As my wife, Bonnie, and I read Sunday’s Optic, she said, “Did you notice the grammatical error in one of the articles?” As a comma chaser for much of my life, I became curious.

She said that some people misuse words because they sound much like other words. She said she notices when people use “aggravated” when they mean “irritated.”

We noted how people often use “infer” when they mean “imply.” And my favorite is reading about people who say their car collided with a parking meter. That must have been a fast-moving meter.

We perhaps don’t read enough to recognize the errors in expressions like “Don’t end a sentence with a proposition.” Aside from the implicit humor in that command, we need to spell preposition correctly.

In academe we’re constantly exposed to grammatical errors. Even language professors use them. A writer for the Newark Advocate points out that “The word grammatical means . . . “according to rule or to the laws of grammar.” He adds that the term “grammatical error” is a contradiction in itself. How can it be grammatical and still contain an error?

I’m convinced that many expressions we hear, especially around election time, are those parroted by people who hear expressions, including ungrammatical ones, and like the sound of them, whether they’re grammatical or un. For years as a news reporter, I heard people say things like, “Las Vegas is comprised of three higher education institutions.”

Wrrrronnngg. Comprise should never be confused with composed or consist. To say something is comprised of . . . just can’t be. It’s . . . well, ungrammatical. It’s correct to say, for example, “The U.S. comprises 50 states,” but not, “The U.S. is comprised of . . . ” At a meeting I once covered, a speaker used “comprised of,” only to be corrected by another speaker, who tried to provide the right word.

After that, the first speaker changed “comprised of” to “compromised of,” and that confused the audience even more.

• • •

For years, language purists have had fits over the use of “hopefully” to mean “I hope.” It’s difficult to have an extended conversation without that hopeful word emerging. It’s common to hear, in everyday parlance, “Hopefully I’ll get a promotion this year.” My teacher at Immaculate Conception School, Sister Pecata Mundi, would have pounced on any pupil committing such a verbal atrocity. She would have insisted that the “hopefully” refers to the promotion and not what the aspirant hopes for.

It would be preferable to say, “I hope I’ll get a promotion.” However, my teacher back in the 50s would insist that hopefully refers to the raise, not the wish.

I’ve felt comfortable, picking on some of the quiddities of the English language — until I began to do more research. Fred R. Shapiro, a librarian at Yale Law School, reports that through something called JSTOR, a device that permits detailed searches of grammar issues, located a use of hopefully in a document dated in 1851. Even though grammar experts today would call the use of “hopefully” in that context incorrect, who’s to argue with someone who made that assertion in 1851?

Such a find by Mr. Shapiro is bound to make me less dogmatic when it comes to grammar matters.

• • •

We’re already into Daylight Saving Time and we got there with just a small amount if uproar. I’ve been a proponent of DST for years. At my church Sunday morning, there were roughly the same number of church attendees, so apparently not too many slept through that hour that was copped from us.

I hope we can continue to gain that extra hour of daylight in the evening — and renew it the next year. A man who’s running for state office in New Mexico recently stated that going back to standard time would be his campaign pledge. That seems like a shallow promise, as legislators usually take on a host of bills.

Essentially, DST, an effort to provide more daylight to farmers and ranchers, has been around for many years. Our next-door neighbor, Arizona, does not push its clocks forward or back, regardless of the season.

As for me, I love the ability to ride bikes around my home in Camp Luna, or laze around a campsite in Gallinas Canyon. DST makes it easy to enjoy sunlight until around 8 p.m. Standard time, however, keeps the time constant. People who grow weary of resetting their clocks twice a year remind me of the fellow who complained that his feet stuck out from his blanket as he slept. His “solution” was to trim off a foot of the blanket from the top and sew it to the bottom.

• • •

Every March 14, people celebrate Pi Day. Some pizza places run specials, like an entire pizza for $3.14, which comes from the third month (March) and the 14th day.

For this mathematically challenged writer, pi remains largely a mystery, but I know enough to know that with a round object, such as a coin, the circumference (the distance around the coin), is 3.14 times greater than the diameter (the distance from one edge to another).

It matters not the size of the round object. So if you’re planning on erecting a round skating rink, all you need to do is multiply the diameter by the circumference, and you’ll know how much material to buy.

My friend Bruce Wertz never fails to remind me of the relationship between the circumference and the diameter. So every time there’s a 3 and a 14, he phones to remind me of the event, Pi Day. I appreciate his information.

But as for me, I’d rather have the other kind of pie. But please make it pecan or lemon.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *