Peeve As I Say, Don't Peeve As I Do


I spend a lot of time telling people to try to put their grammar peeves aside. In language, peevishness is always a recipe for frustration and often leads to humiliation. Language evolves. It keeps changing. When people use the language “wrong” often enough, it becomes right. (And no, that’s not a bad thing. It’s how we got all our words in the first place.)

Peevishness is at its worst when it causes us to criticize someone else’s usage. If we do that enough, eventually we end up being wrong. So it’s never a good idea to get peeved.

That said, I'll confess I have some peeves that I just can’t shake -- silly ones in that the "errors" that bother me aren't really outright errors. But I still cringe when I hear them. Here are a few supposed language abuses I just can’t let go of.

There’s before a plural modified by some or many or a lot

I’ve long followed the advice that “there’s” should not precede a plural. “There’s” means “there is,” which naturally should be followed by a singular. There is a man I want you to meet. There is a reason we were chosen. Before a plural, “there are” makes more sense. There are some men I want you to meet. There are reasons we were chosen. But lots of people use “there’s” before plurals, especially when the plural is preceded by “some” or “many” or "a lot" or a similar word. There's a lot of people here. There's some sandwiches in the cooler. There's just so many choices. This use is considered idiomatic, and therefore it’s okay. But it still grates me.

Between you and I

This one is just sad to me because the people who use it are usually striving to be as proper as possible. They’re choosing “between you and I” because they believe “between you and me” is wrong. But they have it backwards. “Between” is a preposition. Prepositions take objects, which come in object form (that is, they take an object like “me” instead of a subject like “I”). Some experts defend “between you and I” as idiomatic. But using it because you think “between you and me” is wrong is a shame.

Acronym for initials or abbreviation

A lot of people say CIA and FBI are acronyms. But according to Webster’s New World College Dictionary, an acronym is really “a word formed from the first (or first few) letters of a series of words, as radar, from radio detecting and ranging.” So according to this definition, NASCAR is an acronym because it’s pronounced as a word, but NCAA is not an acronym because it’s pronounced as individual letters. This distinction seems to be fading. And other dictionaries allow some crossover. But I haven't let this one go yet.

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