Grammar! Punctuation! Syntax! Vocabulary! The English language, especially American English, is so so fickle, so changing, and yet! Yet! There are rules, people. Rules that aren’t being followed. By people who don’t know about the rules, who assume that how their friends and parents speak and the messed-up, colloquialism-heavy, punctuation-abusing language of the internet is correct. Rules that are broken by me, even! Let’s talk more about them and then you can all see just how much of a nerd I am. Because I think this is fun!
Back in college, I was introduced to a book that has remained on my shelf all these years. I didn’t pay much for it, and it is tiny, but it was required by at least one of my classes, maybe Core or some history class, I don’t know. I do know that I love this book. And do you know what? It has been internet-ized!!! Allow me to introduce (some of) you to The Elements of Style, known affectionately in my college days as, “Strunk and White” (though I see that it is on the internet as only Strunk. Where have you gone, White?).
Do you keep a dictionary in your house? A thesaurus? Grey’s Anatomy (the book, not the show)? We do, and I use them all. the. time. Strunk & White has also settled some arguments for me, and it has an entry on possession in the case of proper names ending with ‘s’. In fact, it’s the very first entry of Elementary Rules of Usage:
So you see, Charles’s is correct.
What I really love, though, is the section on “Words and Expressions Commonly Misused.” “Literally” is there, along with “whom.” Strunk does not address “lay vs. lie,” but you can find the information all over the place – my favorite is Grammar Girl. Why do people misuse “lay” so frequently? It drives me up the wall, and you can’t correct your friends, especially not in front of others. I have friends who are teaching their children to say “lay” in place of “lie,” always (I don’t think they’re deliberately teaching them the wrong way, just that they don’t know). It’s as if the word “lie” only means “untruth” and not also “setting or reclining.” Get with the program! And the program is the correct use of English! “To lay” requires a direct object. When none are present, use “to lie.”
Being the terrible bosses that we are, Leland and I insist on proper grammar in the office. We correct each other and our employees, we hold extensive discussions on the proper usage of language and the meaning of words, and whether or not popular (ill) usage validates incorrect grammar or meaning (it doesn’t). For instance, do you know what “nonplussed” means? I bet you think it means “not angry” or “not reactive” or “not ruffled” because you took your cue from the root “plussed” and assumed that to mean “agitated” or something similar. But it doesn’t mean any of those things! “Nonplussed” means speechless due to confusion. Our employees put up with this because, well, we hired awesome people who appreciate intellectual discussion. And we pay them.
So here’s a good one: on Saturday, my cousins and my brother and I got into a lively discussion about the use of “this” and “next” in reference to days of the week. I think it all has to do with proximity and verb usage. For example, today is Monday, so if I asked you, “what did you do this weekend?” you would answer thinking that by “this weekend” I meant the weekend that just happened. Mostly because I also used the word “did,” which is, of course, the past-tense of “to do.” If I had said, “what are you going to do this weekend?” you would assume I was talking about the upcoming weekend in five days. But if I said, “what are you going to do next weekend?” what would you think? Would you think I was referring to the weekend coming up in five days or the weekend after that, coming up in twelve days? I think “next” should always refer to the very next one coming up, and that if one means the weekend twelve days hence, then one should either say, “the weekend after next” or “the weekend of the 21st.” But Leland disagrees. He thinks that “next weekend” always means the one after the nearest coming weekend, or, the weekend that will occur in twelve days. Who is correct?
I am, of course. Though the argument has continued long enough that Leland obviously thinks he is.