Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Towing the line and jiving with grammatical tenants

If you think there's nothing wrong with that title, prepare to be made fun of, because this post is for you.

First of all, it's not "tow the line," it's "toe the line." T-O-E, toe. Yeah, those things on the end of your foot. The expression comes from lining up in a strict row, with everybody's toes on one line. (Don't blame me if you don't like it; I didn't invent the phrase.) On the other hand, "Tow the line" doesn't even make sense. You can tow things with a line, but why would you tow a line? And what would you tow it with, another line? Yeah, that makes sense.

Maybe now you're thinking, "That doesn't jive with my understanding." Actually, it does, because "jive" means to trifle with or make fun of, and it's fair to say that I'm jiving with your understanding. I'm gibing at it too. The word you're looking for is neither "jive" nor "gibe," it's "jibe." J-I-B-E. Jibe. You jive turkey.

"Well," you say, "in the housing track where I live, everyone says 'jive.'" I'm not surprised, because it's "tract," not "track." "Track housing" would mean your home is built in the infield at Churchill frikkin' Downs or something. "Tract housing" means your home is built on a specified tract of land. Oh, and you Mormons, our missionaries don't "track" houses, they "tract" them. Houses don't usually require tracking, since they rarely move very far. It's tracting they sometimes need, in the sense of going door-to-door and handing out tracts.

"Look," you argue, "if I say 'tow' to somebody instead of 'toe,' or 'track' instead of 'tract,' that's none of your business. It's between he and I." Wrong! Wrong, because it's not "between he and I," it's "between him and me." I know when you were a little kid somebody told you not to say "him and me," but that was in sentences like "Him and me went to the park." "Between" is a preposition, and you use the accusative case (J'Accuse! Your grammar sucks.) with prepositions. You wouldn't say "that's between we," would you? Then don't say "between he and I."

"That's fine for you," you begin, "if you can remember all those grammatical tenants, but -- ." Stop! Just please stop. You may own some rental housing, and you may have some tenants, and they may be grammatical (which is more than I can say for you), but that's not what you meant to talk about, is it? The word you want is "tenets," T-E-N-E-T-S, tenets. Tenants = renters, tenets = doctrine. Get it?

By now I'm sure you're thinking, "kuri, your a mean grammar Nazi." To which I can only reply: "No my not."


  1. Funny. I haven't used any of the "tow" or the "jive".

    But what I have been trying to bring back is "cater corner". Not kitty corner. Not catty corner. Not caddy corner. C-A-T-E-R corner.

    Oh, and for the records for some people out there, "supposably" is not a frickin' word. It's either "supposedly" or "possibly". Pick one.

  2. My grammar is awful. My spelling is weak. My typos go unnoticed (by me). I wish I were a grammar nazi, but my own house isn't in order, my walls are glass and my stones remain unthrown. However, it really annoys me when people put an AND inside a spoken or written large number where the comma should go. And is only to designate the decimal, people.

    Oh, Irregardless isn't a word. It isn't a word in Kentucky, Alabama, or Oklahoma (where I went to college). Listening to people, one would think it is. But it isn't.

    Speaking of grammar, I hit up your friends at Mormanity over the improper use of the term Chiasmus today. Based on the hitbacks in my stats, I think they noticed the dissent.

  3. I don't actually mind real grammar mistakes. What bugs me is people using the wrong words.

    But what really bugs me about the "he and I" thing is that people are doing on purpose. Nobody actually uses it naturally. People only use it because they're self-consciously trying to have "good" grammar. It's not just wrong, it's pretentious too.

  4. Chris.... YOU AMUSE ME!!! ~Jane ;-)

  5. Thank you. Thank you very much. I'll be here all week.


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