing” for “hand-wringing”: Stage 1.

*Invariably inferior form.

For information about the Language-Change Index click here.

Quotation of the Day: “The manner in which one writes is the sure test of one’s education. Fairly good speech may be acquired by constant association with the cultured, but writing which is correct and in good taste can be acquired only by practice in writing done in connection with equally careful reading.” W.C. Morrow, The Logic of Punctuation 4 (1926).

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LawProse Lesson #175: Just between you and ME . . .

Just between you and ME . . .

The grammatical blunder *between you and I is pervasive in writing and speech generally, and legal writers are hardly immune. Writing or saying *between you and I (or *for you and I, *to you and I, and so forth) is invariably wrong: Whenever a pronoun is the object of a preposition, it must be in the objective case. You and me are the objects of the preposition between {keep this between you and me}.

Why is the phrasing *between you and I so appallingly common? As Eric Partridge once wrote: “The common error of using I here may be due to a widespread distrust of you and me by those who have been correctly instructed not to use this combination as the subject, as in ‘You and me will have to talk.’” Eric Partridge, Usage and Abusage 47 (Whitcut ed., 1994). It’s an ingrained instance of hypercorrection. Elementary-school students learn that it is incorrect to say *Rick and me walked to school together. So we develop a wariness about the word me (and specifically the combination and me), and people think perhaps it’s safer to stick with I —even when the objective case is called for {Terrance gave the case files to John and I [read me]}.

Here’s a little trick that should help. Read the sentence with the personal pronoun by itself:

*You and me are going to the movies. OR
You and I are going to the movies.

*Does she expect you and I to help? OR
Does she expect you and me to help?

If you’re unsure, leave the other person out of it. You wouldn’t say *Me is going to the movies, so I is correct. Nor would you say *Does she expect I to help?; so me is correct.

Another example:

*Please show the exhibit to him and I. OR
Please show the exhibit to him and me.

You wouldn’t say *Please show the exhibit to I, so me is correct. Him and me are objects of the preposition to: use the objective case.

Please feel free to share this tip (gently) with your family, friends, and colleagues. Don’t keep it just between you and me.

*Invariably inferior form.

Further reading:
Garner’s Dictionary of Legal Usage 109, 417, 719 (3d ed. 2011).
Garner’s Modern American Usage 102-03 (3d ed. 2009).
The Chicago Manual of Style § 5.36, at 212 (16th ed. 2010).
Eric Partridge, Usage and Abusage 47 (Whitcut ed., 1994).

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Garner’s Usage Tip of the Day: wreak.

wreak.

Part A: Inflection “wreak/wreaked/wreaked.” The past tense is not “wrought,” which is the archaic past tense and past participle of “work.”

Part B: Pronunciation. “Wreak” is pronounced /reek/ — not /rek/.

Part C. “Wreak havoc.” The phrase “wreak havoc” (= to bring about difficulty, confusion, or chaos) is the established American English idiom. (In British English, the usual idiom is “play havoc.”) But “wreak havoc” has two variants to be avoided: *”wreck havoc” and *”work havoc.” E.g.:

o “An inner struggle was working [read 'wreaking'] havoc on Tracey’s normally cheerful demeanor.” Jay McInerney, “Smoke,” Atlantic Monthly, Mar. 1987, at 68.

o “The floods of 1997 have wrecked [read 'wreaked'] havoc at some Northern and Central California dairies.” Martha Groves, “Farming and Flood,” L.A. Times, 9 Jan. 1997, at D2.

o “During [the character's] 15 years in the underworld, 113 of the most evil types escape back to earth, wrecking [read 'wreaking'] havoc at will.” M.S. Mason, “TV Goes Bump in the Night,” Christian Science Monitor, 13 Nov. 1998, at B1.

Language-Change Index — (1) *”wreck havoc” for “wreak havoc”: Stage 1; (2) *”work havoc” for “wreak havoc”: Stage 1.

*Invariably inferior form.

For information about the Language-Change Index click here.

Quotation of the Day: “Polishing at an early stage usually is a waste of time.” George J. Miller, On Legal Style, 43 Ky. L.J. 235, 239 (1955).

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