June 17, 2013
Event Goer, Eventgoer, or Event-Goer?TOPICS: COPY EDITING, GRAMMAR, hyphens, IDIOMS, suffixes
When it comes to combining "goer" with other words, there should be a clear answer on whether and how to attach it. There isn't. Here's how to make good choices anyway ...
Click player above to listen to the podcast
The Teacher Who Condemned 'Got'Posted by June on June 17, 2013
LABELS: GRAMMAR, past tense, VERBS
I never used to believe in ghosts. The idea of hauntings sounded ridiculous to me. Then I started writing about grammar. Now I know better.
For more than a decade now, I’ve been hearing bone-chilling tales of undead teachers haunting former students from the great beyond with bad information: You can’t end a sentence with a preposition. You can't use healthy to mean healthful. You can't start a sentence with but.
The stubborn persistence of these bad teachings never ceases to amaze me. But from time to time these chilling tales go beyond the pale, wowing me with just how bad bad information can be.
Case in point, an e-mail I got recently:
Dear June. Today, in your column from the Pasadena Sun section of the L.A. Times, you used "the writer got bogged down." I will never forget several teachers, including one particularly memorable Mrs. Hamilton, telling me that using "got" in any sentence anytime was simply being lazy, that it was bad English, uncouth, uneducated, etc. You get the point.
Yup, there was once a teacher who took it upon herself to single-handedly condemn a well established and highly useful word. I particularly like that “uneducated” part -- and the irony of how it came from someone who needed only to open a dictionary to see that she was misinforming her own students. Of course, I didn’t say so to the poor guy in so many words. Instead, here’s what I wrote:
The most common objection to got is that have and got are redundant in phrases like "I have got quite a few friends." Yes, it's inefficient, but it's accepted as an idiom. Every major language authority I know of agrees it's a valid option.
We editors usually trim the gots out. Especially in news writing, which prizes efficiency, "He has got $20'" is a poor alternative to "He has $20." But that's an aesthetic. Not a grammar rule.
From what you're saying, your teacher was condemning the word got in all its uses. And, yes, that's extreme to the point of being illogical. Got is the past tense of get, which can be both a regular verb and an auxiliary verb: "They got married."
It sounds as though Mrs. Hamilton would have everyone say, "They were married." But if so, that's just a personal preference she was trying to pass off as a rule. There isn't a dictionary under the sun that would back her up.
"I hear a lot of stories about teachers who used to lay down laws that weren't laws. (It's wrong to end a sentence with a preposition. It's wrong to split an infinitive. It's wrong to begin a sentence with and.) These kinds of unfounded prohibitions were very fashionable in educational circles for a while. But they never were rules. It's unfortunate kids got so much bad information.
Hope that helps! - June
June Casagrande is a writer and journalist whose weekly grammar/humor column, “A Word, Please,” appears in community newspapers in California, Florida, and Texas. more
Grammar Snobs Are Great Big Meanies
A Guide to Language for Fun and Spite
What do suicidal pandas, doped-up rock stars, and a naked Pamela Anderson have in common? They’re all a heck of a lot more interesting than reading about predicate nominatives and hyphens. June Casagrande knows this and has invented a whole new twist on the grammar book. more
Mortal Syntax takes on the 101 most frequently attacked usage choices. Dedicating one short chapter to each, Casagrande brings her subject to life, teaching English usage through lively and amusing personal anecdotes. more
It Was the Best of Sentences, It Was the Worst of Sentences
Your story may be brilliant. Your insights may be groundbreaking. Your characters may be so real you can almost touch them. But they're not worth a thing if you can't bring them to life in well-written sentences. more