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Thursday, January 26, 2012

Vernacular Peeves or Americanisms I Love to Hate

My last blog on Americanisms brought me some private e-mail on the differences between British and American English. I thought it would be fun to hear from a British editor. One never knows what we can learn from one another--we two overseas cousins. So here's a guest post from Maggie Lyons:

Vernacular Peeves, or Americanisms I Love to Hate

by Maggie Lyons

The American vernacular is full of ungrammatical phrases and words that may add realistic zest to your novel’s dialogue but can also sneak into your writing or your speech when you least want to be colorful—when creating a book proposal or during an interview, for instance. Here are a few examples that take the enamel off my teeth.

She could care less about the spelling errors in her prose: This means, “She cares about the spelling errors, but she could care less,” to which you might reply, “Would she care less about the errors if I paid her a big enough advance to care less about them?”

Correction: She couldn’t care less about the spelling errors in her prose.

I’m waiting on my editor: If your editor ordered a dirty Martini and chocolate-coated ants, and you are his waiter, this phrase would not be a problem—though your editor’s culinary preferences might be. If you are waiting because your editor is late, then this is a problem.

Correction: I’m waiting for my editor.

“As far as our readers,” the publisher said, “we offer excellent value.” Did the publisher mean he offered “excellent value” to everyone except his readers—up to but not including his readers? Assuming this is an unreasonable interpretation of the phrase—or is it in this era of corporate licence?—a verb must be added for the sake of grammar and clarity.

Correction: “As far as concerns our readers . . .”

I am so not blogging: Apart from the fact that not blogging could be a major marketing oversight, when “so” means “very,” it can’t be used with a verb.

Correction: I’m not blogging, or I’m against blogging, or I don't blog, and so on.

How did Starving Author’s presentation at the library go? He did good: Assuming Starving Author was not being altruistic and doing good for the library community, an adverb is needed here, not an adjective.

Correction: He did well.

It’s a real nice bookstore: Unless this sentence means the bookstore is a real store as opposed to a virtual one, in which case a comma should follow “real” (a real, nice bookstore), the adjective “real” should be replaced by an adverb.

Correction: It’s a really nice bookstore.

Irregardless of the fact that she led a boring life, she produced extraordinarily imaginative memoires.

Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary politely categorizes “irregardless” as “nonstandard.” “Irregardless” is a double negative and, literally interpreted, means the opposite of regardless.

Correction: Regardless of the fact . . .

When we go to the sci-fi book launch party next weekend, let’s bring some aliens from Mars: “Bring” implies an action in the present or at the point of arrival. Because the book launch is in the future—next weekend—we are still at the point of departure, which requires the use of the verb “to take.”

Correction: When we go to the sci-fi book launch party next weekend, let’s take some aliens from Mars.

The public relations department has distributed their press release: Presumably the public relations department did not distribute another group’s press release, which is what the above sentence implies. Don’t mix singular and plural in reference to nouns that refer to groups of people. The singular verb “has distributed” should be complemented with the singular possessive adjective “its.”

Correction: The public relations department has distributed its press release.

If I would have known J. K. Rolling was going to judge the writing contest, I would have entered my book of spells: There is a “would” in this sentence that casts no charm.

Correction: If I had known J. K. Rolling was going to judge the writing contest, I would have entered my book of spells.

There’s two good reasons why my book was rejected: I suggest that one reason was grammar.

Correction: There are two good reasons why my book was rejected.

Now let’s have your pet peeves.

~Maggie Lyons is a freelance editor of almost everything, including academic and business documents, fiction and nonfiction manuscripts, ESL documents, and Web content, and she edits both British and American English. See her website for more grammar goodies at She is also a children’s writer ( with two books for middle-grade readers to be released later this year by MuseItUp Publishing (

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 (How To Do It Frugally series of book for writers). Learn more about her other authors' aids at , where writers will find lists and other helps including Great Little Last-Minute Editing Tips on the Resources for Writers page. She blogs on all things publishing (not just editing!) at her Sharing with Writers blog. She tweets writers' resources at . Please tweet this post to your followers. We all need a little help with editing. (-:


madcapmaggie said...

This isn't about grammar, but rather about meaning: pet peeve number one:

I'm anxious to (...) rather than
I'm eager to (...)

And here's my father'

"It's me."
(should be, "It's I."

and mine:

(preposition of choicer ) (eg, with, for, etc) you and I

... grr ..
should ... you and me.

Prepositions take objects, damn it.

Carolyn Howard-Johnson said...

Gotta love that passion, Maggie. Thanks for dropping by!

Randall Lang said...

What an absolutely delightful column. The type of grammar errors included are uniquely American and are so deeply ingrained that even those of us who work with words seldom see them in our own usage. Bravo!

Randall Lang

Carolyn Howard-Johnson said...

Randall, sometimes not even in our own writing! I've been making a new list of overused phrases I hear on TV--particularly the news. Watch for it! We can avoid them in our writing.

Mary Jo Guglielmo said...

Entertaining and educational--Thanks.

Maggie Lyons said...

Thank you all so much for your kind comments. I admire Carolyn's high energy in capturing for the record overused phrases she hears on TV news programs. At some point when I'm driven mad enough (or cross enough, as Brits would say), I'll hang a small notebook around my neck so I too can immediately jot down irksome phrases whenever I encounter them and then hang them out there for all to see.

Carolyn Howard-Johnson said...

Ha! When you get a few pages in that notebook, Maggie, I hope you'll consider coming back here to contribute!

Karen Cioffi said...

What a great list. My pet peeve is the relatively new phrase: "My bad."

I'd love to know how that came into existence and why it caught on.

I'll be linking to this post.

Karen Cioffi Writing and Marketing

Carolyn Howard-Johnson said...

Karen, not sure why I dislike "My bad." On the face of it, it doesn't seem much worse than lots of other colloquialisms. But I find it annoying, too. And it was on a national TV ad! Expedia, I think. Maybe that's why they used it. They knew folks like me would remember!

madcapmaggie said...

Karen, check out:

Carolyn Howard-Johnson said...

Thanks for that link, Maggie. Who would have guessed Shakespeare could have said it and it didn't catch on! Ha!

lionmother said...

Maggie, this is a great post! So many people use these phrases incorrectly and I love the examples you chose. The best is: "I'm waiting on my editor." This is an expression people from NY seldom or never use. So when I got update there were a lot of these I got to know. One expression people used to use in a rural small town in upstate NY was "overtown" meaning going downtown or going across town. I could never figure out from where it came.

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