Grammar Moses: Vapers give me the vapors

  • Associated press, August

Updated 11/30/2019 5:19 PM

It makes my heart swell when I receive an email from someone who does not yet qualify for an AARP card.

Enter Casey Smith, a millennial and the son of Sports Editor Mike Smith.


Casey not only happily agrees to golf with us oldsters, but he also is actually interested in matters of grammar and usage.

"I often find myself typing emails with the word 'into' somewhere in my message," he wrote. "Although I believe I know when to smash the words 'in' and 'to' together, I can't help but think whether 'into' and 'in to' are interchangeable. What do you say?"

That's worthy of a refresher course, which is handy because I'm writing on a short workweek. Here's something from a column I wrote in April:

I can't poke a lot of holes in the fine reporting being done at The Washington Post, where the staff has won more Pulitzer Prizes than I've dreamed of winning, but I will take this opportunity to mock an unintentionally funny photo caption it ran.

"A mother and her son turn themselves into U.S. Border Patrol agents to claim asylum last month after crossing the Rio Grande in El Paso, Texas," it read.

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Did you catch the goof?

A prince can turn into a frog, or so the story goes, and your daughter's boyfriend can turn into a creep (just give him time), but how can a mother and son turn themselves into U.S. Border Patrol agents?

I would think that the U.S. Border Patrol honchos would require a rigorous training process, a swearing-in ceremony and all that -- and that it wouldn't be up to the mother and her son to simply decide to become agents. Given the age of the boy in the photo, I doubt he'd meet the age requirement, either.

What, have I misunderstood the caption writer's intent?

A simple tap of the space bar fixes everything.

The caption should have read: "A mother and her son turn themselves in to U.S. Border Patrol agents ..."

See the difference?

Now for Casey's second question:

"A few weeks ago I noticed a word in the "World & Nation in 60 seconds" section I thought was used incorrectly. They were talking about a group of individuals who use electronic cigarettes, otherwise known as vape pens. The word they used to refer to this group was 'vapors.' I believe the correct usage for 'vapors' would be to make reference to the smoke emitting from the vape pen, and when referring to the group of people smoking vape pens would be "vapers." Am I right or wrong on this one?"


Casey is absolutely correct.

Those who vape are "vapers." The plumes of white stuff that come out of their mouths and noses and perhaps even ears are "vapors."

It's now safe to return to your turkey-and-stuffing omelets. Don't think you're the only one still stretching this holiday beyond the boundaries of reasonableness.

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

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