Dave's Writing Guide

Typos, style-o's, capitalization-o's, and everything-else-and-in-between-o's.

Category: Style

An-aphylactic Shock

Problem(s)

An euphoric end to a bittersweet Olympics (AP)

Solution(s)

A euphoric end to a bittersweet Olympics (AP)

Explanation

No, no, no, no, no, no, NO!

Ack! You have got to be kidding me! This is an actual headline (hence the lack of punctuation) from the Associated Press—and to prove it, here’s a screenshot:

An terribly horrible headline.

Ahem. So. Let us start by reviewing the appropriate way to use the English indefinite article—again.

In English, words that begin with a consonant sound are preceded by the “a” variant of the indefinite article. Words that begin with a vowel sound, on the other hand, are preceded by “an”. It’s that simple.

Turning our attention to this problem sentence, the word “euphoric” begins with a vowel letter, but does not begin with a vowel sound. The distinction is crucial. As such, it should be “a euphoric”, just as one would say “a yellow banana” and not “an yellow banana”.

But this is no simple typo. No indeed: I know the secret behind this error.

Returning to a previous error, stuffshirts and blowhards think it sounds hoity-toity to say “an historic” instead of “a historic”. It’s wrong, of course (just as wrong as it would be to say “an hoity-toity idiot”), but they think it’s “proper”, and so they go about making asses of themselves by saying “an historic event”.

Now let’s look at our problem sentence. The context is the conclusion of the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver. In summing it up, one simply had to pay tribute to the memory of Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvili who died tragically in a freak accident during a training run literally hours before the opening ceremonies. As such, the article needed a bit of solemnity, even in discussing the national high experienced by Canada after the Canadians’ victory over Team USA for the gold medal in hockey.

When dealing with solemn or serious matters, all writers have a tendency to “write up”—that is, to try to use more formal language than they would ordinarily. Knowing that writing something like “an historic” has a kind of solemn and prestigious air, this writer (David Crary, in case you’re curious), no doubt, looked at the similarity between the words “historic” and “euphoric” (both trisyllabic, both end in “-oric”…) and thought, “Gee, you know what? If it’s formal to say ‘an historic’, I’ll bet it’s formal to say ‘an euphoric’, too!”

And that’s how we got the headline quoted above.

If David Crary ever happens to read this, I offer this advice: Trust your gut. Your first reaction (hopefully to write “a euphoric”) is often the correct reaction when it comes to usage. Don’t let that internal editor confuse and bamboozle you. Chances are he’s had one too many and is up to no good.

(And no, in case you were wondering, I will not consider seriously the possibility that we’re intended to pronounce “euphoric” as the Greeks do. “Euphoric” is now an English word, and we’re not giving it back!)

They Have the Internet on Computers Now…?

Problem(s)

I just found out how to make ice cream on the Internet!

Solution(s)

I just found out how to make ice cream on the internet!

Explanation

Ignoring the ambiguity of that problem sentence, most dictionaries and style guides will tell you to capitalize the word “internet”. Always.

And they’re serious!

I don’t know when the stylistas went insane, but it was some time before they decided that the word “internet” was as important as our first person singular pronoun.

For their sake, let us review the case for the capitalization of “internet”.

One ought always to capitalize a proper noun. Is “internet” a proper noun? Let’s give it a shot. “Hey, I saw that article on Internet the other day!” Uhh…no.

Every so often, place names that are not proper nouns are capitalized as if they were. The word “Capitol” comes to mind. But before we get into a discussion about whether the internet is important enough of a place to be capitalized, is the internet a place? No.

We’re rapidly running out of possibilities… Uhh, let’s see… Single-letter abbreviations are capitalized (so M.D. is capitalized, but the “grad.” in “grad. student” isn’t). Is “internet” a single-letter abbreviation? No.

Hmm… Acronyms are generally capitalized. Is “internet” an acronym? Hmm… “Information Network to Expedite Really Neat Electronic…Treatises”? No.

Is “internet” the name of a country, like the Netherlands? Nope.

Okay. So what’s the deal? Why is this word capitalized? Frankly, I find it disturbing. Capitalizing the word “internet” is precisely the type of thing that George Orwell would want to warn us against. The internet is not a person! It’s not even a place! As I understand it, it’s a series of tubes that…can get clogged, and make it so your e-mails don’t arrive when you think they ought…

Seriously, the “internet” is nothing more than a series of servers around the world connected by wires (or now wirelessly, making the connection even more tenuous). If the internet is a place, then so is the telephone grid, or the mail system. We don’t capitalize those, though.

So, if you’re capitalizing the word internet, I ask you—I beg you, from the bottom of my heart: Stop it! Just stop it! There’s no point to it! It’s nonsense! Whenever I see the word “internet” capitalized, I feel like strangling myself with a live cobra. (That’s one of the many reasons why I don’t read The New Yorker anymore.)

I’m not too worried, though. Capitalizing “internet” takes a lot more effort than not capitalizing it. Seeing as it’s also unnecessary, I bet the practice will have disappeared in about fifty years. In the meantime, I’ll be waiting. And watching. On the internet!

Hopefully

Problem(s)

Hopefully I’ll be able to eat some ice cream tomorrow.

Solution(s)

I hope that I’ll be able to eat some ice cream tomorrow.

It is my hope that I’ll be able to eat some ice cream tomorrow.

I live hopefully knowing that it may come to pass that I’ll be able to eat some ice cream tomorrow.

Explanation

What’s wrong with the problem sentence above? Let’s see what the internet has to say:

Everyone uses “hopefully” as a shortcut for “I hope.” It is not. Yes, the dictionary allows it, but that’s just bending to popular usage. In my book, there is only one correct use for “hopefully.” It’s a synonym for “prayerfully”—as in, “She looked up hopefully and said, ‘Dear Lord, please make it rain soon, or we’ll have no harvest.'” Do you want to say “I hope”? Then say “I hope.”

This quote comes from an essay by Jesse Kornbluth, founder of HeadButler.com. Jesse is a journalist, a writer, a contributor to several magazines (their titles don’t matter—they’re magazines), and the holder of a BA in English from Harvard. He is not, however, a linguist.

The funny thing about non-linguists is that they fall into two categories: regular folk, and grammarians. Both camps know next to nothing about language that instinct hasn’t taught them, but what distinguishes grammarians is that they insist (stridently? Sure, why not: stridently) that they know more about language than both regular folk and linguists.

The case of “hopefully” is a fine example. If you break it down (ooh, morphemically! Ha. Take that, Marantz!), what you get is “hope”, a verb, which means what it means (to believe, falsely, that one’s thoughts and silent protestations are able to effect some sort of change in the world [note that it need not be in the future, e.g. “I hope he got home okay.” That subtle distinction—in this case, the difference between the deontic and epistemic use of “hope”—is something the grammarian usually fails to pick up on (or have a name for, for that matter)]), followed by the suffix “-ful” (no longer spelled “-full”, even though its etymology is rather transparent), which indicates (metaphorically, mind you) that the modified noun is “full of” whatever is specified, the combination of which gives us the adjective “hopeful”: roughly, “to be full of hope”. To this is then added the handy “-ly” suffix (cognate to German “-lich”, which is cognate to English “like”, etc.) which makes an adverb out of the whole monstrosity, leaving us with a meaning something like “to act/behave in a manner that is characterized by being full of hope”, or perhaps something even more prolix that need not be written down.

The problem, then, is that as it is written in the problem sentence above, the word “hopefully” is devoid of content. Who’s doing what hopefully? Is it “I”, the subject? If it were, the literal meaning would be “Tomorrow, I will be able to eat ice cream, and I will be able to do so in a hopeful manner.” Given that meaning, it’s a bit odd that the adverb is preposed, but stranger things exist in print.

Unfortunately, there’s one little problem: That’s not what the sentence means. Instead, “hopefully” functions as an optative marker. In plain English (man, there’s an expression, if I’ve ever heard one!), what this means is that the word “hopefully” is there solely to indicate to the reader or listener that the content of the sentence is something that has not happened yet, but which the speaker wishes to happen. Some languages (Ancient Greek among them) encode this grammatically. English, though, at some point in time decided to borrow the word “hopefully” to fulfill the purpose, and it’s done a fine job ever since.

“N-now, just wait a minute, there!” cries Jesse K. Prescriptivist. “That’s not what the word means! You can’t do that!”

Jesse K., I gots two words for you: BOOOO HOOOO! Or, to put that in 1337: qq moar n00b.

Let’s examine the “logic” of the prescriptivist’s argument. “Everyone says x to mean y, but they ought not, because it means x.” Everyone, you say—even you? (I bet you do.) If that’s the case, by what authority can you claim that x means x and not y? The response is simple enough: “It used to mean x, and we have documented proof that it did.”

Okie doke. Let’s go with that. For fun, let’s take a look at another function adverb: “already.” Its etymology is pretty darn clear: it’s a combination of the words “all” and “ready”. In fact, you can see it acting as it ought in a sentence like, “Are you all ready?” (In this sentence, the subject is addressing multiple people.) Somehow or other, though, the two words got jammed together—respelled, too (they complain about “alright”, but not about “already”. Why, I wonder…?)—and the meaning was “corrupted”, so that now it’s used as a kind of emphatic completive marker (if you say “I ate”, surely it means that the action was completed some time in the past, but it simply doesn’t carry the force of “I ate already”).

I don’t see any grammarians claiming that “already” is an abomination any longer. Why? Presumably because its innovation predated their existence. Is that, then, the prerequisite for acceptance? Clearly the history of “they” being used as a singular third person pronoun contradicts this, but we’ll stick with it for now.

Logically, then, there’s but one thing to do: Wait for everyone who’s bothered by the optative usage of “hopefully” to die, and then we’ll have no more bother. If you’re a student, use “hopefully” to your heart’s content. If your teacher gives you trouble, send them here. If they still give you trouble, find a new class. Certain things you simply do not need.

But let’s back up a moment. Just how on Earth did “hopefully” come to be used as an optative marker, anyway?

What the grammarian probably did not notice in reading this write-up is that I’ve committed the exact same “error” with words other than “hopefully” several times already. Do a search for the word “unfortunately”, for example. Just what’s up with that? “Fortune” is chance; “fortunate” is an adjective used with a noun that has benefited by chance; “unfortunate” is the opposite (someone who’s been afflicted by bad luck, let’s say); “unfortunately”, then, is someone who has acted in a manner that can be characterized as unfortunate. If you take a look at that sentence, whose action is being characterized as unfortunate? No one’s? Then why is that sentence fine and a sentence beginning with “hopefully” wrong?

And it doesn’t end there. Consider: “Sadly, there is no more ice cream to be had.”

Or, “Happily, there’s an ice cream parlor just around the corner.”

Or, “Malheureusement, je ne sais pas le mot française pour ‘ice cream’.”

What’s going on here? Even the French betray “common sense”?!

Of course, that’s not what’s happening. What is happening is a process common to human languages everywhere. Specifically, an adverb’s meaning is being extended metaphorically to convey the attitude of the speaker. You might think of each adverb as modifying the phrase “I say”, in which case “hopefully” fits right in (think about it: “I say hopefully that I’ll be able to eat ice cream tomorrow”). Rarely does a speaker explicitly inform the hearer that they are in the process of speaking, though, so what the adverb modifies is an idea.

To put it bluntly, not only does complaining about the “misuse” of “hopefully” betray a general lack of understanding as to the nature of language, it is, to use the most insulting term available to an academic, misguided. Hopefully the grammarians of the world will come to understand this, but I’m not holding my breath.

If the use of “hopefully” as an optative marker saddens you, though, I sympathize. After all, there are tons of English speakers running around right now pronouncing “important” as if it were spelled “impordant” (it’s like nails on a chalkboard to me). But what is one to do? Innovations occur everyday in every language. Some innovations are quashed early on; some are picked up and become features of the language. One can try to predict what will catch on, or even serve as a guide, but ultimately, it’s out of our hands. If you’re feeling down, though, I recommend Ambrose Bierce’s Write It Right. In Bierce, not only will you find a true prescriptivist (and a brilliant writer), but you’ll find someone who will criticize your own English (yes, even modern day “grammarians’”)! Did you know that “obnoxious” doesn’t mean “annoying”? Or that one ought not say “as for me” but “as to me”? No? Then go read Write It Right right away! You’ll either be horrified at how your own English has been corrupted, or you’ll come away with a better sense of just how language evolution works.

P.S.: Speaking of errors, Kornbluth, I was reading your article here, and was shocked to learn that J. D. Salinger had apparently written a short story I’d never read which shared a title with his 1961 novel Franny and Zooey! I was about to turn to Google to find out more, when I read on and saw that I was mistaken, and that, instead, you simply failed to correctly punctuate the title. Imagine my dismay! In case you hadn’t learned this one yet, the titles of shorter works (like short stories) are enclosed in quotation marks; the titles of longer works (like Salinger’s novel) are underlined (though thanks to the lazy newspaper industry, italics are also acceptable). Whoa, hey, did you hear that? That was the sound of you getting OWNED. That one was free. The rest will cost you.

Headlining

Problem(s)

Our fathers commemorated the Massacre of the fifth of March, 1770, till that dark hour was lost in the blaze of the fourth day of July, 1776, and the events which followed it.

Solution(s)

Our fathers commemorated the massacre of the fifth of March, 1770, till that dark hour was lost in the blaze of the fourth day of July, 1776, and the events which followed it.

Explanation

You might recognize this problem sentence from the last “error” I posted. Indeed, it is the very same sentence, but the error is different. You might notice that one too many words is capitalized in the problem sentence—namely, the word “massacre”. It’s not at the beginning of the sentence, it’s not a name, it’s not a month or day of the week, it’s not the pronoun “I”—it’s not anything: it’s just a noun. Therefore, when it comes to hitting the shift key or not, you should not.

But here’s a question. This sentence was printed in an actual newspaper in 1852, and it was accepted at the time. Why would it be? What’s the deal with capitalizing some random word?

Here’s where it all comes from. In the German language, all nouns (though not all pronouns, oddly enough) are capitalized. So, if you’re speaking German, you have to capitalize every Noun you write, whether it be an unimportant Noun like Book, an important one like Ice Cream, or one related to Architecture like Buttress. The result is that German looks like the previous sentence in print.

English is not like this, but if you’ll recall, there were a lot of German speakers in America shortly after its founding. Somehow, their spelling habits worked their way into the public consciousness (look at the Declaration of Independence, for example). As with many customs that are assumed and not taught, though, the practice was borrowed imperfectly. Basically, people just capitalized any old word they wanted to look important—even verbs! There was little systematicity (what rule, after all, would call for only the word “massacre” to be capitalized in the problem sentence above?), and each writer did things a little differently.

Fast forward to modern times, the practice of random capitalization has gone the way of the dodo. One simply can’t capitalize Whatever one feels to be Important anymore, I’m afraid. If you feel like emulating the old style, though, remember two things: First, there was no real systematicity to what they were doing; and second, you can’t capitalize everything, like the Germans do, otherwise the capitalized words won’t stand out—and that’s what people were going for back then.

Don’t Tread on Me

Problem(s)

Our fathers commemorated the Massacre of the fifth of March, 1770, till that dark hour was lost in the blaze of the fourth day of July, 1776, and the events which followed it.

Solution(s)

Our fathers commemorated the Massacre of the fifth of March, 1770, ’til that dark hour was lost in the blaze of the fourth day of July, 1776, and the events which followed it.

Our fathers commemorated the Massacre of the fifth of March, 1770, until that dark hour was lost in the blaze of the fourth day of July, 1776, and the events which followed it.

Our fathers commemorated the Massacre of the fifth of March, 1770, till that dark hour was lost in the blaze of the fourth day of July, 1776, and the events which followed it.

Explanation

Ordinarily, my problem sentences involve ice cream, but this one I took from an actual publication I saw in Boston. This came from a paper on display in the Boston Public Library devoted to the papers of early female abolitionists. This particular paper was published on April 9th, 1852 in Boston, and is in remarkably good condition.

Regarding the error, you may have seen the spelling “till” for the abbreviation of the word “until” marked wrong by teachers, mavens and gadabouts. I myself thought that I had been mistaken in my use of “till” for “until” when I realized that it wasn’t being marked as incorrect by the spellchecker because it’s spelled the same as the verb “till” (e.g. “to till soil”). It may indeed be the case that the only appropriate way to spell the abbreviation of “until” is “’til”, with one ell and an apostrophe.

That aside, though, I’ve put this sentence here as proof that not only does the variant “till” for abbreviated “until” exist in print, but it’s far from new. Indeed, if it was commonly accepted in 1852, that means it’s been around for well over a hundred years—and here’s the proof:

A bit of an old newspaper.

So, if we err, then we err in good company, so if you want my advice, feel free to “till” till the cows come home!

Update: Ooh, this just in! An alert reader has pointed out that “till” existed as an independent preposition before “until”, and that the latter was a derived form not unlike “unto”. I did some digging, and I guess the spellings “till” and “til” were both acceptable if you go way, way back. Now, it seems “til” is unacceptable, as is the odd “’till”, but everything else goes!

I Who Is…?

Problem(s)

But to me, who know what it really is, its transformation makes no matter, for I will have it repaired at the first village where I can find a smith in such a way that it will not be surpassed or even equaled by the one that the god of smiths himself made and forged for the god of battles.

Solution(s)

But to me, who knows what it really is, its transformation makes no matter, for I will have it repaired at the first village where I can find a smith in such a way that it will not be surpassed or even equaled by the one that the god of smiths himself made and forged for the god of battles.

Explanation

The astute reader of the above will note that the problem sentence comes from Don Quixote by Cervantes (Don Quixote here is talking about a brass barber’s basin he fancies to be a helmet). That sentence was written (i.e. translated) by Walter Starkie, the famed Irish scholar. Notice anything odd about it? If you do, you’re not alone; if you don’t, you’re not alone.

English, like any number of old, abandoned bicycles rusting on the side of the road, is broken, and the problem and solution sentences above are prime examples of its sorry state. (Don’t believe me? Here’s further evidence.) When we use “who”, generally there is no problem, because we’re usually talking about someone else, e.g., “The guy who’s on the phone dropped his hat in that volcano.” When the target of relativization (in this case, “the guy”) is a third party (pretty much any noun or a pronoun like “he”, “she”, “it”, or even “they”), the verb that follows “who” is conjugated in the third person, and we don’t give it another thought. When, for whatever odd reason, though, you want to relativize “I”, the mighty capitalized pronoun, you immediately run into a dilemma. Consider:

  • “I eat ice cream.” (Good!)
  • “I eats ice cream.” (Bad!)
  • “I who eat ice cream.” (Good?)
  • “I who eats ice cream.” (Probably bad?)
  • “Give the ice cream to me, who eat ice cream.” (Good?!)
  • “Give the ice cream to me, who eats ice cream.” (Suddenly not so bad anymore?!)
  • “Who eats ice cream?” “I do.” (Good!)
  • “Who eat ice cream?” “I do.” (Bad!)

It gets a bit confusing. Is “who” a third person pronoun? How could it possibly be a first person pronoun? Does “I” pass some of its first-person-ness onto the “who” by means of some nightmarish Chomskyan mechanism? The amusing thing is it doesn’t matter, because whatever explanation one comes up with, the data is bound to be refuted by the next passerby. And why? Because English is broken!

So, what to do? If you’re writing an essay for, I don’t know, school, I’d say just never, ever relativize “I” or “me”. I bet you can get through every essay you’ll ever write for school without having to do it. If you have to, try to do it in the past tense where English forgets that verbs can agree in person and/or number (the sole exception being that dirty verb “was”, which, truth be told, probably isn’t a true conjugation of the verb “to be” at all, if you go back far enough). If you absolutely have to, ask your professor and/or teacher: make them fix English.

Into the Valley of Death

Problem(s)

I’ve eaten thir-teen-thousand six-hundred, eighty nine ice cream cones since I turned twenty.

Solution(s)

I’ve eaten thirteen thousand, six hundred and eighty-nine ice cream cones since I turned twenty.

Explanation

It’s rare that one actually wants to spell out a long number like 13,689, but just in case, this is how you do it. To summarize:

  • Commas go where they would in the number (after “thirteen thousand”, and not elsewhere).
  • Two digit numbers greater than twenty that aren’t divisible by ten are written with a hyphen; other numbers (e.g. numbers in the hundreds, thousands and millions [save instances like “sixty-nine thousand”, which is a two digit number followed by a separate number word]) are not.
  • It is generally “proper” to include the word “and” to separate the hundreds number from the number that follows (e.g. “one hundred and one”, “six hundred and twenty-seven”, etc.).

Now, to address a common question: Can one just write 13,689? Sure, why not? If you do, though, the number one rule is: be consistent! Never write something like, “This past summer, I saw one horror movie, 3 comedies, 5 dramas, and eight sports movies”. It’s simply confusing to the eye. So when it comes to numbers, find a style you like, and stick with it (unless you have a persnickety professor who demands you do it in a particular way, in which case, do it like s/he says until the end of the class, and then go back to doing it how you like).

Lieutenant Commander Plural

Problem(s)

This data is hard to interpret, Captain.

Solution(s)

These data are hard to interpret, Captain.

This datum is hard to interpret, Captain.

Explanation

In Proper World, “data” is the plural of “datum”. If you live in Proper World, saying, “The data is…” is just as bad as saying, “The dogs is…” While not all of us live in Proper World, enough of us still live there that one can’t help but interact with a Proper Worldian every now and again. As such, it’s probably a good idea to be aware of this rule—especially when writing. If you want to be safe, always treat “data” as a plural noun. If you want to live recklessly, try to command both rules, and see if you can ferret out the Proper Worldians. I warn you, though: they’re hard to identify. They don’t wear badges anymore, or even speak with British accents. A Proper Worldian may pop up anywhere, and at any time—even in your own hometown!

Realistically, the word “data” is so often characterized and thought of as a mass noun, that sooner or later, the word “datum” is going to vanish, and the word will probably end up being treated like a singular mass noun (e.g. “grass”), and not a plural count noun (e.g. “dog”). Even Proper Worldians have to admit that referring to, say, an elicited sentence as a “datum” is awfully stilted and silly. And ask yourself this: Say you have two elicited sentences you wish to refer to. Would you say, “Look at these two data”? Would you?! “How many data do you have, Professor Jones?” “Three, Professor Bones.” Three indeed!

If you want my real prediction, I bet the word is going to split up. You’ll still have to (or at least be able to) say “these data are”, but “datum” may go the way of the dodo, and instead of saying something like “two data”, you’ll probably have to say, “two pieces of data”. It’ll happen, and no one will care that the word came from Latin. Then what? I suppose the world will spin off its axis, and we’ll all fly into the sun. Let the good times roll!

To the Fishes in the Deep Blue Sea

Problem(s)

How many fish eat ice cream?

Solution(s)

How many fishes eat ice cream?

Explanation

Many have asked the question: is it “fishes” or “fish”? Here’s the answer: there is no correct answer. Which is more likely? Google Fight can tell you that: “many fish.” Hands down, in fact. It kills “many fishes”. But does that make “many fishes” wrong? Not necessarily. After all, whatever machine spellchecks for me doesn’t have a problem with “fishes”, and generally spell-checking machines are conservative. Further, we’ve all heard “fishes”, and may have even used “fishes” at one time or another. So even though “fish” is (currently) the most popular plural, why is “fishes” still around? Here’s my guess.

The whole reason we have “fish” as a plural (same with “deer” and “buffalo”) is that we, traditionally, have seen fish as a kind of mass, rather than a collection of individual entities, like “rice” and “seaweed”, as opposed to “dogs”. (Can you imagine saying, “How many dog are there in North America?”) It harkens back to the days of treating fish like vegetation. Think about all the people that are so-called “fish vegetarians”: they won’t eat mammals or birds, because they have character. Fish, on the other hand… I’ve even heard people argue that cows and chickens have souls, but fish and shrimp don’t! The idea is still out there, whether we consciously acknowledge it or not, and so we have this mass plural for “fish”.

So why “fishes”? There are several factors to consider. First, it’s common. The easiest plural we have in English is the ol’ “add -(e)s” plural, so it shouldn’t surprise us to find a word that pluralizes that way. Second, we have, to an extent, domesticated fish. They’ll never be like dogs, since we can’t pet them, but there are people (myself included) who have, at one time or another, owned one or more fish. The more interaction we have with fish, the more likely it is that we’ll baulk at treating them as an undifferentiated mass. Finally, even for those that refuse the plural “fishes”, there is an instance where you would use it. Goldfish are a type of fish, as are tuna, albacore, mahimahi, trout, cod, etc. These are different types of fish (or fishes). If you want to refer to a type of fish, you can refer to it as “a fish” (e.g. “What is trout?”, “It is a fish.”). Now let’s say you’re talking about the Pacific Ocean. Using our new “fish” as “type of fish” word, the appropriate way to ask about fish in the Pacific Ocean is, “Which fishes are found in the Pacific Ocean?”, or even, “What types of fishes are found in the Pacific Ocean?”, just as one would ask, “Which grasses grow in Africa?”

Since I brought up “grasses”, there’s one more important fact that keeps “fishes” on the map: a singular fish is an individual entity. What is a grass? It’s made up of blades of grass. With “grass”, there’s further individuation to be done; with fish, this is not the case. As a result, the plural “fishes” will always be valid, and one will always be able to argue for it (provided, of course, that it doesn’t disappear completely), whereas “grass” will always be “grass”.

So, there you have it! If you’re typing up a document whose users are persnickety, your safest bet is “fish” (though it might not always be the one people prefer), but there will always be a place for “fishes”.

Don’t Quote Me, Bro!

Problem(s)

In his book, “A Guide to California’s Best Ice Cream Parlors”, David Peterson heaps praise upon Shubert’s, Chico’s oldest—and best—ice cream and candy store.

Solution(s)

In his book, A Guide to California’s Best Ice Cream Parlors, David Peterson heaps praise upon Shubert’s, Chico’s oldest—and best—ice cream and candy store.

In his book, A Guide to California’s Best Ice Cream Parlors, David Peterson heaps praise upon Shubert’s, Chico’s oldest—and best—ice cream and candy store.

Explanation

Short works are surrounded by quotation marks; long works are either italicized or underlined (be consistent). Don’t be fooled by articles found on the web (usually newspaper articles) wherein titles of books and movies are bookended by quotation marks. If they had their way (and that’s a capital th THey), we wouldn’t decorate the titles of any works at all! When you take an honest, hardworking book title and sandwich it in between two roughneck quotation marks, you’re letting THem win! We demand the right to needlessly decorate our text however we want to: underlines, overlines, strike throughs, italics, capital letters, spaces between words—everything! So, please, I urge you, take up arms and fight for what is right! They’ve already taken away our cartouches; don’t let them have our precious italics!