by Cherie Tucker
The other day I was in a shop waiting my turn when another customer and the owner asked me where I was from. I told them I grew up in Seattle. Then the customer asked me what my area code was. When I said, “Two zero six,” she and the owner looked disappointed.
“Most people in Seattle say ‘two oh six,’” the customer told me.
“Oh is a letter; zero is a number,” I said; “everybody knows that.” That made me think that perhaps we’d better take a look at some of the other things that "everybody knows." We’ve finally emerged from the “nu-cu-lar” pronunciation of nuclear, but what else is looming out there? Mrs. Jackson, my second grade teacher, had us remain standing after we said the daily flag salute and recite: li-brar-y, Feb-ru-ary, and pump-kin. Anyone who said “liberry,” “Febuary,” or “punkin” risked being taken into the cloakroom and paddled. We learned those quickly—and, I might add, permanently.
Regionalisms like creek vs. “crick,” roof vs. “ruf,” neether vs. nither depend in many cases on geography and aren’t evident in your writing. (You must know someone who says “Warshington.”) But some misspoken things might show up on the page:
While many say they “graduated college,” they really graduated from college.
If something is unique, that’s as big as it gets. Something can’t be more unique or the most unique or very unique. Remember, you can’t modify an absolute.
You don’t need to remind your reader that red is a color, as in “We painted it a red color.” The reader will get it if you simply say, “We painted it red.” And while we’re on that, red is a color, but variations of that red are shades. So you wouldn’t say something was a “different color of red” but a different shade of red. Hue refers to the intensity of a color.
As reminded in an earlier article, please don’t say “where’s it at” or “let’s see where we’re at on the project.” Where tells location; at tells location. Obviously you don’t need them both. You must avoid these kinds of redundancies (see “red color”) unless you are using them intentionally to illustrate the educational or sociological background of a character in dialogue. (Or if you write Country Western lyrics.)
Finally, if you are referring to a singular (only one) object that is close to you, you call it this one; if plural, you say these—NOT these ones. The same goes for that one or (pointing away from you) those—NOT those ones.
These reminders will help you stay out of Mrs. Jackson's cloakroom when you’re self-editing or when you’re on TV touting your latest novel.
Cherie Tucker, owner of GrammarWorks, has taught writing basics to professionals since 1987, presenting at the PNWA conference. She currently teaches Practical Grammar for Editors at the University of Washington’s Editing Certification program and edits as well. GrammarWorks@msn.com