Introducing Grammar Moses, a new interactive column on all things related to clear writing

Updated 7/11/2015 9:05 PM

For as long as I've been an editor at the Daily Herald -- 25 years -- I've been compelled to write grammar quizzes, issue diatribes on conjugation and context and, through them, make miserable the people with whom I work and at the same time make better their copy.

This has not always been a welcome intrusion. No one asked me to do this.


I am simply passionate about clear writing. And when I see impediments in the form of poor syntax, bad word choice, mixed metaphors or misspellings, I have a physical reaction to them. They leap at me from the pages of the paper or from the screen.

But it's not really about me. It's about you, dear reader. You, who rightfully judge a newspaper's seriousness of purposes and trustworthiness, in part, by how well it attends to detail. Such as spelling words correctly in headlines.

Even before I was named managing editor I began sending out staffwide memos on a regular basis under the pseudonym Grammar Moses.

Pretty brazen for a guy whose worst score on the ACT was in English.

For those of you who think I'm co-opting another grammar guru's handle, I'm aware others have used it, but I discovered that only after I'd come up with it on my own.

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Unlike the real Moses, my tablets are not carved in stone. Grammar is a fluid thing.

Some of the rules we learned in high school have evolved with us. For instance, I don't know a lot of people outside of church who still employ "thine" in common parlance.

Still, there are some hard-and-fast rules to which all of us should abide.

I don't profess to know everything. I consult a dictionary and The Associated Press Stylebook more than you can imagine. I try to learn something new every day. And that, I hope, is how you'll look upon this column.

Every week I will treat/torture you with a new set of grammar bugaboos picked from reading, watching and listening.

I hope you find them enlightening. Or at least entertaining (and, yes, I think it's OK to start a sentence with a conjunction and to use an occasional sentence fragment as a sentence to provide punch.)

I have compiled a long list of things, but I would love to hear your questions, share what drives you mad or take on challenges if you think I've screwed up. And I will screw up. Hopefully, not right out of the blocks in this column.


I'd much rather this column be a conversation than a lecture, so please talk back.

So much for the windup. Here is today's epistle:

Anxious or eager?

This is misused often.

"I'm anxious to go to the movies tonight!"

Are you really?

If you are anxious, you feel anxiety. If you are a scaredy cat and you are going to see a horror movie, perhaps you are anxious.

But if you are eager to see a movie, you are looking forward to it. Generally speaking, the word you're grasping for is "eager."

Write carefully!

• Jim Baumann is assistant vice president/managing editor of the Daily Herald. Write him at Put Grammar Moses in the subject line. You also can follow Jim on Facebook.

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