There, their, they’re …

1352238027641_6387174We’re always a bit embarrassed at the paper when an error is made. When it’s a grammar or word error, the copy editors among us are doubly chagrined.

But when I saw the letter about the “died-in-the-wool” Democrat, after I quit banging my head on the desk, I had to stifle a lot of laughter at the thoughts going through my head. And yes, we journalists are a morbid lot.

Phrase a little bit off
Despite the fact that it was used in the featured obituary on Samuel Bratton, I believe that the phrase “died-in-the-wool Democrat” is incorrect.


Little Rock

Baaaaad to the bone. OK, I feel sheepish for doing that, sorry. Image from National Geographic via LibraryThing.

Baaaaad to the bone. OK, I feel sheepish for doing that, sorry.
Image from National Geographic via LibraryThing.

Perhaps a Democrat trampled to death in a sheep stampede? Or maybe strangled by the sweater his great-grammy knitted for him? Or mayhaps smothered by a pile of soaked woolen mittens at a kindergarten on a snowy winter day?

As if we didn’t have enough to worry about with mixed metaphors and strangled similes, along come homophones to confuse matters even more.

You remember those from school, right? Words that sound alike but have different meanings and spellings, like “aye,” “eye” and “I,” have been confounding those learning English as a second language for years. Guess what, guys? They confound a lot of us native speakers as well. Add in homographs (same spelling but different meanings, such as “rose,” the flower and “rose,” past tense of rise), and our language seems to be one confusing mess.

But as far as I’m concerned, that still doesn’t excuse use of “your” (meaning it belongs to you) when you mean “you’re” (you are), or worse, using “you” for either one. C’mon people, give us word nerds something!

As if the ugly tattoo wasn't bad enough, it should be "you're," not "your." Image from Grammar Monster,

As if the ugly tattoo wasn’t bad enough, it should be “you’re,” not “your.” Plus, if I’m his, how do I get out of this?
Image from Grammar Monster.

Funny, yes (and I have the urge to find this parking lot and start barking). However, it should be "If you're neither parking or barking ..." Image from Grammar Monster.

Funny, yes (and I have the urge to find this parking lot and start barking). However, it should be “If you’re neither parking or barking …”
Image from Grammar Monster.

And sometimes you make people s heads explode with your bad grammar and the fact that you're a SCHOOL. Image from

And sometimes you make people’s heads explode with your bad grammar and the fact that you’re a SCHOOL.
Image from


Though I’m not a total grammar geek, there are mistakes that make me cringe, such as using apostrophes to make a word plural. In only very rare circumstances is that acceptable, like when talking about your child’s report card full of A’s, and only because “As” is a word all its own. But mitten’s? Washer’s? No … just no.

There are businesses I can’t in good conscience patronize because I don’t trust myself not to take out the Sharpie in my bag and correct their signage.

Commencing cringe ... now! OK, people, the plural of tea is teas, and for coffee it's coffees. NO APOSTROPHES!!!!! Image from The Guardian Online.

Commencing cringe … now! Since it’s a British business, I’ll give them “speciality,” but people, the plural of tea is teas, and for coffee it’s coffees. NO APOSTROPHES!!!!!
Image from The Guardian Online.

Yes, I have a Sharpie with me most of the time. Sadly, I don’t take my camera everywhere, so I’ve missed sharing some horribly written signs (such as the absolute most strangled spelling of “apologize” I’ve ever seen).

In any case, though, I wouldn’t take it as far as two Dartmouth graduates did a few years back.

In 2008, Jeff Deck and Benjamin Herson were banned from national parks for a year after they pleaded guilty to vandalizing a sign at the Desert View Watchtower in Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona. The two used correction fluid and a marker to change a misplaced apostrophe and add a comma to a sign handpainted by the architect of the 1932 watchtower and several other Grand Canyon landmarks.

Jeff Deck holds the door for Benjamin Herson as they enter a dry cleaning establishment in Philadelphia to ask if they can remove the errant apostrophe in the name. Image by MCT,

Jeff Deck holds the door for Benjamin Herson as they enter a dry cleaning shop in Philadelphia in 2010 to ask if they could remove the errant apostrophe in the name. (They could, and did.)
Image by MCT.

Deck and Herson were the founders of the Typo Eradication Advancement League (TEAL), and spent March to May of 2008 on a “Typo Hunt Across America,” correcting an estimated 230 typographical errors and blogging about their progress. Blogging about that Arizona sign, though, got them into hot water with the feds.

In addition to their year of probation, they also were levied a fine of $3,035 and banned from fixing public signs for a year. No matter; Deck and Herson got a book out of the ordeal, The Great Typo Hunt, published in 2010.

Now if sign painters will just make sure to have someone else check their work …


John Deering and I talk most days we work (I’m still, after 17 years of knowing him, trying to figure out when he sleeps; he’s always doing something!). Our offices are side by side, our birthdays are only days apart, and our senses of humor are strange and very similar, which means that sometimes some weird thing I’ve said will end up in one of his comics. (That Star Wars/Real McCoys mashup 10 or 11 years ago in Strange Brew? That sprang up from a conversation in which we talked about how my then new-ish cat came to be called Luke.)

We were talking the other day about his Superman panel and the geek near-meltdown it seemed ready to inspire on the GoComics comments board, all because the colorists at Creators made the Kryptonite in the cartoon yellow.

Strange Brew, by Jphn Deering, printed June 20, 2014, by Creators Syndicate.

Strange Brew, by John Deering, printed June 20, 2014, by Creators Syndicate.

True geeks will know that there are several colors of Kryptonite, each with different effects on Superman’s powers.

Frankly, if I were Lois, I’d be more worried about Supe’s pink slippers.


It comes time for another reminder, especially in light of all the letters we’ve gotten about same-sex marriage.

The long-running rule on the Voices page is that we don’t publish Bible verse citations (or those from other sacred texts), if just for the simple fact that this is not Sunday School, Bible Bowl or the Religion page (and quite honestly, we have neither the time nor resources to check all those texts).

Including them is thus a quick way to ensure your letter ends up as a “no” if they can’t be easily written around. We’ll let you put in a short quote or paraphrase a verse, but chapter and verse citations won’t make it in, which is how we also would handle passages from, for example, the Koran or the Bhagavad Gita.

We have to remember that this world is populated with people of many different religions, and no religion at all, and even among specific religions, there are numerous sects or denominations. My family, for example, is primarily Church of Christ or Baptist, but there are members who belong to other denominations, and at least one who is Buddhist (that’d be my nephew, of whom I’m very proud … valedictorian, heading to college in Cali in the fall …).

Image from

Image from

On the Voices page, we treat all religions, or lack thereof, the same, just as we do everything else. And no, I’m not shilling for the New World Order. (Where do you guys get these weird conspiracy theories anyway? And those websites are just creepy!)

Which brings me to a complaint from a reader about another letter-writer’s frequency on the page.

While I don’t have the time to run down every single letter that has ever run on the page, I can confidently assure you that no one has a letter published every 30 days. Al Case, specifically, has not been published every month, and at most has about eight letters printed a year, almost always responding to previous letters or stories. (He’s also, to the best of my knowledge, not a relative, and is unfailingly kind and polite when Stephanie calls him, which is more than can be said for a lot of people.)

However, his name pops up in the archives quite frequently, but only because so many people feel the need to comment, usually quite vociferously, on his every letter since his beliefs (agnostic) differ from theirs. People, you’re just making all Christians look bad when you can’t even be polite, so calm down before writing a letter, please. It’s for your own good.

Perhaps if we spent less time complaining about our differences, we’d notice more of our similarities.

Naw … why would we want to get along?


6 thoughts on “There, their, they’re …

  1. I love this! You’re so good! (I honestly tried to use “your” but couldn’t make my fingers do it.) I’m glad I know you in real life, where you’re every bit as funny as you are in writing.


    • Ach … I’m getting all verklempt!

      I love that your fingers wouldn’t let you make an intentional error … at least my fingers aren’t alone. They do, however, like to slide off the proper keys every once in a while to spell son S-O-B … no joke 😀


  2. I thoroughly enjoyed today’s column in the paper and the bonus photos and commentary in your blog. When we lived in Belton, TX, one of the convenience stores by the lake advertised “Got ? Crawfish.” I had to drive by that horrible sign for days. I also saw a sign in the same town that said “Bang and Bow Taxidermy – now serving lunch.” I put that one in our Christmas newsletter. (I used to write what I call the “anti-newsletter” to provide a contrast to the “perfect family” newsletters.) I later met the taxidermist and felt guilty for making fun of his sign in our newsletter. He eventually relocated the taxidermy business and now has a full restaurant (Miller’s Smokehouse) that has the best barbecue in Texas.

    I finally had to stop reading Facebook comments on posts from local news stations. The unbelievable comments some people make along with the grammar and spelling errors never fail to send my blood pressure to the danger zone.

    As usual, your column in the Dem-Gaz is the highlight of my week. I have to say that Paul Greenberg surprised me with his column today. I don’t agree with him on many issues, but I wanted to stand up on my chair at McDonald’s and proclaim to the world that the Common Core is not a liberal brainwashing tool. I restrained myself and quietly finished my tea.


    • Thanks so much! I love that I’m a highlight! Hee! I drive by a used-appliance store every morning that has all the plurals as ‘s … I so want to go there one night and scrape off the apostrophes, but I don’t want to get arrested. 😀 I’m envisioning the Roadkill Cafe for that taxidermist!

      I get caught up reading the comments on those sites sometimes and have to physically restrain myself from replying to correct their grammar and misinformation. Those who comment at the Washington Post site are some of the worst, though there are some of ours who are seriously in danger of spinning themselves to death (right turns only, of course).

      Paul surprised me too. Yes, there are some not-so-great things in Common Core, but the idea behind it is sound, and it’s certainly not a liberal tool. I’m getting really tired of all the people who keep saying it’s the president’s plan … that tells me they’re only repeating what they’ve heard from the “proper” sources rather than seeking out information on its genesis. Why think when others with an agenda have already done that (using a very liberal definition of “think” here …)?

      And I have to say I admire you for keeping your cool at McDonald’s. More than I could do, I think …


  3. Last Friday night at a “Happy Hour” I was telling someone about some of my recent emails re: plurals with apostrophes (when did that begin???). Then I read your column the other day and burst out laughing. I am so disgusted with what has happened to our English language, and no one seems to care anymore. I am a professional proofreader (former English teacher), and I am astounded by the everyday errors made by my editors, most of them under the age of 35. Two of the editors use apostrophes in plurals consistently, and others have no idea what the difference is between its and it’s. But the other day I read a column about the “organization losing its’ direction.” Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh … that’s my screaming.

    Some of the printed publications I proofread have gone to digital format. I have asked the editor or publisher if he/she will want me to proofread those digital magazines. The answer is always “no because no one really cares about typos or grammar online.”

    I felt like writing back: “Your probably write.”

    I also cringe when I read “in a nutshell” and there is no sound reason for a writer to use “got” or “gotten.” I almost become nauseous when I hear “my bad.” There was an editor who wrote that in his column a couple years ago; baby talk is so out of my comfort zone!


    • Thanks so much for reading and following me!

      “My bad” is one of my annoyances as well. I certainly don’t think people should speak formally all the time (unless they’re British, then I’ll let it slide), but that’s far too casual and meaningless in most situations where it’s uttered. There are also, akin to “in a nutshell,” several other useless phrases that I wish would go away, like “at the end of the day” and “to be sure”; they’re especially heinous as introductory clauses. Don’t even get me started on fake folksiness!

      The other day I edited a short letter (maybe 100 words), but it took me forever because the writer was an apostrophe pluralizer … however, instead of apostrophes, he used commas. Those are the letters that drive me wackier than I already am. 😀 You definitely have my sympathy, and profound admiration for that comeback and the ability to hold it in. It’s hard sometimes to not say what’s in our minds at times like that. 😉

      I sent a letter to a breakfast food company a few years back when I noticed the blurb on the side of the oatmeal box used “it’s” when it should have been “its.” I almost felt like offering to fix the copy myself when I was still finding boxes a year later with the same mistake. Sometimes we just have to stand up against all the dumbing down that’s been happening.


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