American Heretic's Dictionary revised and expanded by Chaz Bufe, front cover

by Chaz Bufe (author of the revised and expanded American Heretic’s Dictionary, scheduled for June 2016)

Bad usage trends come and go in written English. (We’re not talking about, like, you know, spoken English.) Over the last few decades, one of the most prominent has been the use of apostrophes to form plurals, as in, “Idiot’s form the plural by inserting an apostrophe before an ‘s.'” Fortunately, this manner of forming plurals is now regarded almost universally as semi-literate, and it seems to be fading away.

Another really bad trend is use of wordy, pretentious “of” constructions in place of adjectives (mostly those ending in “ed”), as in “people of size” instead of “fat people,” or “horse of disease” instead of “diseased horse.” Fortunately, this type of construction also seems to be fading away. If the contrary was true, we’d likely find ourselves reading sentences such as, “The girl of small size in the dress of stripes bought three balloons of color.” Fortunately, such constructions are becoming increasingly rare, and the adjectival “of” form survives today primarily in the mandatory PC term, “people of color.”

As noted in a previous post, “and” is increasingly used in place of “to” in the infinitive, as in the barbaric, “I’m going to try and write literate-sounding sentences.” This usage seems to be on the upswing, but it’s so ugly that one suspects (well, fervently hopes) it will disappear in short order. Just remember, “and” is not part of the infinitive.

(As a side note, I was dismayed a couple of nights ago, while rereading Heart of Darkness, to see that even Joseph Conrad used “and” as part of the infinitive–in 1899! [The horror! The horror!] There’s only one instance of this in the book, but still . . . . . So, while I detest this construction and wish it would go away, I’m not holding my breath.)

Another really bad and ascending trend is the overuse of hyphens, what one might term “hyphen hysteria” (or should that be “hyphen-hysteria”?). Hyphens are creeping into places where they simply should not be, where they’re simply unnecessary. The primary example is “well-known.” In this usage, “well” is an adverb, a word that modifies an immediately following adjective. Hence, the hyphen is unnecessary; it’s ugly clutter. It’s even common nowadays to see hyphens inserted between adverbs ending in “ly” and following adjectives, as in “friendly-sounding.” This is even worse than inserting hyphens after other adverbs. The “ly” ending is figuratively leaping into the air, waving pom poms, and screaming, “Look at me! Look at me! I’m part of an adverb!”

Just remember, do not use hyphens between adverbs and adjectives; rather, use them in adjectival phrases that precede the noun being modified, as in, “Bubba downed five shots of tequila in his end-of-the-day ritual.” And omit the hyphens if the phrase comes after the noun, as in, “Bubba’s ritual consisted of downing five shots of tequila at the end of the day.”

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