Minding Our P’s and Q’s

Out with the old and in with the new, that’s what they tell us each year. So what Old Thing will YOU choose to leave behind as the days carry us toward 2012?

I know I can name a couple of customs I’d like to see go out with the trash:

I would like very much to see people especially in commercial settings stop saying “No Problem” when thanked for their services. I mean, are we so fixed on problems in this society that the word is ever on our lips? Did the donors of this giant turkey say “No problem” when President Bush said “oh hey thanks for this!”?

Certainly other cultures have more graceful ways of acknowledging thanks

The French say “pas du tout” or “not at all.”

  • Those speaking Spanish say “de nada” which means “It is nothing for me to help you in this way.”
  • And the Germans use the single word “bitte” that appears to mean, by turns, “please,” “thank you,” “your table is this way” and “I’m sorry to say we are out of bratwurst but let me bring you another half-gallon tankard of beer.”
  • All these phrases are nicer than “No Problem.”

So that’s my first gripe. My second gripe concerns the bad grammar you hear on electronic media of every kind.

I would like to see every reporter, news anchor, talk show host and meteorologist go back to school to learn a little more about proper English usage.

Oh maybe they know that a noun is the name of a person place or thing. The family dog probably understands that much. But who understands pronouns, those handy ‘his-her-and-their-type words that save us from having to say “Johnny crashed Johnny’s car when Johnny tried to text Johnny’s buddy while making a too-wide turn at the stoplight”?

Very few.

Pronouns have to agree with the nouns they’re standing in for: that’s the rule. And here is a helpful little refresher:

You know you’re dealing with the NOMINATIVE CASE when you’re looking at the subject of a sentence, like the word “Joe” in the sentence “Joe patted the dog.”

You know you’re dealing with the POSSESSIVE CASE when a noun comes with an apostrophe-s tacked on to it, as in the sentence “That dog is not Joe’s.”

And you’re working with the OBJECTIVE CASE when a noun receives the action of the verb as in “the Dog bit Joe.”

Again, a pronoun has to match its noun in case. Thus, if you say “Mom told Beth and I we could go to the mall” you are making a huge error as you will see if you take out the word “Beth.”

“Mom told I?” You wouldn’t say that!

You wouldn’t say, “the waiter set the plate down before my date and I” either because “before” is a preposition and prepositions take the objective case. You know the above is wrong the minute you take that date of yours away (though it is admittedly stressful to have your dates taken away in restaurants, especially if you’re hoping they’ll foot the bill.)

And now here we are back where we started, in restaurants with patrons offering thanks to the wait-staff for serving them and the wait-staff in one way or another saying they were happy to do it.

I guess that’s the most important thing: that we acknowledge one another’s efforts in keeping that social fabric nicely knit together.


As for thanking ME for this grouchy little harangue, I know you might not feel like doing that. But if you do I’ll probably just say “You’re welcome” because, in case it isn’t hugely obvious, for some of us OLDER folks the breezy approximations of modern speech just plain make us crazy!

26 thoughts on “Minding Our P’s and Q’s

  1. Geeeeeez….If I actually had to remember all of that I could never write me a good sentence well. Though most would say I can’t not anyways….
    What’s the matter, no valium out there in the woods?

    No worries….

    1. hey what can I say it runs in the family. When one of my kids corrected her pal’s grammar in the 9th grade the friend said “you think you’re better than me!” to which my child responded “better than I!”
      What woods? I’m here chained to my desk as always 😉

  2. When in Bosnia in the 80’s, I was somewhat shocked when a merchant from whom I was trying to get a better deal came out with, “Hey, no problem!!”. Apparently the only English he knew.

    My TV beef is with virtually all guests who when interviewed and thanked by the host/interviewer respond with their own “thank-you” rather than the proper “You’re Welcome”. Oh well, moving on…..

  3. Another pet peeve …. the difference between “your” and “you’re”……
    and what about all the plurals that seem to sprout apostrophes for no reason?

  4. Where did that dog come from? I hope not a shelter. Did Joe go to the emergency room? Is he OK now? TT, you mustn’t leave us in the dark like this.

    How about “you know” that athletes persist in saying over and over again when interviewed on TV. And the ubiquitous lie/lay confusion

  5. What dog? Who’s (whose) Joe?

    I don’t mind “no problem” because I think it originated in either Australia or New Zealand – when we were there years ago we noticed it first. Now we just have to wait for “how’re you going?”

  6. Hi Terry, As a teacher, I constantly hear , and see, poor grammar usage all around me. Constant misuse of there, thier, the’re, two, to and too….. you get the picture. Then my students show up and things really go downhill. They not only use whatever words they want to, but they PRINT them all. No cursive, nope, zip, nada. It is no longer taught in the primary grades. Don’t get me started on the reading of a clock capabilities….. In this, our brave new world, you must be careful what you know because some things become painfully apparent when you are aware, I guess. Happy new year, CJH

  7. Terry, I am with you on the quest. But I fear we are the generation who is possibly tilting at wind mills. “Does anyone care?” You and I and others of your faithful readers. My all time favorite correct usage “It is I, Ensign Pulver!”

    1. tilting at windmills I like that Elaine…we are in good company anyway with Don Quixote! Now I have to look up that quote of yours!

      I say “it is she” and “it is they” Nobody falls done dead. If I did say “it is her” my mother would send a thunderbolt down on me!

  8. … but “pas du tout” and “de nada” mean (approximately) “no problem”… A pity, because we have a much better response in English to a “Thank You”, one that the French and Spanish seldom use: “you’re welcome”. Use it with young people who thank you, it will set a good example.

  9. you’re right there Chris: ‘Not at all’ and ‘It’ i nothing.’
    I use ‘you’re welcome’ too even though its implications challenge me. (ie’you are welcome to all that I have’ is what it MEANS. (Kind of like ‘if a man asks for your shirt give him also your coat.’ We know who said that!

  10. that whole “no problem” thing almost sounds like it is actually a problem… :0) happy new year to my favorite bostonian!!! xoxoxo

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