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Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Grammar Question: Ol' or Ole' Gray Mare

I am always so elated when one of you Frugal, Smart and Tuned-In Editor readers lets me play Ann Landers of the editing/publishing world. The trouble is, most times your questions come to me via my regular e-mail box, even though I know you are people who subscribe to this blog. Ahh, well. I'll take them any ol' way I can. Here is one that came to me recently:

Carolyn, how you doing my dear? I have a question for you. Which one would you say is correct? Ol` or Ole` , as in "The ole`/ol` gray mayer ain't what she used to be."

Thanks, Hon.

Pee Wee, author of The Kahills of Willow Walk: A Novel Novel
Writing as S.K. Hamilton
Get ready— the sequel is coming! It's For the Love of Willow Walk

The short answer for this, PeeWee, is:

It's "ol' gray mare" if you're writing in American English. It's "ol' grey mare" if you're writing for Brits. Note the difference between the spellings in grey/gray.

Also note that if you want to lengthen the sound of "mare," to make an accent more pronounced as example, you might very well choose to spell "mare" "mayre" as you have above.

Generally the rule for eliminating a letter is that you replace the eliminated letter with an apostrophe. That's what we do when when we push words like "are" and "not" together. We eliminate the "o," replace it with a "'" and end up with "aren't." You do the same with "Ol'" even though you aren't using two words.

Having said that, we often have style choices. Rules aren't always clad with grammar armour. You've heard me talk about this on other posts. So, again--in the interest of emphasizing a country accent--you just might choose "ole." I doubt anyone would fault you for it, at least no one but those who are hung up on the idea that grammar is not a thing of beauty and flexbility but a thing designed to make people crazy.

Carolyn Howard-Johnson edits, consults and speaks on issues of publishing. Find her The Frugal Editor: Put Your Best Book Forward to Avoid Humiliation and Ensure Success at Learn more about her other authors' aids at, where writers will find lists and other helps on the Resources for Writers page. She blogs on all things publishing (not just editing!) at her Sharing with Writers blog.


Sylvia Kaye Hamilton said...

Thank you, Carolyn. I've wondered about this ol` dilemma for a long time. Should have ask you a long time ago.

Pee Wee (S.K.Hamilton)

Jeremy Benson said...

Thanks for sharing this. I really needed it :)

Anonymous said...

This was also helpful to me. Thanks!

Rin Y said...

Very helpful!

Curious said...

So, then, ol'e would technically be acceptable?

Carolyn Howard-Johnson said...

Acceptable? Not sure what you would be trying to do, @Rin Y. Certainly we sometimes use "Olde" when we are imitating signs or the names of taverns and the like we still see in English speaking countries. "Ye Olde Brewers' Inn." I guess I am misunderstanding your intent, but it seems to me nothing has been achieved with the "Ol'e" that you suggest. Further, it looks like the Spanish "Ole" that would have an accent mark over the e of this program would let me to that. You know, what the Spanish call out when during bullfights. I'm not to keen on doing anything that might confuse the reader only to prove my point that we sometimes get to make style and spelling choices--especially when the Chicago Style Book doesn't do it for us. Ahem! (-:

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