I try to avoid forming opinions on matters that aren't subject to opinion, like whether you can use “an” before “historic” and whether you can use “there’s” before “a lot of people here.” But the key word is "try." Just because I know a usage is acceptable doesn't mean I like it. I have my own unfounded, not-backed-up-by-reality peeves and prejudices. I usually keep mum about them. No point raving about the wrongness of something that's right. Still, some correct usages irk my inner pedant. I wrote about them in my most recent column.
LABELS: compound adjectives, compound modifiers, hyphenation
Where would you put hyphens in his new fur coat wearing boss? a reader asked me recently.
Like this: his new fur-coat wearing boss?
Or this: his new fur coat-wearing boss?
Or maybe like this: his new fur-coat-wearing boss?
Or maybe three hyphens: his new-fur-coat-wearing boss.
Longer compounds, or "compounds of uncertain scope," leave much up to the writer. The most important thing is to keep an eye on the meaning. Is this boss new? Or just the boss's coat?
LABELS: GRAMMAR, IDIOMS, no problem
Lately I've been hearing from people who don't like to hear "no problem" after they say "thank you." The problem with "no problem," they say, is that it introduces a problem into a situation where there hadn't really been one before -- as if the thanker had imposed some huge burden on the thankee, which that person endured heroically. But when you put alternatives like "you're welcome" under the same scrutiny, they don't hold up well, either. Here's my recent column on the problem alternatives to "no problem."
LABELS: COPY EDITING, GRAMMAR, past participles, past tense
A reader wrote to me recently to say his wife claims to have heard TV newscasters use "drugged" as the past tense of "drag." He wanted to know whether I consider this a correct usage. To which I reply: It doesn't matter what I think. The answers are already at your fingertips.
Here's the column I wrote in reply explaining how to find past tense and past participle forms in your dictionary.