The Student News Site of Sacramento City College

The Express

The Student News Site of Sacramento City College

The Express

The Student News Site of Sacramento City College

The Express

Lexophiles say grammar matters

Kay Barnes | Features Editor | [email protected]

Writing center tutors, IA’s sound off about misuses of English

Biology major Mario Hernandez recalls that his teachers in the past always told him to never start a sentence with the word “because.”

“Then I got to college, and my English teachers said I could,” he said. “I didn’t know who to believe and had a hard time those first few semesters.”

This is just one rule students have difficulty with when using “correct” grammar. However, which is correct? According to experts, that depends on which method of linguistics used.

There are two types: descriptive and prescriptive. According to, descriptive language is “describing or classifying in an objective and non-judgmental way.” Under this method, descriptivists believe non-standard usage shouldn’t be thought of as “wrong.”

Oxford Dictionaries lists prescriptive as “rules and opinions that tell people how language should be used.” Prescriptivists are linguists who dictate that there is only one way to use language.

Regardless of adhering to prescriptivism or descriptivism, many lexophiles — people who love words — can fall into the trap of being overzealous when language is used inappropriately. According to Writing Center instructional assistants, there are quite a few ways of using language that may not be wrong but are just plain irksome to some educators.

One place for lexophiles to talk shop is at SCC’s Writing Center in the Learning Resource Center. The Writing Center helps students with writing assignments on any subject. Tutors and IAs (Instructional Assistants) come from all disciplines and have their own pet peeves when it comes to incorrect grammar and usage.

Instructional Assistant Meghan Facciuto claims one of her biggest irritations is the misuse of “literally.”

“When people use ‘literally’ wrong, it makes me twitch,” she said. “When people say, ‘I was literally crapping my pants in laughter’, I go, ‘Hmm… really?’”

According to Merriam Webster, the definition of “literally” is “in a literal sense or manner: actually.” However, in the last few years, an alternate definition has been created; “literally” now also means “in effect: virtually” to add emphasis.

Facciuto added, “It’s true that the meaning has changed — it’s even in the dictionary — but it still makes me wonder if what the person said actually happened or not.”

Well-known Sacramento poet and Writing Center IA Dale Nelson said that misunderstood or misused idioms cause him grief.

“It’s a class marker when people use them wrong. Like ‘For all intensive purposes.’ What is that? It’s ‘For all intents and purposes.’ That one really pisses me off.”

Why are there so many ways of using language? Language is something that is unique to the individual, according to linguists. Geographic and cultural differences make up language — both the good and the bad.
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“I’ll correct someone when it’s a stigmatizing situation and they’d be viewed that way, but I won’t call the person out on it,” Facciuto said.

Also, over-correcting language is a side effect of prescriptivism.

“It bothers me when correctors get haughty about grammar, and they themselves are wrong,” Facciuto said. “Don’t try to make others feel stupid when you don’t know what you’re talking about.”

Clinging to the old ways of language and not allowing any room for change is the mantra of prescriptivists. As Nelson said, “It’s an attempt to freeze grammar in time.”

Facciuto added, “I think words have power, and when some people think their words are ‘better’ than those of others, I think that’s ugly. Language is living. The meaning is going to change, so you may as well deal with it.”

Other uses of language that may not be wrong, but can cause cringing include:

Pronunciations: “Harass-ment” vs. “Ha-rass-ment.” “I won’t tell anybody about it, but in my head I’ll be [thinking], ‘Please don’t say that,’” said Ruben Acosta, a Learning Skills and Tutoring IA. “Ca-ra-mel” vs. “Car-mel,” “I won’t harp about it, but…,”

Plurals: “Woman” vs. “Women,” said City College English Professor and Sacramento Poet Laureate Jeff Knorr. “‘I knew a women.’ What?!”

He said he first encountered this in Oregon and thought it was either a regional dialect or non-native speakers. “My first week [in California], oh my God; it’s following me!”

Phrases: “I could care less” vs. “I couldn’t care less.” – “I don’t have a pet peeve in grammar, but 100 percent that one!” commented Brion Drake, writing tutor and English major.

Signs: “My pet peeve is at the grocery store. The ‘10 items or less’ sign,” said Writing Center Coordinator Susan Griffin. “Or when something is wrong on official signs. Somebody should have edited it.”

It’s vs. Its: “‘It’s’ means it is while ‘its’ means possessive. ‘Dogs bowl’ or ‘I took my dog’s for a walk.’” Both are incorrect, Knorr explained to his English Writing 303 class.

Then vs. Than: “You won’t believe how many students get this wrong,” said former Language Arts teacher Jason Wong. “‘Then’ is time, and ‘than’ is comparison.”

For more information on academically correct language, visit the Writing Center on the first floor of the LRC. The Writing Center is open Monday–Thursday 9 a.m.– 7 p.m., Friday 9 a.m. – 3 p.m., and Saturday 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. Online tutoring is also available throughout the week.

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