Grammar Moses: I amn't about to accept distruths from any politician

Updated 9/14/2019 4:36 PM

Here is something I hadn't considered in my fevered dreams and column-hungry view of the world:

"I don't understand the use of 'aren't' as in 'aren't I?'" wrote reader Pat Stasiak. "Decompressing the contraction 'aren't I' would read 'are not I.' Isn't that the second person verb with the first person pronoun? I am: I'm. You are: you're. He/she/it is: he's, she's, it's. Yet 'aren't I?' is accepted to express 'am I not?' Though it may sound stilted I say or write 'am I not?' How did 'aren't I? come to mean 'am I not?'"


Excellent question, Pat. There is no contraction for "am not" in English.

Why? English doesn't like the peanut-butter-on-the-roof-of-your-mouth torture of words with "mn." Especially in contractions, which are supposed to be quicker, easier ways of saying something simple and often.

So unless you're an OB-GYN and have to talk about amniocentesis all the time or you're an insurance agent who needs to discuss indemnification or you're a grammar columnist who loves mnemonics, you're largely spared said torture.


National Public Radio's Michelle Martin interviewed former South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford last week regarding his quixotic (why isn't that word pronounced key-O-tick?) run against President Trump for the Republican presidential nomination.

During the interview, Sanford said this: "I think that we need to have a conversation and debate on what it means to be a Republican. Traditionally, the Republican Party stood for some level of financial conservativism."

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See anything amiss here, eagle-eyed reader?

Huzzah! He said "conservativism" rather than "conservatism," which is an actual word.

I heard this on my morning commute. But while my car does many things I never thought a car could do, it does not have a rewind button for the radio. So I listened to the passage five times on NPR's website to confirm what I thought I'd heard.

I'll not pick apart Sanford's politics or his personal adventures, which until a few years ago might have made a run for president much less likely. But I will address his word choice as I might anyone else's.

This is only a theory, mind you, but I wonder whether Sanford is beginning a branding campaign in an effort to compete with the Brander in Chief.

If you're a conservative, would your ears more likely perk up if someone were talking about the ideals of conservatism or conservativism? I'd argue the latter is a more direct tie to one's identity.


As I was completing the previous paragraph, reader Jackie Nelson gave me reason to continue.

"Former Gov. Mark Sanford was quoted in today's paper as saying, 'We have a president that will tell numerous dis-truths in the course of a day.' Whatever happened to plain old 'lies?' As long as we're making up words, we could call this one an 'unword.'"

"Lies" is a word we are very careful about. But "mistruth" is a word and, at this writing, "distruth" is not.

The only definition I can find for "distruth" is in the urban dictionary, which tells me that someone else is using it somewhere, probably for no good.

Lest you think Sanford's use of "distruth" was a slip of the tongue, I found a WLTX Channel 19 story about his farewell to Congress speech in December 2018.

It read, in part: "We must embrace the truth, and it will set us free. Open political systems cannot survive in a post-truth world. While none of us are perfect, and there will always be gray around some areas of truth, we cannot accept chronic streams of distruth. If everything is subjective, there is nothing to debate."

If Sanford is making up words, can we trust him with the presidency? That's for you to decide.

I'll make this vow today: If he beats Trump in the primary, I'll mail him a dictionary.

Write (and speak) carefully!

• 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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