The Grammar Hall of Shame

Boy, if there’s one thing that gets Public Radio types in a lather, it’s the misuse of the English language.

NPR today has released its Grammar Hall of Shame.

10. Not answering “thank you” with “you’re welcome.” This one’s probably more about etiquette than grammar. But responses such as “no problem,” “sure” or “thank you” go against what many in the NPR audience say were taught.

9. Saying someone “graduated college” instead of “graduated from college.” A college graduates a student, not the other way around. The “from” makes a big difference.

8. The chronic misuse of “lay” and “lie.” Remember, you lie down to sleep after laying your book on the bedside table. Also, tell the dog to “lie down” and sing “Lie Down Sally.”

7. Referring to anything as “very unique.” Either it’s unique or it’s not.

6. Claiming something “begs the question.” You almost always mean it “raises the question.” Aristotle would not know what you are talking about.

5. Ongoing confusion over “who” vs. “whom.” Grammar Girl’s “quick and dirty trick” is this: “When you’re trying to decide whether to use ‘who’ or ‘whom,’ ask yourself if the answer to the question would be ‘he’ or ‘him.’ ” If it’s “he,” use “who.” If it’s “him,” use “whom.” Yes, that means the song’s title should be “Whom Do You Love?”

4. “Literally.” We are … tired of hearing that word, especially since the thing we say is “literally” happening often isn’t. Are you literally starving or just hungry?

3. Using the word “impacted” as a synonym for “affected.” Some uses just shouldn’t wander over from the business world into everyday life, the audience says.

2. “So.” Please, please stop starting sentences with that word!

1. “I” and “me” — the most-complained-about misuse. In an “NPR Grammar Hall of Shame,” those little words would be the first entrants. We received more than 30 messages just about them. How many times a day do you hear someone say “she and me” instead of “she and I”? Or, even worse, “her and me”? It’s as if Peter Pan’s Lost Boys have taken over. (If you don’t get that reference, listen to “I Won’t Grow Up” and Wendy’s failed attempts to get the lads to say “not I” instead of “not me.”)

I’ll second #6. Missing from the list — and also heard on Twin Cities local television today — was “pre-planning.” We would also include “notoriety” as a grating misused word, but not as grating as WCCO’s promotion “this is not a coincidence” it only says one event — more people tune to WCCO — is what is not a coincidence. Technically, it’s true, of course. That more people turn to WCCO is not a coincidence. It’s not anything, really, except for a statement.

But back to NPR. What’d they miss?

  • Dave

    I’ll vote for the overuse and misuse of “sorry.” What word do you use when you unexpectedly encounter another person in a hallway or elsewhere? I say “‘scuse me.” For some reason, “sorry” has come to replace that. What do you say when you’re really sorry?

    Also, I’ve come to the conclusion that the butchering of “literally” is literally here to stay. People will not stop using it when unnecessary.

    • Jack

      “What do you say when you’re really sorry?”
      I have come to the conclusion after much observation that, in general, those who over use “sorry” are not. It is a mechanical reaction void of any feeling or sentiment. The response would be filed under proper etiquette to fit the norms of society.

  • Speaking of “me/I”, how about “Would you like to come with?”

    • kevins

      Or “can you borrow me a dollar”.

      • Robert Moffitt

        I’m willing to overlook “would you like to come with?” as a charming regional saying, but I can’t forgive saying borrow when you mean lend.

        Also, almost any use of “irregardless.”

        • kevins

          “Irregardless” makes my teeth hurt also. And, the misuse of the word “presently” to mean “at present”

        • Jack

          No child asks to borrow or lend. They avoid the whole grammar mishap by asking “Can I have a dollar?”

    • Dave

      Hey Bob, where are you at?

      • Robert Moffitt

        Up North.

  • kevins

    # 6: It always makes my teeth hurt when I hear someone misuse the phrase. The meaning is abstract and subtle, and has limited usage in rhetoric, but the perversion of it is commonplace and well…misuseful, but that begs another question.

  • Stuart Edeal

    I feel “bad about her” vs I feel “badly about that”.

  • Jack

    “9. Saying someone “graduated college” instead of “graduated from college.” A college graduates a student, not the other way around. The “from” makes a big difference.”
    Considering some institutions and the way they operate, I would beg, BEG, to differ.

  • KTN

    Mute point.
    Oh, and I took college.

  • Dave



    • Maria Jette

      I see more and more use of “bias” instead of “biased,” e.g. “The media is bias against the Tea Party.”

  • Kat S.

    I agree with the majority of these, but not #2– which is the only one on the list without a justification.

    It may not be proper grammar to start a sentence with “so,” but it’s useful to indicate that the speaker is changing course. Either they’re shifting from one topic to another (“So how about them Twins?”) or they’re wrapping up the preceding story, argument, or discussion (“So that’s why I never drive downtown after dark”). Or, if they are Seamus Heaney, they use “so” to start their translation of Beowulf.

    So I’ll continue to not use literally unless I mean it, or beg a question or graduate college, but I’m not giving up my initial “so”s. So there.

    • Dave

      It depends how it’s used. I think it’s fine as in your Twins example.

      But I think you know what they mean. Some people use “so” to start a sentence where it’s unneeded.

      • Kat S.

        Sure. It gets overused a lot– but that’s no reason to ban it entirely.

        I vote for the use of transitive verbs without direct objects. As in: “‘Hello,’ he greeted.” He didn’t just ‘greet,’ though, he greeted somebody. Who?

    • Veronica

      Oh my goodness. I was taking Medieval Lit when the Seamus Heaney translation came out. To this day I can see my very eccentric professor freaking out about the use of the word “So” to start the translation.

  • Laura R

    The overuse of “absolutely” instead of plain old “yes.” It’s become the all-purpose, overly emphatic answer to any question. Will it continue? Absolutely!

    • MnJohnF

      Awesome! 🙂

  • Markru

    ‘Orientated’ is one that gets under my skin. You are never orientated.

  • MnJohnF

    One I’ve heard recently is “in lieu of” to mean “in light of.” I can tolerate “irregardless” since I at least know what is meant. The difference between “in light of” and the real meaning of “in lieu of” is quite drastic.

    I was going to complain that #1 is incomplete, since it did not take case into consideration. The NPR site has an additional paragraph discussing the objective case “you and me.”

  • davidz

    Bob Collins. He’s the pre-eminent blogger at Minnesota Public Radio. Thank you Bob.

    Subject, standing alone. Statement using a pronoun to refer to the immediately referenced subject.

    What’s wrong with “Bob Collins is the pre-eminent blogger at MPR”. The form is so common on NPR that I think it must be part of the style guide.

    I don’t want to be the cranky old guy writing in to the station on grammar issues, but when you bring it up.

    Oh, and the overuse of the imperative during interviews (Tell me…) instead of a request (Please tell me). Certain interviewers really don’t come across so well because of that.

  • kevins

    Gee…I thought I was amongst only the few to tear up at the misuse of the language…looks like there are “a good plenty”!

  • Ralphy

    To be perfectly honest with you, there are a number of catch
    phrases that don’t pass muster. True enough, YOLO, but YODO, too. I know, right? Well, in any event, it is what
    it is, and it is to die for, so there is no need to thank me. Just sayin’, no problem.
    Yo! That’s what she said! LOL ;-p

  • carolyn zniewski

    The grammar error that grates on me is what I call “verbalizing” nouns. i.e.: gifted: He gifted it to me. Offices: He offices at home. I could list more.

    • davidz

      Verbing weirds language. Thanks, Bill Watterson.

    • davehoug

      Grand old English tradition. He built a building.

  • Rex Schultrich

    Don’t forget”honestly”.This gets used so much that I ask myself,”have you been lying to me prior to this?”, when I hear it. A better choice would be “frankly” and doesn’t raise the question of honesty.

  • “Apparently” hit a hot pocket in 2014, too.

  • Jerry

    Grammar: a collection of often arbitrary rules that allow someone to ignore a persons argument by focusing on how they are saying it instead of what they are trying to say.

  • Gabe Schenz

    “Impactful” is painful to hear. It seems to be used to add emphasis to the passive voice. “Their efforts on the project were very impactful.” To all the project managers out there, please stop! This is not a word!

  • Ben

    When someone asks me how I am doing and I reply “good” and when I ask him/her the same and he/she replies “well” with a condescending tone. I hate that.

  • Katie I

    “Woman [occupation]” instead of “female [occupation]”—for example, the new “Woman Veteran” license plates. The habitual trade of the noun for the adjective (and vice versa) is irritating enough, but I find it additionally grating that no one ever seems to use the designation for men in those occupations (e.g., “man veteran,” “man doctor”).