Grammar Moses: All the world's a sports analogy, and all the men and women merely players
What I know about sports you could stick in my eye and I'd still be able to see.
But I can still turn just about anything into an entertaining sports analogy with the best of them. It's how I've survived weekly meetings with sports editors for more than a decade.
I received an email from D.M. Cook, a dentist who wonders whether he is being too picky. Having a dentist ask me whether he's too picky is like asking Anthony Rizzo whether he'd like me to lob him an 80 mph "fastball" around the knees.
See what I mean?
Actually, I'm evaluating Dr. Cook's use of probes and explorers, while he was honestly asking me about word choice.
"I seem to remember from seventh-grade Language Arts class that the word 'and' is a conjunction linking like words or phrases. I hear on TV all the time and have even read it in novels written over 150 years ago the construction 'to try and "x"' with 'X' being work, listen, learn, read, etc. Shouldn't 'to try and work' be written (or spoken) 'to try to work'? 'Work' seems to be what one is trying to accomplish, rather than putting 'try' and 'work' on a likeness footing. Am I right, or maybe just too picky?"
You are correct, Doc. You try TO do something. That makes sense.
But people who don't worry about whether something makes sense have perpetuated the OK-ness of the "try AND do" construction.
In 1902, a great many players tried TO hit home runs against the Pirates that season.
But only four of them tried AND hit homers against them.
To "try TO do" something suggests only that you've made an attempt. Many players "tried to" knock the skin off the ball that season.
But the Pirates pitching corps was on fire in 1902.
To "try AND do" something suggests two actions: attempting AND accomplishing.
As for the 1902 Pirates, that mark of allowing just four home runs in a season has never been matched. Plus, home runs weren't nearly as big a deal back then.
The 1902 Pirates weren't just a hot pitching team. They brought offense, too. They led the league in just about every batting category. And that included home runs.
Tommy Leach led the league in dingers that year, with just ... six. The entire team had only 15 that year.
Back to your question, Doc: Are you being picky? That's up to you to decide.
The sensible newspaperman in me says you're not being picky. But I tend to favor language that makes sense and is unambiguous.
But language, like baseball, changes over time. Some of those changes are good; some -- in my opinion -- are not.
But the world will pass us both by if we don't accept those changes -- even if they make no sense to us.
Years ago when Laraine Wright was an editor at Southern Illinois University, she encountered some great examples of dangling modifiers:
• In an article about an alumnus dying of cancer: "He went from 185 to 110 pounds when a priest walked into his hospital room."
• In a Saluki baseball game recap: "The left fielder chased the ball to the fence, where he hit his head, picked it up, and threw it to third."
Excellent material, Laraine.
I can see getting the bejeebers scared out of me if a priest were to enter my hospital room, but I doubt even my bejeebers would weigh 75 pounds.
My question on the game story is whether the left fielder was still conscious when the third baseman caught his head. If so, it's too bad the poor guy wouldn't live long enough to remember the journey.
• Jim Baumann is vice president/executive editor of the Daily Herald. You can buy Jim's book, "Grammar Moses: A humorous guide to grammar and usage," at
grammarmosesthebook.com. Write him at
firstname.lastname@example.org and put "Grammar Moses" in the subject line. You also can friend or follow Jim at facebook.com/baumannjim.