Peccadillos and Pet Peeves
 
All writers who pride themselves on their use of language have their own lists of what they consider to be language offenses. One of the rewards of maintaining a website is the opportunity to post one’s own list of such offenses. Here is mine: 

1.  Using "alot," instead of "a lot."  See HERE.

2. “The reason is because” (which should be “the reason is that”) is a particularly vile offense, as it causes me to cringe in anticipation, following the utterance of the word reason. 

3. American Heritage Dictionary assertions notwithstanding, the words media, data and bacteria are all plural nouns, as far as I am concerned. There are good reasons for maintaining the traditional plural status of these words. For example: People looking for easy scapegoats, seeking to blame television and newspapers for all of society’s ills are fond of saying, “The media is ...,” etc. (fill in the blank with whatever bad word of the day you wish: irresponsible, sensationalist, liberal, conservative, whatever), as if there really were some monolithic monster, whose many tentacles were acting in deliberate unison to destroy civilization. 

Respecting the plural status of the word media would help to get across the point that the mass media are not some monolithic entity whose actions are as unified as they are evil. Rather, the mass media are as diverse as the population itself. The mass media make an easy target for critics who don’t have a clue as to what is really going on. Some two hundred years ago, Benjamin Franklin pointed out the stupidity of blaming the messenger for the message. For all of the technological advances that have been taking place, it seems that in some very basic ways, we are no further along now than we were two centuries ago. 

4. Likewise, Attorneys general is the correct plural of that term (as is the case with mothers-in-law and memoranda). Television news personalities: are you listening? 

Here are some other rules I would like to see followed: 

    Form the plural by adding an s (or, when appropriate, “es”), WITHOUT any apostrophe, which is used to denote possessive. Thus: 1990s (and NOT 1990’s), “All corporate CEOs” (and NOT “all corporate CEO’s”), etc. For more information on this aspect, refer to Strunk and White’s Elements of Style.

   The singular possessive is formed with an apostrophe and the letter s, even if the word or name in question ends with a letter s or z. Thus: Mrs. Jones’s daughter, Mr. Marquez’s writings. When the construction is overly awkward, substitute with inversion and the word of, as in: the teachings of Jesus (as opposed to “Jesus’s teachings”). 

    The abbreviated form of 1990s is ’90s. (The apostrophe indicates contraction and there is no possessive involved). Strictly speaking, the tail of the apostrophe should face left, pointing toward the characters (letters of numbers) that have been omitted. 

    Omit the words “or not” in the phrase “whether or not” when they are superfluous. Example: Whether a person favors gun control can often be predicted on the basis of other beliefs. 

    Instead of: “Whether or not you favor gun control ....”
    Write: “Regardless of whether you favor gun control ....” 

    Fewer is used to refer to something that has countable units, while less is used to refer to something that does not. For example: Tom drinks less alcohol than Ted but tonight Ted had fewer drinks than Tom. 

    Observe the traditional distinction between if (used to denote conditional) and whether (used to refer to some aspect of choice or selection). Example: I don’t know whether it would be advisable for me to do that. If I did that, the consequences could be regrettable. 

    Likewise, maintain the distinction between which (non-restrictive, in grammatical terms) and that (restrictive). For clarity, it is best to place non-restrictive clauses using which between commas. Example: The guidelines that were provided by ACI were crystal clear. (Here the modifying element, “provided by ACI,” is an integral part of the meaning of the sentence.) The writing guidelines, which I read before I went to bed last night, were crystal clear. (The modifying element, “which I read before I went to bed last night,” is not an integral part of the meaning of the sentence.) Why maintain such distinctions? Because a language is impoverished when it loses precision, embodied in such distinctions. Language not only articulates thought — it reflects thought. By impoverishing our language (or allowing it to become impoverished), we impoverish and cheapen our thoughts and ideas. 

    More than refers to relative quantity, while over is locational (after she had more than five drinks, the cow jumped over the moon). The same is true of less than and under. 

    Since refers to time frame: Since their return, everything has been just fine.

    Cause-and-effect calls for because or as: Because they are here to keep an eye on things, there are few problems. 

    Finally, for the time being anyway, please do not ever let me hear you say “nucular” (for nuclear) or “ekcetera” (for etcetera).