Monday, May 30, 2011

I Mean Every Word...

I should preface this column by assuring you that I am no expert when it comes to writing. Probably you know this but just wanted you to know that I know it too.

There are, however, a few things in our current-day writing of the English language that disturb me to no end. I am referring to some of the misuses of words and punctuation.

For example, take “it’s” and “its.” I have seen these words traded out and misused numerous times. “It’s” is the contraction for “it is” or “it has,” while “its” is the possessive form. If you wonder whether or not to use “it’s,” remember one point and you’ll never make this mistake again: “It’s” always means “it is or “it has” and nothing else. If neither of the two foregoing passes the test, then use “its.” Notice the following two sentences: “It’s time to go.” “Its time has come.”

Two other words often misused are “your” and you’re.” I received in the mail recently an invitation from a church that read, “Your Invited…” They should have printed, “You’re Invited,” because “you’re” is the contraction for “you are.” They could have said, “Your Invitation…” and have been correct. Remember that anytime you write “you are,” you can use “you’re.” “You’re certain to have your day in court” is a proper use of both “you’re” and “your.”

Sometimes, confusion emerges with the terms, “there,” “they’re,” and “their.” “There” can be used as in, “There they are” or “They are going there.” You could say, “They’re going there,” because “they’re” is the contraction for “they are.” “Their(s)” shows ownership. This is their car, meaning the car is theirs. This sentence uses all three: “They’re near to their car because it’s right there.”

Something that has changed with the advent of computers is this: It is no longer acceptable to use two spaces following a period. When I was in high school, we were taught to double-space between sentences. No longer is that the case. Use only one space. Computers have numerous fonts that can be utilized and with some, the spacing varies. Also, newspapers and magazines save a lot of space by not using the double-space. Much space on any document can be lost by using the double-space after each sentence. So if you were taught to double-space between sentences, throw that concept out with the bathwater. By the way, “bathwater” was two separate words in the days of yore.

The “comma” often is misused. When to use a comma and when not to use one is tough because it is still in “changing” mode. In the old days, we were taught to write, “red, white and blue.” Now “they” are telling us to write “red, white, and blue.” This is to distinguish more clearly the three separate colors. Since “red,” stands alone then “white and blue” might inadvertently be blended together. But by using “red, white, and blue,” each color is its on entity.

I am a homespun writer. This means I write the same way I talk. When I began writing guest columns for the Enterprise, I asked Opinions’ Page editor, Thomas Taschinger, if he thought I should go take a college writing course. He said, “Don’t do it. It might mess up your natural homespun writing style.” In other words, he was saying that should I figure out what I was doing and why, that I might end up getting all formal and technical and folks would not read my stuff.

At any rate, the English language is convoluted. It changes daily. I am just trying to hang on and that is why I commented on some of the common misuses of our language.

Now, the ball’s in your court. You’re on your own…

Winston Hamby


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