The Grammar and Word Choice Police


I have two friends who are charter members of the Grammar Police. They can easily tell you the issues around dangling participles as well as those surrounding split infinitives. I mean, woah, who has the time for all of that? Now, there is a difference between the two of them. One is happy to point out my errors while the other keeps his countenance and suffers through my grammar-related shortcomings in silence.

Here’s a quick example. A few years ago, my wife and I invited several couples to join us at an event. I sent an email reminder to my guy friends a few days before the event. It read something like, “We are looking forward to seeing you and your wives on Thursday night.” My friend who happily points out my woeful grammar—let’s call him “Russ”—quickly emailed back, “I only have one wife, but we’re both looking forward to seeing you at the event.”

The following year, I decided to include everyone on the email, not just the guys. I sent a reminder that read, more or less, “We’re looking forward to seeing all of you at the event.” Russ quickly replied, “I plan to be wearing a suit, so you won’t be seeing “all of me,” only my face and hands. But, we are looking forward to the event.”

My other Grammar Police friend–let’s call him “David”–doesn’t correct me out loud, but he’s been known to tell grammar-related jokes that not even his family thinks are funny. I believe he is the one who first pointed out the sign at the top of the Crescent Trail in Bethesda, warning of the “temporary interim construction site.” That pretty much doubled him over with laughter.

Now, if you’re thinking that my grammar doesn’t seem that bad on my blogs, there’s a reason for that. I have a great editor, whom we shall call ”Susan.” She saves me from receiving citations from the Grammar Police on a regular basis. In the interest of full disclosure, here is Susan’s comment about the previous sentence: “Is this a misplaced modifier?  Do you mean I save you on a regular basis, or I assure that you receive them on a less-than-regular basis?”

Funny thing, though. . . Russ and David have rubbed off on me in at least one way. Word choice. Poor word choice drives me nuts. Okay, let’s call it what it is. . . downright incorrect word choice! Editor Susan always assures that I provide some actionable takeaways in these blogs, so my rant will take the form of three rules that everyone should follow:

  • If you say you are having a meeting to discuss issues “around a topic,” that means you aren’t actually talking about the topic. In fact, you are avoiding it! Stop using the word “around” when you mean “about” or “with respect to.” Just stop it!
  • If you say you are having a meeting to work out the concepts “surrounding” a new marketing plan, you’d better be talking about a fence you’re erecting! The issue around this usage is the same as the one surrounding the topic in the above bullet point.
  • Whoa! Stop spelling it “woah.” Please, please, please!

The misuse of the words “around” and “surrounding” and the misspelling of “whoa” in the first paragraph were purposeful. I feel confident that my bright and perceptive readers know that.*  I also feel confident that, if I’ve made any grammatical errors, Russ will point them out. If he does, I know what I’m going to do. I’ll forward them to my editor, Susan. 

(*Editor’s note:  I’m sure Bob means that all of his readers are bright and perceptive, and not that only the bright and perceptive subset of readers will notice the intentionality of his errors.)