When someone you love dies, it takes time to get back to normal. And when you weren’t all that normal to start with, well …
Mom would probably tell me to remember to hydrate, as grief can suck the moisture out of you in so many ways (but at the moment I could probably furnish water to a small village, provided it has a desalinator). Then she would chide me gently for missing an error on the page. That is, if I hadn’t already beaten myself up about it.
My mom always supported my urge to learn more: How photosynthesis occurs (there’s this whole business with sunlight and chlorophyll … I used to know the equation by heart, but now, well …). Why proportional or district allotment would create a fairer electoral college than winner-take-all (neither small nor large states would have as much of an advantage as small states now appear to have, and people, not land, would have power). Who said, “Let the hospitality of the house, with respect to the poor, be kept up; let no one go hungry away” (that old socialist George Washington, who also cautioned against encouraging idleness). Why Stephen King is not given the recognition he deserves (well, duh, horror writer, and yet he’s capable of making you feel like you’re actually witnessing the events in the story … the man is a captivating writer).
And when it came to words, grammar and usage, she wasn’t alone in the family. I was lucky enough to have a cousin by marriage, Mary Lou Looper, who taught English at my high school for decades (including to my brothers and me), transmitting her love for words, poetry and prose to more than one generation.
Beowulf made her cry, and Shakespeare (especially the Scottish tale) provoked passionate readings. She made many love the classics, and she wasn’t afraid to laugh at herself. I was saddened by her death late last year, but I’m glad she’s no longer in pain.
I often feel her presence any time some sort of word usage irritates me or is in the news, whether it’s someone using a word improperly, or perhaps horribly mispronouncing something. I always remember her telling us, “Make sure you put the em-PHAS-is on the right sy-LLAB-le.”
I think, though, that we might have had a little contretemps over the word that caused me to cuss a bit last week: entitled. Yes, even laid-back word nerds get annoyed by words. Try continually mispronouncing “havoc” around me. Just try it, I dare you.
At the Democrat-Gazette, we follow Associated Press style, but we also have our own house style rules, which in some cases supersede AP’s. AP style (and ours) holds that “entitled” should not be used when referring to naming something, but rather when someone has a right to do or have something. According to AP rules, you couldn’t say, “The book is entitled Tales of Hogsnort.” You could say, though, “You are entitled to your own opinion, but not your own facts.” (God bless you, Daniel Patrick Moynihan!)
Grammar rules and dictionaries would tell you “entitled” and “titled” are virtually interchangeable, but I, a newspaper weirdo, disagree. The Grammarly website notes: “[I]t’s not the verb title that people find strange when talking about naming books or papers or works of art. Entitle is the verb that some deem objectionable for use in the context of giving names, even though this is one of the meanings the verb can have. … The thing about entitle that rubs some people the wrong way is the other meaning the verb might have—‘to give the right’.”
Darn right. Newspaper style rules are there for many reasons, one of them being to keep meanings clear, and sometimes sticking to strict grammar rules can make things muddy or far more complicated than need be. Yes, you can split infinitives and not use “whom,” just so long that your meaning is clear.
Grammarly concedes the point that such a broad use of “entitled” can cause confusion: “Clearly, the reputation of entitle as a verb that means ‘to give a name’ is damaged by the other meaning of entitle—‘to give a right.’ And the adjective entitled isn’t helping either. So, while you technically are entitled to use the verb entitle in both its senses, a case can be made that title would be a better choice for the sense the two verbs share.”
So there. Nyah.
Sometimes the weird newspaper types have a good point. High-flown language may impress, but simple, direct statements and clear definitions make stories much easier to understand (not that people don’t read their own meanings into stories regardless …).
Plus, those newspaper style quirks give word nerds something to talk about when they’re stuck.
A personal note now, to everyone who has called, emailed and written by snail mail or Internet comment after the death of my mom: Thank you so much for your care and concern, and for sharing your own losses with me. I can’t tell you how much each message of comfort meant to me and my family.
Mom was a huge influence in my life, and she gladly took credit for my weirdness. I have yet to figure out what to do at those times I used to talk to her every day, and often think, “I need to tell Mama about this” before I remember I can’t.
But I’m fairly sure her spirit is hanging around, if just to snicker every time I trip over my own feet. Not that it happens a lot. I’m grace personified, you know.
Annnnd, stepping away from the inevitable lightning bolt …