Dave Barry

Tips for writers

This Dave Barry column was originally published Sunday, October 27, 1985

Dear Mister Language Person: When is it correct to say: "between you and I"?

A. It is correct in the following instance: "Well, just between you and I, the cosmetic surgeon took enough cellulite out of her upper arms to raft down the Colorado River on."

Dear Mister Language Person: What is the purpose of the apostrophe?

A. The apostrophe is used mainly in hand-lettered small- business signs to alert the reader that an "S" is coming up at the end of a word, as in: WE DO NOT EXCEPT PERSONAL CHECK'S, or: NOT RESPONSIBLE FOR ANY ITEM'S. Another important grammar concept to bear in mind when creating hand-lettered small- business signs is that you should put quotation marks around random words for decoration, as in "TRY" OUR HOT DOG'S, or even TRY "OUR" HOT DOG'S.

Dear Mister Language Person: When do you say "who, " and when do you say "whom"?

A. You say "who" when you want to find out something, like for example if a friend of yours comes up and says, "You will never guess which of your immediate family members just lost a key limb in a freak Skee-Ball accident, " you would reply: "Who?" You say "whom" when you are in Great Britain or you are angry (as in: "And just WHOM do you think is going to clean up after these otters?").

Dear Mister Language Person: Like many writers, I often get confused about when to use the word "affect, " and when to use "infect." Can you help me out?

A. Here is a simple pneumatic device for telling these two similar-sounding words (or "gramophones") apart: Just remember that "infect" begins with "in, " which is also how "insect" begins, while "affect" begins with "af, " which is an abbreviation for "Air Force."

Dear Mister Language Person: I have a question concerning the expression: "As far as Fred." I would like to know whether it is preferable to say: "As far as Fred, he always gets the hives from that spicy food, " or: "As far as Fred, that spicy food always gives him the hives."

A. Mister Language Person does not see any major difference.

Dear Mister Language Person: I am curious about the expression, "Part of this complete breakfast." The way it comes up is, my 5-year-old will be watching TV cartoon shows in the morning, and they'll show a commercial for a children's compressed breakfast compound such as "Froot Loops" or "Lucky Charms, " and they always show it sitting on a table next to a some actual food such as eggs, and the announcer always says: "Part of this complete breakfast." Don't they really mean, "Adjacent to this complete breakfast, " or "On the same table as this complete breakfast"? And couldn't they make essentially the same claim if, instead of Froot Loops, they put a can of shaving cream there, or a dead bat?

A. Yes.

Dear Mister Language Person: What do they mean on the TV weather forecast when they say we are going to have "thundershower activity"?

A. They mean we are not going to have an actual thundershower, per se, but we are going to have thundershower activity, which looks very similar to the untrained eye.

Dear Mister Language Person: I think my wife is having an affair.

A. Mister Language Person wouldn't doubt it for a minute.

Dear Mister Language Person: Some business associates and I are trying to compose a very important business letter, and we disagree about the wording of a key sentence. My associates argue that it should be: "Youse better be there alone with the ransom money, on account of we don't want to have to whack nobody's limbs off." I say this is incorrect.

Can you settle this argument?

A. Tell your associates they'd better bone up on their grammar! The sentence they're suggesting ends with the preposition "off, " and should be corrected as follows: " . . . don't want to have to whack nobody's limbs off with a big knife."

TODAY'S SPECIAL LANGUAGE TIP: Everybody should try to use the word "transpire" more often in conversational speech.

GOT A QUESTION FOR MISTER LANGUAGE PERSON? Send it to Mister Language Person, c/o Tropic Magazine, The Miami Herald, 3511 NW 91st Ave, Miami, FL 33172.

© 2010, Dave Barry

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