Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Grammar claims another victim

Use the rules, friends and neighbors. If you don't, the rules will be happy to use you! Today's example is from America's Heartland:

When a guy swallows a bag of pot to hide it from police or when a burglar cuts his hand breaking into a house, local taxpayers often pay their hospital bills.

That's certainly my first reaction when some goober swallows a bag of pot: reach for the checkbook and see if I have any old hospital bills just lying around. "Their" in "their hospital bills" means the taxpayers, and there's a reason for that.

Pronouns are the baby ducks of grammar. They poke their little pronoun beaks through their little pronoun shells, and as soon as an adult noun walks by, their little pronoun brains lock on: Mommy! "He" would be a guy, or a burglar (in manly Wichita, property crime is apparently a male-only phenomenon). "They" is Momma Plural Noun, or "taxpayers."

We can have a discussion later about the reflexive tendency of U.S. news accounts to personalize the individual taxpayer or describe public money as "taxpayer dollars." (For the good folks who hold that "research" isn't something you can do with a search engine: Search for "taxpayer dollar," "taxpayer pound" and "taxpayer euro." Discuss your findings.) But we aren't going to discuss what the rules do. Don't argue ball-and-strike calls or you're going to get run over by baby ducks.



Anonymous Anonymous said...

What's "public money"? It's money extorted under threat of imprisonment from the public. Well not all of the public. Just that fraction that pays taxes.

12:53 AM, October 08, 2007  

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