The Grammar Curmudgeon

By Ed Hurst | Posted at 5:00 AM

For professional writers (and those who aspire to be), their language of publication is their best tool. I'm not a Luddite when it comes the development of language. The point is, English is my very favorite ministry tool, and I am passionate about keeping it in usable shape. For example, we can accept the use of "twofer" as a rarely used colloquial term. Such playful terms do have a place along side the usual "Net-speak."

A primary mistake these days among journalists -- A pox on them! -- these days is confusing populace and populous, which are pronounced almost the same. The former is a noun, generally used to indicate the folks dwelling in a particular region. The latter is an adjective, suggesting a given region is densely populated (peopled).

Another abused phrase is: "toeing the line". It is a reference drawn from forcing large numbers of people to all do the same thing, at the same time, in the same place. It's about conformity and uniformity. In this case, it means standing in proper formation, with everyone putting the toes of their feet in perfect alignment on the same line. In the military, that means lining up the toes of your boots visually. People who refuse to conform won't "toe the line."

If you substitute the word "tow" you imply something about pulling on a rope or cable, attached to I know not what, and neither do those who put this wrong word in the hackneyed phrase. If you are going to use a figure of speech, the least you can do is get it right: toe the line, folks.

Far less excusable is confusing the meaning between "I could care less" and "I could not care less." Grammatically, the former is nonsense, except as a comical expression equivalent to, "You want me to get even more hostile to this issue?" The latter is the proper form to express a total lack of concern -- "It is not possible for this to be any less important to me than it now is. It's not even on the radar screen. Don't bother me." Thus, it implies contemptuous dismissal.

A note in passing to those who revel in redneck grammar: You still sound like an complete idiot when you insist on replacing "format" with "floormat." I'll be glad to discuss with you the layout of many things, but when I want to cover the worn carpet in my automobile, I'll just buy something cheap without discussion, because I couldn't care less.

Ed Hurst is Associate Editor of Open for Business.