A Celebration of Festivus, Part III

By Joe Diorio

Based on reader feedback I am learning that the grammatical celebration of Festivus, where we air our grievances about language, should not be confined to one month of the year.

Case-in-point: Don Block teaches English at Montgomery County Community College in Blue Bell, Pennsylvania (just outside of Philadelphia). He is a self-described complainer and after reading A Few Words About Words. A common-sense look at writing and grammar decided to share his own list of pet peeves.

  • “I’m like” plus a sound effect or occasionally a word.
  • “Let’s do this.”
  • Any use of “this” when this word does not directly precede a noun.
  • “Reach out” instead of “contact,” “write to,” or “talk to.”
  • “Conversation” when it’s used instead of “discussion.”
  • “Conversate” (Possibly because it is used incorrectly … it is an intransitive verb … yes, I checked.)
  • Any use of “leverage” to explain something that does not involve a fulcrum.
  • The use of “their” to refer to a singular antecedent: “Be prepared to politely and respectfully disagree when the client trashes your efforts to explain their jargon….” (OK, this one might get some pushback. “Their” is an indefinite third person singular antecedent, as in “Anyone in their senses.” It is a good example of language evolving and we cuss and discuss said evolution.) 
  • Using at least two pronouns to refer to a singular antecedent: “he or she” or “she or he” is a lot of she-he-it. (Clever Don. Very clever.)
  • Using “grow” as a metaphorical transitive verb, as in “Grow your business.”
  • “This is not my first rodeo.”
  • Using “in terms of” or “moving forward,” usages that point to dead areas in the brain of a speaker who feels compelled to keep talking. 
  • “Synergy,” a great bullshit word.
  • “It is what it is.”
  • Using “Dan” when it should be “Don.”

The last item on his list is my fault; I apparently have a bone in my head that forces me to call him Dan. Regardless Dan, er, Don, I do appreciate the feedback. 

Holy oversight, monsignor.

An old joke about language goes like this: A classified advertisement in the daily newspaper (yes “classified advertisement;” I told you this is an old joke.) contained the following:

“ATTENTION: Everyone who purchased our ‘Skydiving Made Easy’ correspondence course, please take note. On page 17 you should change the text from STATE ZIP CODE to PULL RIP CORD. Thank you.”

The crux of the joke is that words matter. Anyone who was baptized or had a child baptized by Father Andres Arango at St. Gregory parish in Phoenix, Arizona feels seen.

For years Father Arango was using the wrong word when baptizing babies. He was saying “WE baptize” you rather than the accepted “I baptize you.” This seems like an eensy weensy oversight, but from the standpoint of the Catholic Church it has invalidated scores of baptisms and subsequent sacraments like confirmation and marriage.

Even though Catholics understand the “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,” making the thought of using “we” seem acceptable, it isn’t, according to a Vatican spokesperson. “The issue with using ‘We’ is that it is not the community that baptizes a person, rather, it is Christ, and Him alone, who presides at all of the sacraments, and so it is Christ Jesus who baptizes,” the spokesman explained.

Here’s hoping that Father Palucci said the right word as he baptized Pat and Gerry’s little boy 66 years ago …

A grocer’s apostrophe

Here is a new way to misuse an apostrophe, shared by Emily Haag, a proofreader and editor in the United Kingdom.

A grocer’s apostrophe is the name given to an apostrophe when used to form a plural, as in apple’s, pear’s, and orange’s. It’s a common mistake, she explains.

“It’s quite common,” she explains in a post on LinkedIn. “It can happen easily by accident because we’re so used to putting apostrophes before the letter S.”

In this case the correct use would be to indicate possession, as in “The apple’s stalk …” or “the pear’s skin.” Not sure why it is called a grocer’s apostrophe, other than it may be most frequently used when talking about produce.


A Few Words About Words will, in June 2022, transition to an online blog rather than a monthly email. I would appreciate retaining all my readers, so please visit my website and click “Follow,” which can be found in the lower right-hand corner of your screen. Then again, if you are reading THIS, then you are at my website.

And remember. Let’s write carefully out there, people.

Joe Diorio is a writer living in Nashville, Tennessee. His first book, A Few Words About Words, is available now.

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