[Repost] A Word, Please: Superstitions of the grammatical kind (by June Casagrande)

A Word, Please: Superstitions of the grammatical kind

By June CasagrandeMarch 4, 2014 | 10:55 a.m.

How time flies.

It seems like just yesterday I was writing a column debunking the myth that it’s wrong to start a sentence with a conjunction.

And it seems like just the day before yesterday that I wrote the same thing. And the day before that, the same thing, going back about 12 years to when I started writing this column, bright-eyed and hopeful that I could make a difference by debunking grammar myths.

Foolish child. Grammar superstitions are a heck of a lot more powerful than I’ll ever be, as evidenced by an email I got recently from a reader named Paul in Venice, Calif. After some introductory matter of an ad hominem nature (“You’re an embarrassment” and the like), Paul proceeded to outline a number of grammar atrocities I committed in a recent column.

I do make mistakes in this column. When I get an e-mail with a subject line like “You’re very disappointing,” I cringe in anticipation of learning that I made an actual, you know, error. Happily, this was not such an instance.

All the mistakes Paul found in my column were his, rooted in a slew of common grammar superstitions. Paul’s biggest beef, judging by the amount of time he dedicated to it, was that I started four sentences with conjunctions.

A conjunction is a joining word that comes in several varieties. The best known are the coordinating conjunctions, the most common of which are “and,” “but,” “or” and “so.” These words coordinate — join — words, phrases or even whole clauses.

A much larger group, subordinating conjunctions, introduce clauses that are subordinate to some other clause in the sentence. For example, “if” is a subordinating conjunction in “If you want me, I’ll be in my room.” The word “if” renders the first clause subordinate, meaning it can’t stand on its own as a complete sentence.

There are other types of conjunctions too. But coordinators are the ones to note because, not only are they the most common, they’re also the subject of a widespread grammar superstition.

Some folks are taught that it’s wrong to start a sentence with one. So the sentence before last, which started with “but,” would be considered an error. So would this one. And this one would too.

Unfortunately for would-be critics too eager to play the “gotcha” game, that’s superstition. But you don’t have to take my word for it.

“There is a widespread belief — one with no historical or grammatical foundation — that it is an error to begin a sentence with a conjunction such as ‘and,’ ‘but’ or ‘so,'” writes the Chicago Manual of Style.

“‘and,’ A. Beginning sentences with. It is a rank superstition that this coordinating conjunction cannot properly begin a sentence,” notes Garner’s Modern American Usage.

“‘but.’ A. Beginning sentences with. It is a gross canard that beginning a sentence with ‘but’ is stylistically slipshod. In fact, doing so is highly desirable in any number of contexts, as many stylebooks have said,” Garner’s adds.

“There is a persistent belief that it is improper to begin a sentence with ‘and,’ but this prohibition has been cheerfully ignored by standard authors from Anglo-Saxon times onwards. An initial ‘and’ is a useful aid to writers as the narrative continues,” notes Fowler’s Modern English Usage.

I wrote Paul back to thank him, explaining that it’s a treat to open an email about mistakes I made and learn that I made none. I even threw in a little free advice for Paul — advice of the “Maybe do your homework before you fire off emails of the ‘You are an embarrassment’ variety.”

But Paul didn’t write back. And I don’t expect him to anytime soon.

JUNE CASAGRANDE is the author of “It Was the Best of Sentences, It Was the Worst of Sentences.” She can be reached at JuneTCN@aol.com.

[Reposted from Veronica] Cf. original piece: “http://bit.ly/1hLEZlf

Repost (Part Two): Ten film quotes we all get wrong (The Telegraph online)

Ten film quotes we all get wrong

(Cf. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/men/the-filter/10553934/Ten-film-quotes-we-all-get-wrong.html)
You might already know that Casablanca’s Sam was never asked to play it again. But what are the other most common mistakes when quoting from classic films?

Famous film misquotes

Luke, Clarice, Mrs Robinson, and a punk

By 

8:36AM GMT 14 Jan 2014

Correcting someone on a misremembered line from a film is the behaviour of a true pub bore. As they didn’t say in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance: when the misquote becomes the line, use the misquote.

Still, in a bid to protect you from the pedants, Telegraph Men selects the top film phrases we all get wrong…

1. Casablanca

The misquote: Play it again, Sam

The quote: Play it, Sam. Play ‘As Time Goes By’

Fact: more people have now said “Did you know they never actually say ‘Play it again, Sam?’” than have said “Play it again, Sam”. This is the misquoter’s misquote, its place in cinema history cemented when compulsive reference dropper Woody Allen used it as the title of his 1972 film.

2. Dirty Harry

The misquote: Do you feel lucky, punk?

The quote: Being as this is a .44 Magnum, the most powerful handgun in the world, and would blow your head clean off, you’ve got to ask yourself one question: ‘Do I feel lucky?’ Well, do ya punk?

It’s easy to see how this one became truncated – the misquote gets across Clint Eastwood’s sentiment perfectly while taking a fifth of the time of the original.

3. The Silence of the Lambs

The misquote: Hello, Clarice…

The quote: Good evening, Clarice…

Unfortunately nobody seems to be called Clarice nowadays so this one is hard to roll out in a social setting. The important thing is that you say it while wearing a muzzle.

4. The Empire Strikes Back

The misquote: Luke, I am your father

The quote: No, I am your father

Out by a single word, this one topped LoveFilm’s list of memorable misquotes. Luke’s reaction to the revelation – an extended, screamed “No!” – is also eminently quotable and has provided the basis for many youtube re-edits.

5. Field of Dreams

The misquote: If you build it, they will come

The quote: If you build it, he will come

Kevin Costner’s character walks around in his crop field, repeatedly hearing the words “If you build it, he will come”. He is amazed that his wife, sitting on the porch, can’t hear them too – and it appears a generation of filmgoers wasn’t paying much attention either.

6. The Graduate

The misquote: Mrs Robinson, are you trying to seduce me?

The quote: Mrs Robinson, you’re trying to seduce me. Aren’t you?

This is one of the few misquotes that gets the tone of the original wrong as well as the words. With the misremembered line, Dustin Hoffman’s character appears much surer of himself, but in the original there’s a moment when he genuinely doesn’t know whether the older woman is trying to seduce him or not.

7. The Wizard of Oz

The misquote: I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore, Toto

The quote: Toto, I’ve got a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore

…we must be over the rainbow! And while we’re there, there are better lines from the 1939 film to quote. What about: “If I ever go looking for my heart’s desire again, I won’t look any further than my own backyard; because if it isn’t there, I never really lost it to begin with”? Or just “There’s no place like home”.

8. All About Eve

The misquote: Fasten your seatbelts, it’s going to be a bumpy ride

The quote: Fasten your seatbelts, it’s going to be a bumpy night

Unless you can match Bette Davis’s effortless disdain it’s best not to try this one in either version.

9. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs

The misquote: Mirror, mirror, on the wall, who is the fairest of them all?

The quote: Magic mirror on the wall, who is the fairest one of all?

The ‘mirror, mirror’ line is now so standard that it provided the title to the 2012 updating of the Snow White tale.

10. Wall Street

The misquote: Greed is good

The quote: The point is, ladies and gentleman, that greed, for lack of a better word, is good. Greed is right, greed works.

This misquote became a shorthand for the perceived attitude of City traders in the ’80s, and the sentiment was recently revived in a speech by Boris Johnson when he claimed that “greed [is] a valuable spur to economic activity”.

Forgetting the exact wording is going to be the least of your worries if you find yourself quoting it to the wrong crowd.