The only thing worse than stepping in a pile of dog droppings is not knowing you stepped in a pile of dog droppings. When you are not aware of what you’ve done, you end up tracking foulness into every room you enter.
Your stinky problem is solved quickly if you know to clean off your shoes, but at what point do you realize your shoes need to be cleaned off? Typically, in these embarrassing and disgusting situations, you smell the mess before you see the mess. Don’t worry, if you do not smell it, somebody will point out that something stinky is underfoot.
Using language incorrectly can be just as embarrassing as having a dog’s stinky mess on the bottom on your shoes. While nobody is perfect, your words leave a mark. Do you make any of the following mistakes?
Unthaw: To thaw something means to unfreeze something. Adding the “un” creates the opposite definition. Therefore, if you are unthawing something, you are freezing it. I believe people feel the desire to use this word because they are undoing the frozen state, but that is the exact definition of “thaw.”
Irregardless: Instead of saying irregardless, try using the more appropriate word, regardless. According to Merriam-Webster etymology, this word is probably a blend of irrespective and regardless. The English language is fluid; new words are being invented every year, but it is important to make sure your words make sense.
It’s versus Its: This one frequently trips me up, so here is a an easy way to know which one to use. “It’s” is typically a contraction for “it is,” whereas “Its” is a possessive pronoun.
If you were talking about your pen on your desk you may say, “It’s blue.” To know if you should use “it’s” or “its,” replace “it’s” with “it is” and see if the sentence still works. Yes, “It is blue,” works, so you know you used it correctly.
When talking about the pen on your desk, you may also say, “I lost its cap.” By replacing “its” with “it is,” you’ll see that, “I lost ‘it is’ cap,” does not sound correct. Therefore, the use of the possessive pronoun, its, is correct when referring the pen’s cap.
“Me and You” versus “You and I”: Growing up, my father used to always correct me whenever I said, “me and you.” It turns out that my father was overcorrecting me, and there are many instances when me and you (or you and me) is correct.
In the first line of the column I wrote on August 9th, 2006, I made this mistake. A lawyer wrote me a formal letter pointing out my mistake. The sentence starts out, “Immediately after dropping off breakfast for my brother and I,” and it sounded correct to me when I wrote it.
The beginning of the sentence should have read, “Immediately after dropping off breakfast for my brother and me.” How do you know which variation is correct? The key is to remove the other subjects from the sentence and reread it with only the “me” or “I.”
My sentence was incorrect because if you remove my brother from the sentence, it reads, “Immediately after dropping off breakfast for I.” You cannot drop breakfast off for “I,” but you can drop off breakfast for “me.”
These are just a few of the common mistakes that we all make in our conversations, our letters, and in our emails. There is little value in perfection, but there is enormous value in constant improvement.
Simply by desiring to improve, you’ll begin to find little things that you can tighten up and improve. Knowing that you have a stinky mess underfoot precedes the act of cleaning it up.
For a reference list of other common mistakes go to www.boltfromtheblue.com and enter the word ETYMOLOGY in the blue print box.