I run afoul of Merriam-Webster dictionary while discussing the correct usage of enamored, importantly, impact, begs the question and more.
Your going to enjoy this one.
Last February, I published a list called 11 Little-Known Grammatical Errors That Will Shock and Horrify You. It was extremely popular (and fairly controversial — people were furious over some of the selections). It also set me up for months and months of nitpicking. As time has passed, though, the “ha ha the guy who thinks he can correct other people’s grammar dangled a participle” comments have faded away. And I can’t live like that.
So it’s time to kick the door wide open again. Here are 11 more semi-obscure errors in grammar and usage. I try to choose ones on that don’t make every list of “common grammar mistakes” — there’s no “literally/figuratively” or “their/there/they’re” errors on this list.
Let’s get our pretension on.
1 | Enamored with
You can be “enamored of” something, not “enamored with.” The royal you, of course. And you personally.
This is one I’ve just stopped using altogether (like champing at the bit, from my previous grammar list). Using it properly looks wrong; “enamored of” seems more stilted than “enamored with” since we’re all so tuned in to the incorrect version. It’s like a cool TV or movie character shooting a gun without turning it sideways. Holding the gun vertically, using two hands, perhaps putting something on to muffle the sound as to not cause hearing damage — that’s the equivalent of “enamored of.”
2 | Most importantly
I used “most importantly” up until about two weeks ago when I finally found out it was incorrect. Under Einstein’s Unified Law of Adverbs*, “importantly” means “in an important manner.” Just like “merrily” means “in a merry manner” or “bit.ly” means “in a shortened URL that benefits the Libyans manner.”
The sentence, “I need a helicopter, a valid passport, and, most importantly, a promise that you’ll never hunt me down” stops working when you say, “I need a helicopter, a valid passport, and, most in an important manner, a promise that you’ll never hunt me down.” Kiefer would laugh you right off the roof.
“Most important” is the correct construction. Please do not dig through my archives for all the times I’ve botched this.
3 | Impact
Impact has taken on a colloquial usage as a verb meaning “strong influence” — like “What impact will the situation in Egypt have on my weekend?” Technically, that is incorrect. The verb form of impact means “to strike with force,” not “affect.” The noun form of impact can work in the “strong influence” way, though — like “Will the situation in Egypt have an impact on my weekend?”
And now, I’ll spare you the trouble of posting the following in the comments. In the examples online, Merriam-Webster uses impact in the way that I’ve just said are incorrect. Here’s a link. Much like I said M-W was wrong on their example for collide, I am now saying that they are wrong on impact, too. Yes, this is a comedy blog. No, I do not have the credibility of a dictionary. But I’m right, and I’m drawing a line in the sand. So all I can say is: Who’s coming with me? Who’s coming with me? Who wants to be my Renee Zellweger?
4 | Fewer/less
Basically, if you can count something, use fewer; if you can’t, use less. “This list has fewer jokes than my previous grammar list, therefore, it is less funny than my previous grammar list.”
There are some exceptions here and there — hooray for the joyful nuances of English — but this is the basic principle of the fewer versus less battle. And while the fewer versus less battle isn’t as much of a bloodbath as literally versus figuratively, your versus you’re, or Ecks versus Sever, it’s still a bloodbath.
5 | Problem/issue
“Issue” is used interchangeably with “problem,” but they aren’t actually synonyms. There is a difference, albeit a slight one, in the two. A problem is inherently negative; an issue is just a topic, no connotation implied. (I’m really trying, for just this list, not to comma splice.)
“You’ve got some issues, Stan, I think you need some counseling” is incorrect usage. Eminem is worried about the problems in Stan’s mental state, not the issues. An issue could be, for example, “peanut butter, delicious or totally delicious.”
“I’ve got 99 problems but a bitch ain’t one” is correct usage (at least of the word “problems”). The deliciousness of peanut butter would not be classified on the same level as Jay-Z’s other problems.
6 | Exact same
Saying “We have the exact same eyes” is unnecessary; “we have the same eyes” is all that’s required. “Exact same” is a classic redundancy, like “brief moment” or “close proximity” or “slapstick British comedy.”
7 | Poisonous/venomous
This one caught me by surprise. Snakes are venomous because they infect you with venom (or, just to really muddle things up here, with poison). Fugu is poisonous because it you eat it, its poison kills you. (After you throw together a quick 24-hour bucket list and play the boss’s head like a bongo, naturally.)
So if you’re walking through the jungle with a friend and he screams, “Help, I’m surrounded by poisonous snakes,” you should respond, “Well then don’t eat any of them!” By that point he will have been bitten and dying, but he’ll appreciate your grammatical wit on the way out.
Merriam-Webster alert! Copy and paste what I wrote about “impact” here w/r/t “poisonous.” Jay Mohr, you’d better not fire me or I’ll start my own agency and only Cuba Gooding Jr. will stay on as my client.
8 | Can/may
This one was drilled into my head in second grade. The teacher made us say “May I go to the bathroom?” as opposed to “Can I go to the bathroom?” — or she wouldn’t let you go. “May” is correct, of course — “may” is asking for permission, “can” is asking if you possess that capacity. Also, this was in the era when there wouldn’t be a massive lawsuit if a kid peed his pants because he said “can” instead of “may.” Us kids were tougher in the ’80s. I give credit to Ronald Reagan and He-Man.
9 | Begs the question/raises the question
I have been misusing “begs the question” forever without knowing it. And I might’ve gone on misusing it had a commenter named Matt not pointed out its erroneous implementation in the list 11 Spectacularly Nerdy License Plates. The proper use of “begs the question” is the one response to an argument or a point that seems to lack support (and can even be used in a snark-ridden manner). “Dan said that the Cleveland Cavaliers will win a championship before the Miami Heat. Which begs the question: Has Dan ever watched basketball?”
Raises the question is correct in any other situation. “I see Another Bad Creation and Bell Biv Devoe. Which raises the question: Why didn’t Boyz II Men show up for this East Coast Family reunion?”
Merriam-Webster alert! Yep, we disagree on this one too. I’m not letting YOU get rid of ME. You complete me.
10 | The proof is in the pudding
This has become a popular phrase and… it makes no sense. The original phrase is “the proof of the pudding is in the eating.” And that’s the real intention — you can tell the quality of your dessert by actually sampling it.
Using the cliche “the proof is in the pudding” seems to suggest that you have to dig through your pudding to find something. Which only happens on Double Dare.
11 | Grammar/usage
Try to guess which one is an accurate description of the 11 items on the “11 More Little-Known Grammatical Errors That Will Shock and Horrify You” list. (Then try to guess which one makes for a more marketable/clickable banner headline.)
One quick note on all the disagreements with Merriam-Webster. Language is evolving. If enough people use “irregardless” it becomes a word. “Friend” has evolved into a verb meaning “add as a friend on a social media website.” I get it. But I’m (and we’re) not required to embrace it. Computer software can spit out generic lyrics, someone can sing them with an autotuned voice and the song be recorded using drum machine. In the end, it’s still a song, because that’s the evolution of music.
But if you believe that the proper use of English is an art form, then you don’t want to autotune your writing. And using the language in its purest, indisputably correct form is like crafting lyrics that are personal poetry, singing them without your voice being altered and recording them with real musicians. Now, time to go grab all of my Irish Spring and Lever 2000 off the ground and put it back in its box.
* – does not exist