The Miami Herald

Give 'em 'ell

(This classic Dave Barry column was originally published Sunday, April 27, 1997)

It is time once again for "Ask Mister Language Person, " the only grammar column to have won both the Nobel Prize for Literature and the Indianapolis 500.

We shall begin today by reviewing the correct use of the apostrophe, which is defined grammatically as "the little thing that is hard to find when you put it inside quotation marks, " as is shown in this example: ""'.

Even top professional writers have trouble with apostrophes, as we see in this quotation from William Shakespeare:

"O Romeo, Romeo
"Your lookin' fine in them tight's."

This is incorrect, of course: Shakespeare has used the word "your" as a participial infraction, which requires an apostrophe, as we see in this corrected version:

"O Romeo, Romeo
"You're buttock's are highly visible in them tight's."

A lot of people have this problem, which is why it is important to remember the Three Rules For When To Use Apostrophe's:

1. TO INDICATE CONTRACTIONS.

Example: "This childbirth really hurt's!"

2. IN HERPETOLOGICAL PHRASES.

Example: "There's snake's in the Nut 'n' Honey!"

3. IN LETTERS TO CUSTOMER SERVICE.

Example: "Dear Moron's:"

Please have these rules tattooed on your biceps, because Mister Language Person is getting tired of correcting people and may soon turn the whole matter over to the police.

Now let's take a look at some other grammar questions that have poured in to the Institute of Grammar Institute from readers all over the world:

Q. Has anybody ever used the word "penultimate" correctly?
A. Not since 1949.

Q. Recently, did your research assistant Judi Smith make a grammatically interesting statement regarding where her friend, Vickie, parks at The Miami Herald?
A. Yes. She said, quote: "She comes and parks in whoever's not here's space that day."

Q. Can that sentence be diagramed?
A. Not without powerful pharmaceuticals.

Q. Can you please quote the caption to a newspaper photograph from the Associated Press, sent in by Patricia Lees, showing a man throwing some kind of whitish substance?
A. Yes. It said: "A protester hurls yogurt in a demonstration in Belgrade Wednesday against the government's decision to nullify municipal elections."

Q. Private citizens in Belgrade are allowed to possess yogurt?
A. Yes. No wonder there's trouble over there.

Q. On Nov. 23, 1996, The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel ran a story, sent to you by Amy Mason, concerning six teenagers who were charged with illegally shooting 30 deer. Please print the reaction, as printed in the story, of state Department of Natural Resources official Dave Zeug.
A. He said: "It's sad, especially this close to the deer gun season; there's at least 30 or more deer that are not available for someone's son or daughter."

Q. Those poor kids!
A. I'm sure the deer were also very upset about missing deer gun season.

Q. Please quote from a 1996 Associated Press story, sent in by Richard Carvonius, concerning a Federal Aviation Administration decision to ground a charter airline for not meeting federal standards.
A. The story states that "planes in the air were allowed to land."

Q. No wonder we have problems, what with the FAA being so soft on these airlines.
A. If the Internal Revenue Service were in charge, this type of situation would be dealt with via missile.

Q. How many letters will you get from people who are upset because you used apostrophes incorrectly in this column?
A. Hundreds.

Q. Really? Even though it's clear to anybody with an IQ above crustacean level that it's a joke?
A. Yes. We will also receive angry mail from people on all sides of the hunting issue.

Q. What about Barry Manilow fans?
A. Yes, now that you've brought his name up. Thanks a lot.

TODAY'S LANGUAGE TIP: To add impact to dry business reports, try to personalize your message for your specific reader:

WRONG: "Market stabilization should ameliorate short-term growth."
RIGHT: "Market stabilization should ameliorate short-term growth, you zit-brain."

GOT A QUESTION FOR MISTER LANGUAGE PERSON?

He does not care.

© 2010, Dave Barry
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