Get me a doctor. I'm having contractions.

  • Since the rules for the English language were drilled into him as a child, Grammar Moses has been a prescriptivist.

    Since the rules for the English language were drilled into him as a child, Grammar Moses has been a prescriptivist. AP File Photo/June 15, 2018

 
 
Updated 8/1/2020 5:25 PM

Hi, my name is Jim, and I'm a prescriptivist.

There ought to be a self-help organization for those of us who cling desperately to the language that was beaten into us -- in some cases -- as children.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

The way they tell it, chums who attended parochial schools had to endure withering glances and the threat of rapped knuckles, while I lived in fear only of B's at my public schools.

For whatever reason, they and I still find it hard to let go of the conventions of our youth and allow English some breathing room. Many of us look with suspicion upon new words and syntax and tend to shun them.

Hey, change is hard.

Compared to Latin, English is a teenager. It grows and changes every day. Say you're 70 and your grandson is 15. Should it be so strange that you speak a different language when he was taught an updated -- note I didn't write "upgraded" -- version of English a half century after you?

If we can go from handshake to high five to fist bump to elbow bump in the course of a generation, can't we all be a little more forgiving of changes in our language?

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I think I deserve some sort of chip to carry in my pocket for that soliloquy.

I remember getting an email from a reader who was very concerned that people were creating contractions -- just making up those darned time-savers without consulting anyone. This particular reader's beef was with compressing "there is" into "there's."

Please grab the smelling salts.

How do you think contractions came to be? Yep, regular people just started saying things to one another like "I can't stand your face anymore. You shouldn't work from home anymore. You mustn't breathe the same air I breathe."

Wait, that was what my wife told me this morning.

But contractions -- like new words -- always start with one person and gain acceptance to the extent they are added to dictionaries and taught in reputable schools. Some of the formality in English gave way to contractions during the 17th century. Could it have been during the Great Plague of London in 1665 and 1666? If I were a betting man, I'd put some money on that.

Where am I going with all of this?

Reader Howard Salk had a related question: "Your recent mention of advertising goofs prompted me to send the attached Goobledy-Poo ad, because it contains this following sentence: 'With Goobledy-Poo there's no tests, doctor appointments or hassles to get in your way.'"

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

If you haven't caught on, I substituted the real name of the product to protect copywriters' identities.

"Seems to me that 'there's' should be 'there are,'" Howard wrote. "At least that's the way I learned it, although I have been hearing 'there's' in a plural context more frequently."

I am not about to tell Howard to take a chill pill as I did my other emailer, because he makes a good point.

"There's" is an abbreviation for "there is."

"There're" hasn't caught on as a plural form, because it's actually more difficult to say than "there are." It would be easier to say "there are" with a wad of peanut butter on the roof of your mouth than it would be to try to spit out "there're."

What Howard failed to mention was that in the ad he sent me for Goobledy-Poo, the name of the product was pluralized with an apostrophe before the "s."

And that will not stand.

Write carefully!

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

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