September 17, 2009

Language Tips: Careless writing (your and you’re) & the car needs washed

Posted in car needs washed, careless writing, compliment/complement, the Pittsburgh to be, your and you're at 7:08 am by dlseltzer

RECAP: Complement and compliment

Just last week, I reminded you that a compliment was praise and to complement something was to supplement or complete it.

So why, oh why did I read this just yesterday?

I will gain knowledge in each of the described modalities through didactic coursework that will compliment my clinical knowledge.

And then, in response to an email noting a nicely written protocol, I received this:

Thanks for the complement!

I guess some could look at this and think that it’s a tie, that at least both words were used incorrectly, and in balance, it’s a wash. I guess some could think that, but I have to tell you, NOT ME!

Would it help to think that compliment has an I and a compliment is praise for a person and that complement has an e which makes you think of complete? I don’t know. Give it a try and see if it helps.

Tip 1: Careless writing

A reader writes:

I thought you were going to talk about ‘your’ and ‘you’re.’ I absolutely hate it when people say things like, ‘your in trouble!’ Ugh. I am somewhat new to Pittsburgh and am still trying to get over ‘This needs cleaned.’

Our new arrival to Pittsburgh brings up two distinct topics, here. The first is the misuse of the words ‘your’ and ‘you’re.’ I suspect (and I hope) that when these words are misused, it is a result of carelessness, not lack of the knowledge that ‘you’re’ is the contraction for ‘you are,’ and ‘your’ is the possessive form of ‘you’ and indicates ownership.

If in doubt as to which form to use, try replacing it with ‘you are.’

You’re or your explanation holds no merit.

You are explanation holds no merit. MAKES NO SENSE

Your explanation holds no merit. CORRECT

If you don’t leave now, you’re or your going to be late for your meeting.

If you don’t leave now, you are going to be late for your meeting. THAT WORKS

If you don’t leave now,  you’re going to be late for your meeting. CORRECT

And it doesn’t need to be said (does it?) that, while growing in popularity, the term ‘ur’ is never correct outside of the context of texting!

The more important point, I think, is that we need to be thoughtful and purposeful when writing to avoid careless mistakes like this and the one another reader spotted:

A reader writes:

Today, I got the following as part of a message sent to a large group of employees:

Again, please bare with me.

Thank you for your patience.

I did let this person know that she was suggesting that everyone get naked with her….

A cautionary story for us all.

Tip 2: The car needs washed

The writer above said that she hasn’t been in Pittsburgh long but hasn’t gotten used to the Pittsburgh style of speaking in which ‘to be’ is left out of sentences. Well, I came to Pittsburgh in 1969, and I haven’t gotten used to it yet, either.

I wrote about this in the summer of 2008 calling it ‘The Pittsburgh to be” <>, but my take on it is a little different this time around.

Don’t get me wrong. I still don’t like it, and it is definitely NOT standard English, and it should absolutely NEVER be used in our writing; however, before I just said it was wrong, and that was that! Well, I must have mellowed a bit because I am willing to concede, now, that it is a regional dialect thing.

According to the editors of Dictionary of American Regional English, Volume III, I-O*, it is ”a western Pennsylvanian localism.”

After a bit of web searching, I discovered that this usage is of Irish-Scots origin. We have these early settlers to thank for not only the lack of the verb, to be, but also for other colorful contributions such as jagoff, nebby, redd up, slippy, and, of course the ever popular, yinz. Oh thank you, early settlers.

This usage has a somewhat surprising defender in Jan Freeman, the language columnist from the Boston Globe, who thinks that those of us who oppose this usage are the narrow minded ones.

So if you think Pittsburgh’s grammar needs corrected, consider the alternative: Maybe the majority’s attitude needs adjusted.

<>  Oh my.

Some folks in the English Department at CMU put together a dictionary of words found primarily in Southwestern Pennsylvania, called the Pittsburgh Speech and Society Dictionary: <>

So even if I am willing to acknowledge this as a ‘localism,’ my advice would still be to avoid this usage, in speech as well as writing, because I would hate to see it become a habit. I promise to try to be more tolerant of others. But, I don’t ever want to see it in my newspaper. And I NEVER want to see it in YOUR writing!

* Hall, JH. and Cassidy, FG. (EDs.) Dictionary of American Regional English, Volume III, I-O. Belknap Press of Harvard University Press. December, 1996


1 Comment »

  1. Your reader wrote that they “hate it when people say things like, ‘your in trouble!’” (Hah. See how that singular “they” slipped in there quite naturally? That’s not the last you’ll see of it from me, either.) However, and you failed to correct them on this, you cannot say the difference between “your” and “you’re”—you can only write it.

    Also, constructs like “needs corrected” are perfectly grammatical for those people who use them. It is unfair to merely deem them “localisms”, as anyone who speaks a language is bound to have features in their speech that are only used in certain localized areas. That’s the whole concept behind a dialect—and everyone speaks their own dialect.

    Oh, and, lest you think that I am only here to disagree with you, I’d like to let you know that I am on your side when it comes to spelling mistakes such as “compliment” versus “complement”. And I would also agree that the construct of the “needs washed” variety should not appear in formal written English—but that really doesn’t have much to do with the way people speak, anyway.

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