Saturday, March 21, 2009

Sending thanks to sharp-eyed readers

When I signed on to write these columns, my wife said, “Do you have enough to write about?” I laughed, saying: “I have enough material to write several per day.” Get this: Today marks the beginning of this column’s 4th year, and one of the reasons it remains easy is that you, readers nonpareil, have an endless supply of topics that you ask me to address.

Without any contest, the # 1 complaint that prompts readers to write to me, and I do mean far and away the most deeply felt, the most complained about, the favorite by far (get the picture? this is the big enchilada) deals with the improper use of personal pronouns.

It is a widespread problem area, I’ll admit. Here’s an example, part of an eloquent email from Reader Page after the last presidential campaign: “I've noticed within the past few years that often pronouns are used incorrectly, especially in the objective case. Our own president-elect, whom I admire and support, erred in an instance during his first press conference after the election. Mr. Obama said that President Bush had ‘graciously invited Michelle and I’ to the White House.

“This is a case,” she goes on, “where folks will argue with you about ‘I or me,’ saying that their teachers and mothers insisted that they always say ‘So-and-so and I,’ regardless of case. I've heard lawyers do it, preachers do it, school principals do it, college professors do it, CEOs do it, your best friend does it and now, presidents-elect do it. I guess I'll forgive him, but we need to give him a bit of help in the good grammar department.”

I touched on the problem in the November 2007 column (, but even if we devoted every column to it, the misuse wouldn’t go away. In case you’re reading a print version of this column now, and can’t easily click on the link to the earlier column, here is a portion of what I proposed as a solution.

Good news: It’s pretty easy, if you stay calm. Just take your time with the sentence and use this little ploy. When you’re deciding how to word a statement with Someone and Someone, just mentally try it without the first Someone.

Example: “The prizes went to Bob and … .” Uh-oh, to Bob and I? To Bob and me? Eliminate the first one, ole Bob, and it’s easy. The prizes go to me. So now you can comfortably (and correctly) say, “The prizes went to Bob and me.”

The reader complaint that probably comes in second — although it truly represents an infinitesimal fraction of letters compared to the first —deals with using apostrophes incorrectly to form plurals. We have covered that before, too, talking about dogs and cats versus dog’s and cat’s. I think it’s still a common complaint because the error’s easy to find. (Were you on heightened alert when you saw “error’s”? I wanted to stick in a contraction, where the apostrophe stands for the “i” in “error is,” to show an apostrophe in one of its legitimate uses.)

Here’s an example, this one from Reader Scott: “I went to the local cafe Monday and noticed that the menu featured white beans and pinto's. The lady manager stopped and asked if everything was OK. I couldn’t help it; I said: ‘I see you have added white beans and pintos to your menu.’ She said: ‘Honey, we’ve always had them.’ I said, ‘Oh look, there is an apostrophe after the word pinto.’ She blithely explained, ‘That's to take the place of the word beans.’

Scott adds that as he drove home, he glanced at a sign in front of his neighborhood Arby’s. The sign sported an arrow and said “Delivery’s.”

Reader Rusty emailed me this note: “Yes, that wandering apostrophe has landed in another strange place. A sign in North Asheboro offers Cash For Junk Car's.”

While we’re with Reader Rusty, let me give you one more he sent: “Don't want to be a pest, but just had to pass along this wonderful sign observed by my wife today at a store: No Credit Card Orders For Under $10 Excepted. We have no idea what this may mean.”

That’s a good one. My guess is that the policy calls for credit cards to be accepted only for orders of $10 or more. Say, for a big ole mess of pinto’s.


Tuesday, March 3, 2009

I’m gonna be sick

If I’m not very careful, this could become the most disgusting article ever to appear in this paper. Nay — in any daily newspaper. At least, I hope you agree with me that it’s disgusting. You might think I’m just out of touch.

Here’s the problem: Let’s call it, um, regurgitation. And I’m talking about in movies and on TV, not in real life. In real life, regurgitation is usually not an option. In movies and TV, it is always an option, and I think it’s an activity that need not be shown.

In the good old days, when hula hoops were new and hot dogs were a nickel, fictional characters did not regurgitate on screen. They seldom did it in novels, for that matter. Now it’s everywhere, almost every time we start a story.

Whether you think of it as tossing cookies, vomiting, hurling, ralphing, puking or throwing up, it is meant to provide a touch of shocking realism on screen. At least, I suppose that’s why it has become so ubiquitous — the people in charge think it will be grossly funny or realistically gripping. It’s not. It’s disgusting.

Even though I’ve included TV shows and novels in my whining here, it’s really movies that have become most saturated with it. (I must find different words … soon.) I can’t think of a movie that I’ve seen in the last several years that did not feature this abhorrent act, and usually it’s in the first half. “The Reader,” a wonderful recent film, features its young hero retching his guts out (sorry — violently regurgitating) almost before you have time to dive into your popcorn.

That, of course, brings us to another aspect of the complaint. It’s not easy to enjoy stuffing movie snacks into one’s mouth while watching this trend that I’m unhappily describing. Keep in mind that if you shell out wads of hard-earned money to see a movie in a theatre these days, the event, the activity, the tossing of cookies will be shown on a huge screen with surround-sound enveloping you — a presentation many times larger and louder than in real life. And, of course, the concession stand is now open.

Here’s a suggestion. The next time you watch a TV drama or any fairly recent movie (comedy or drama), pay attention to the phenomenon. See if it happens, and see if you think it was absolutely essential to the character or the plot development.

Seriously, how can it be essential? Unless the story concerns a plague that is identified by massive regurgitation, then we do not have to see it, hear it, be grossed out by it. Do we? The character could do it off camera and then tell someone that it happened.

I’m certain that it is simply a trend in modern movie making. There have been other trends, also designed to provide a shock, a jolt, of realism — profuse blood flow, slow-motion gunplay, head-butting. Of course, more mature (old) viewers have complained for decades (maybe forever) about sex and profane language in movies. Admittedly, the complaining has not decreased the incidence of those trends.

However, you do see what I mean about vomit being an option, right? Think of the most egregiously violent scenes in movies, such as the massive shootings of Bonnie and Clyde in their car and of Sonny Corleone at the toll booth; the fight scenes of Rocky and Rockys 2,3,4,5, etc.; the gunfights at all of the OK corrals. Those were crucial, pivotal, downright necessary to the telling. On the other hand, we can be told that someone has hepatitis or is drunk or has the flu or whatever other million things evidently make all actors regurgitate … can’t we?

Let’s all work together to aim for a Tell, Don’t Show policy. If you don’t agree with me yet, maybe now you’ll notice the trend and come to my side of the argument. I must admit that many people are fans of this thing I find so revolting. Fans, I tell you. But I’m optimistic that you’ll join my parade.

Once you do agree, once you are disgusted and insulted by the gratuitous displays, do this: Send an email to the production company of the offending movie or TV show. It’s easy — in that email, simply say “Please stop it,” and then link to this article you’re reading now. Simply paste this URL ( into your email.

Just think: Together we might be able to curtail this Linda Blair Pea Soup Phenomenon, this if-you-drink-you-must-puke mindset.

A Stephen King short story and then movie, Stand by Me, featured a whole crowd of people vomiting. Let’s turn the tide. Let’s collectively say, Don’t Stand Anywhere Near Me.