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« "The Mocha Pot" our new toy | Main | citrus! »

28 November 2006


mixing up the use of "its" and "it's"

I hear most of those, but I happen to like "toothsome." Say, perhaps, one likes a more toothsome caramel than Sahagun's drool inducing salted caramel. Yes? No?

I don't know. I go to school for English, so proper grammar is important to me, but is there a point where we're just being snotty?

Funny, I just wrote an entry that I whittled away to almost nothing. I was second-guessing my editing, but this entry inspired me to keep it posted.

pet peeve: "alot"
favorite word: tarmac

The overuse of "that" is my biggest pet peeve.

Something (that) I learned in a writing class is we use THAT too often.

For example from Mr. Zinsser's comments on Style: "But you can never forget that you are practicing a craft that is based on certain principles."

Remove the first and not the second? I don't know. The sentence seems more readable (to me) without the first "that".

This was a very interesting piece. Thank you.

I, too, like toothsome.
Food, in my world, can be divine and yummy and definitely vibrant in color.

My peeve is that so few people describe the taste and texture of the food they write about.

I'm an editor by profession, but I also recognize that language is ever-evolving. Call it rationalization, if you must, but if English weren't elastic, we'd all be writing "realise" (or, to choose a more drastic example, "ye").

I think that the common misuse of "hopefully" has reached the tipping point. It’s part of the lexicon now, whether we like it or not. That’s easy for me to say, I suppose: I’m in the “like it” camp, and I misuse “hopefully” with wild abandon. It’s a useful turn of phrase, and I like the way it rings. Does it make me sound like an ignorant boob? Probably, to a few trained ears. But it’s conversational, and it’s my little quirk. (File under: Foolish consistency, hobgoblin.)

I'm guilty of repeated, flagrant infractions (dis)regarding at least three items on the lists above. I suspect that Ruth R. and I wouldn't get along in real life, so I suppose there's no point in my adhering to her highly idiosyncratic "don'ts" list. And I’m not writing for Gooormaaaay.

I wholeheartedly agree that shorter articles are often stronger articles. When I used to edit magazines – in the days when there were such things as hard word-count limits -- they called me The Queen of Cuts. Shortening manuscripts is a task I relish, because I know that it's healthy... like pruning a tree to yield a better harvest. So why are so many of my posts so damned long? Simple: "Every writer needs an editor. Even editors." I try hard not to be lazy when blogging, but my resources, and my talents, are finite.

Pet grammar peeve: People who correct other people’s grammar. I used to date a man who was copy chief at a major tech publication. His mom taught English, and his dad was a famous journo in the ‘60s – the poor guy grew up living and breathing grammar, eating it with his Corn Flakes. He brutally taught me to use the possessive case ahead of gerunds by constantly interrupting me whenever (and I do mean *whenever*) I misused it. Ahem. I’ll never forget, but I also never forgave. Most of my memories of this fellow are lost to the sands of time, but aside from his cruel pedantic streak, I can’t remember many.

Aside from the one you cite (and the you're/your, etc.), I really just ask people to read what they wrote before they hit Publish. I don't expect anyone to know the nuances of grammar--one look at the blogs of many professional writers, and it is clear that most are savvy writers only by virtue of having good editors--but a quick read of a post would, I think, catch many a sin.

And Anita, your ex sounds horrible. I push myself to be a good writer out of motivation, but I wouldn't think to make a point of constantly correcting others (unless, of course, I was serving the official role of editor).

Yes! I love the immediacy of blogs but sometimes wading through the errors is trying. I know I am not the best writer but I do proofread several times. When I began the blog I asked my grammar savy boyfriend to read through my posts before I published them but when he printed one out and went over it with a red pen, I knew that plan wasn't going to last.

Catherine- I agree that people don't describe flavor enough but when I try it myself it is hard. Texture is easy, flavor is not.

Sha- I say leave the first and drop the second!

Besides those all ready mentioned, how about when people use the word "impact" as a verb. I heard that OED accepted it because it was used so often, but it still sounds wrong to me.

The usage rules for the English language are complicated and evolving. Jesse Kornbluth says that "since" cannot be used for "because". But others write otherwise. The Columbia Guide to Standard English (1993 edition, full text at "As a subordinating conjunction since can introduce a dependent clause and mean “because”: Since no one objected, I continued. In the same grammatical role, it can also have a temporal meaning: I haven’t talked to her since she moved away....Make certain that context indicates clearly whether the conjunctive use is causal or temporal."

And the American Heritage Dictionary (2000, also at bartelby) entry for since says: "Inasmuch as; because: Since you're not interested, I won't tell you about it."

Gulp...does this mean I have to go back and change all my posts?

ehm, I never thought I would discuss (and question) something about baking with a pastry chef, but on one point I have to object: A Torte is a multi-layered cake (with flour) with a cream filling. I have seen many a reference to "European style" cakes in American sources, which are all with low or no flour and are gooey, is this maybe the point of confusion? In Europe we seldom have traditional flourless cakes. Maybe Americans mistook the gooey cream between the layers of our torte for the cake itself being gooey and therefore reasoned it should be flourless?

I'm not a writer or an editor, but I spend a considerable amount of time at work reading other peoples' writing in the form of reports. I am often horrified by the poor grammar and spelling. But it's not art, or journalism, and no one else really cares, so I have always kept my feelings to myself. Since you're asking though, I will confess that it makes me crazy when the word heroin is misspelled ("heroine"). I work in a drug treatment program!


and for me what if we applied the ideas of grammar and writing to working with food? Great read and inspiring.


Blogging has helped me identify some bad habits I've adopted. I use the following words way too often:

even (as in "even though")

There are others, but I can't remember them right now. Seeing them over and over in my own writing, right in front of my face every day, has helped me become aware and try to hack them away everywhere they appear unnecessarily. Yet when I started my blog, I was completely unaware of these habits. I am afraid to look up things in old posts because of how much rewriting these posts need.

I like "toothsome," too, but for me it is a very specific word with a very specific meaning. It doesn't mean "tasty." It means "good against the tooth." Al dente pasta is toothsome. Jell-O pudding -- even though I like Jell-O pudding -- is not.

Pet peeves in other people's writing/speech:

"momentarily" instead of "in a moment"

"nauseous" instead of "nauseated"

I try not to get on other people for their grammar and speech anymore because (a) my own are not always everything I wish them to be, and (b) there is value in the individual voice, even when it is flawed. There is music that can only be played on arguably imperfect instruments, and I want to hear it.

Those two pet peeves, though, those will get you smacked.

As for the word "grammarian," I cannot read or hear it without thinking of Henry Higgins quoting Zoltan Karpathy in My Fair Lady:

"'...and although she may have studied with an expert dialectician and grammarian,
I can tell that she was born Hungarian!"

I don´t have any to add, but I´d like to second one of Shuna´s pet peeves.
¨Healthy¨has become so popularly misused that is practically becoming allowable. Please don´t let this happen by continuing to misuse a perfectly lovely and useful word.
Indeed, the apple may at one time have been healthy. In fact, the Fuji apple you bought at the farmer´s market was probably once a healthy specimen, hanging on drooping branches, languishing in the crisp fall air, and drinking nutrients from it´s mother tree and in turn a well tended soil. However, now that it is on you kitchen table, cut into quarters so that you can crunch into its flesh, it´s healthful, and in turn, will make you healthy!

Thanks for the good reminders... this was a great read!

about that they thing-I think there's a definite need for a new gender-neutral pronoun. Sometimes I use hesh-an amalgamation of he + she as in everyone knows what heshe wants-but actually it would be nice to have an alternative that just nixes gender from the picture entirely...

Very useful post, Shuna. Thanks!

nucular. chromozone. irregardless.
Also I agree with the poster above, inspiration trumps regulation. chocolate desserts do decay the cells, as well as any pretenses of decorum, so go ahead and use the "d" word. I notice this post got more comments than any other recently!

This was thought-provoking and fun to read. Zinsser echoes George Orwell on several points:

My pet peeve is more often spoken than written: It's people who say "on line" instead of "in line" when referring to a queue.

I am probably older than anyone who has responded and I have seen drastic style changes over the years. As a writer I am expected to follow the style book of the publications where my work is used. Some of the now-acceptable spellings and phraases send me up the wall; many of them alter the flow and sound of prose.

Bloggers are not subjected to these restrictions. This doesn't mean they shouldn't try to use effectively proper grammar -- and they should edit before publishing.

PS No matter how often I write "farmers' market" it is printed as "farmers market" by the paper for which I do the most work. And I am very unhappy about having to use only last names when referring to the subject of a story.

PS again: A few of my least favorite words in food writing: "napped with", "ultimate", "redolent", "knobs (as in butter or even vegetables)". Whew.

I thoroughly enjoyed this post. I write and I find "style" always makes an intriguing discussion. Thank you for sharing.

Amen! As a very uptight smitty (who absolutely breaks some of these rules regularly), I appreciate this public service your post has done!

Also: I love your blog. It's only been a couple of weeks since I've started reading, but your writing is sharp and cozy, smart and comfortable, at the same time. I wish I could attend one of your classes or, at the very least, pull up a chair at a restaurant where you've been cooking!



Hande-- thank you for bringing forth Eurpean cake talk. In America, because we are lazy about keeping up with history and tradition, we create our own dilineators (sp?) for the differences between foods.

Hence why we think a tomato is a fruit.

In The Food Lover's Companion, 3rd Edition, Sharon Tyler Herbst, this is what it says under torte:

A rich cake, often made with little or no flour but instead with ground nuts, breadcrumbs, eggs sugar and flavorings. Tortes are often multilayered and filled with buttercream, jams, etc.

Believe you me I love confectionary history and I do not mind being corrected, for I love learning more and more about dessert traditions all over the world!

And I am a pastry chef exception, unfortunately, as there are few baking books or blogs where dessert people get their facts straight!

Thanks for stopping by and proffering your knowledge, it all gets added into the mix of education!

You are the first person I have met, Shuna, that also owns a copy of Zinsser's thin little volume. I bet there is a copy of Chicago Manual of Style there on your bookshelf too.

Dave-- in all honesty I c & p'd the above paragraphs from the "style manual" I was emailed by my editor, Bruce Cole.

But I do own the Chicago Manual of Style, because it was a bday present from another writer. I also inherited some great thesauraus type books. I love these things. although I don't open them often enough...

Lordy, that's a lot of comments there. I'm gigglin' cause I got it's and its correctly. Yay for me!

I like to write everything out for MH. Get it all down. Then, start removing words, sentances and whatever else I can until it's coherent (ahahhahahhaha) and right enough for me.

Hey Shuna, should I go to a writing school?


Lets see, how many of these have I violated since starting Food Notebook. Way too many! Maybe it would be easier to list the ones that I have not violated. >>grin<< Thanks for a very useful post.

I have to confess I am a bit tired of this latest movement in reminding others of their grammar et al.

Language is a living organism in my world, ever growing and evolving.

I believe that if you communicate your message well, so that it is clearly understood and enjoyed by the receiver, all those grammatical rules lose their strength and importance.

Many of us are blogging merely for fun, not to be published or to earn money in which case more time can be afforded for correctness.

And Ms Reichl, whom generally I like a lot - well she can sod right off with her stuck up little no-no list. Who is she to tell me how I can express myself.

More/fewer, that/which, "her and I," utilize when use will do, reference as a verb (even if it's correct, it reeks of MBA), good/well...

More gender neutral terms! I hate the words waitress and hostess, waiter and host should suffice, we are discussing the duties someone is performing, not their personal plumbing.

Someone once told me that the masterpieces are created by what you leave out of the work. We were discussing painting, but I think it could also apply to cuisine. How many times have you been assaulted by a dish with an overabundance of trendy ingredients that don't even really taste good together.

Seconding Dave's comment, I'd heartily recommend the Zinsser book to anyone looking to improve their writing.

Yes, 'its' and 'it's' is constantly misused by people that you know are smart, but it does irk me every time.

Actually, misuse of the possessive apostrophe is rampant. People use 'Mom's and Dad's' and call themselves the 'Smith's' (the Smith's WHAT??!! my inner voice screams), and I see signs in the grocery store that 'Pepper's' are on sale. I have been known to correct a sign or two, if no one is watching, but it never makes any difference.

At another local store, there is a sign in Aisle 16 for 'Incontinents', which I suppose could be calling to those who are such, rather than calling attention to the condition itself, which is 'Incontinence.'

And please, please, can people stop saying 'added bonus?'


(Thanks for letting me vent!)

My pet peeves include than/then.

Dark chocolate is better 'than' milk chocolate.

First he went to the dairy, 'then' he milked the cow.

As well, I blame word processing programs. Particularly the common use of MS Word. (Not that my grammer is in any way passable.)

This is great Shuna - I just saw it - I'm a little behind this week. I'm a compulsive editor and I am constantly finding mistakes or annoying little things and changing them on my blog (probably much to the chagrin of people who read my blog through a feed!) I love the Ruth Reichl list!

I'm trying to get better at editing blog posts, although since it's a break from my usual writing I sometimes slack off, deliberately. But when my job sometimes includes four people debating a specific word, I think I deserve an occasional break.

The thing that makes me wince is "emails" -- it is totally wrong, and I don't care if all the cool kids are doing it. Let's break down the word:
e-mail=electronic mail (as distinguished from postal mail)

Now, think about when you go to the post office (or whatever it's called where you are) to get your mail. Do you go to get your mails? No, of course not! You go to get your mail, which may consist of multiple *letters* but never multiple *mails* (unless you get multiple males, but that's another topic entirely).

Similarly, when you check your email, you may have multiple messages, but not multiple emails. Never. Ever. So please quit saying it!

And I say this as someone who just finished a book on Outlook. Writing it, not reading it. *grin*

Who knew so many people cared about grammar? It does my editor's heart good to see it (though as a developmental editor I make the odd grammar mistake myself).

My pet peeve--developed while reading resume cover letters at the literary agency where I once worked--is this:

"Your job listing peaked my interest."

It might seem quaint to think that the interest goes up, like a mountain peak, but really it's "piqued." I wouldn't mind so much, but when you're applying to work in the book business you really need to use the right words. It's all we've got.

I've got a cute William Zinsser story: years ago I had to request permission from Mr. Zinsser to reprint a lovely essay of his about Italy. He was happy to have the story republished, but later called to ask if he could submit a revised version. He had found even more to cut!

Congratulations on one year of Edible San Francisco, Shuna.

for those historically oriented grammarians.....this looked interesting to me.

My comment is very late, but this is a great post. Good gravy, I know I am guilty of some of these style violations, and I have training as a writer! It is important for writers to review style guidelines occasionally so we don't get sloppy. Reading Ruth Reichel's peeves was a treat.

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