"Some people have a way with words, and other people...oh, uh, not have way."
- Steve Martin

Nauseous vs. Nauseated & Other Issues I’m Over

The other night, I got a text from Laila, whom I’ve known since fourth grade: “Do you think ‘nauseous’ and ‘nauseated’ can be used interchangeably? I don’t.’”

“Nope,” I replied. “If you’re sick to your stomach, you’re nauseated, never nauseous.”

“I agree,” she said. “But someone who is arguing with me about it sent me this link.”

“I can look at this more tomorrow,” I replied, and went to bed.

Except I couldn’t sleep. So I went to Google and discovered this explanation from a helpful site called vocabulary.com: “Nauseated is how you feel after eating funnel cake and riding the tilt-a-whirl. Nauseous, on the other hand, should be reserved to mean causing that feeling, not having it. However, nauseous is used so often now to mean ‘feeling sick’ that dictionaries define it that way.”

This is yet another case of incorrect usage becoming so pervasive that dictionaries throw up their collective hands, shrug, and say, “Have it your way, then.” (While this seems to work well for Burger King, it’s not the best approach for the English language.)

Something similar happened a few years ago with the words “over” and “more than.” Back in the day, “over” was used to refer to spatial relationships, and “more than” was used to express relational quantity with numbers. For example:

  • She crossed over the bridge.
  • She ate more than 200 Cheetos last week.

You would never say “over 200 Cheetos.” That would be grammatical blasphemy. Except people did say it—frequently enough that, one dark day in 2014, the Associated Press Stylebook tweeted, “AP Style tip: New to the Stylebook: over, as well as more than, is acceptable to indicate greater numerical value.” And dictionaries followed.

But you know who didn’t follow? Me. No matter how many times I see “over” used in conjunction with quantity, I change it to “more than.” I know I should just “get with the times,” but it sticks in my craw. I can’t do it.

So how about you? How do you feel about nauseous vs. nauseated and over vs. more than? And is there anything that’s accepted nowadays that you just can’t bring yourself to embrace?

Until next time.

Word of the Week: Craw
Song of the Week:I Know It’s Over,” The Smiths

Who Cares About Whom?

It probably won’t surprise you to learn that, back in school, English was my favorite subject. I liked how prescriptive and orderly it was, and I liked that it came pretty easily to me (unlike, say, geometry).

But every grammar superhero has her kryptonite, and mine has always been “who vs. whom” (followed closely by “lay” vs. “lie”—a topic for another day). I would happily continue to avoid this topic altogether, but several people (okay—three people) have asked me to cover it, and I aim to please.

Who vs. Whom
It boils down to this: you use “who” as the subject of a sentence and “whom” as an object. A subject acts, whereas an object is acted upon.

Putting aside “who” and “whom” for a moment, consider these sentences:

  1. He bought 30 bags of Cheetos—one for every day of the month. Here “he” is the subject of the sentence—the one doing the acting.
  2. Toss him a bag of Cheetos. Here “him” is the object (specifically, the indirect object), the one being acted upon.

According to the “Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation,” the who vs. whom conundrum can be boiled down to a simple formula where “he = who” and “him = whom.” Essentially, you answer your own question, substituting “he” for “who” and “him” for “whom.” Here are some examples:

  1. Who/Whom bought 30 bags of Cheetos? Here it would be “who” because you’d say “he” bought the Cheetos, not “him” bought the Cheetos. Make sense?
  2. To who/whom should I toss the bag of Cheetos? Here it would be “whom” because you’d toss the Cheetos to “him”; you wouldn’t toss them to “he.”

Lest those two deliciously cheesy examples fail to clarify this often-confusing issue, here are a few more examples:

  1. We were wondering who/whom the Guns ‘N Roses tickets are for. Here, it would be “whom” because the tickets are for “him,” not for “he.”
  2. Who/whom should I say is calling? Here it would be “who” because “he” is calling; “him” isn’t calling.
  3. Who/whom wrote the letter? Since “he” wrote the letter (“him” didn’t write the letter), the correct answer is “who.”
  4. Who/whom should I vote for? Because you would vote for “him” (you wouldn’t vote for “he”), the right choice is “whom.”

Want more examples? The Oatmeal has a fun comic called “How and why to use whom in a sentence” that includes references to spiders, eagle sandwiches, and flamethrowers. I highly suggest you check it out. I’d also like to challenge you to apply the “he” vs. “him” methodology and take this quick, 10-question quiz. Then post how you did in the comments below.

I’ll be back in a couple of weeks with another post. In the meantime, what’s your grammatical kryptonite?

Word of the Week: Conundrum
Song of the Week:Who Knew,” by P!nk

Setting the Standard for American’s Everywhere

Recently, I was reviewing a document that claimed a staff member was “most likely to set the turtleneck standard for American’s everywhere.” (Don’t ask.) Anyway, as soon as I saw “American’s,” I knew what my next blog topic had to be: the apostrophe.

The apostrophe (‘) is a punctuation mark used to indicate possession (“Mindy’s blog”) or the omission of letters or numbers (“can’t” or “class of ‘75”). This particular blog is going to focus on the rules related to possession. There are a number of them, so bear with me.

Rule #1: To show possession of a singular noun, you add an apostrophe + “s”:

  1. The bulldog’s underbite is his best feature.
  2. Mindy’s Cheetos await her return. (Don’t even think about touching my Cheetos.)
  3. Mr. Eadeh’s house has three refrigerators.
  4. It always comes down to the boss’s prerogative.

That last one looks weird, right? The fact is, there are a number of common nouns ending in the letter “s,” like “cactus,” or “syllabus.” Same goes for proper nouns, like the last names “Holmes” or “Tines.” There are conflicting rules about how to treat these. One common method many magazines and newspapers use adds an apostrophe + “s” to common nouns ending in “s” but an apostrophe only to proper nouns ending in “s.” I favor this method as well. Here are a few examples:

  1. The cactus’s needles were sharp.
  2. The class’s hours were long.
  3. Mr. Tines’ new dog attacked the kindly, unsuspecting painter.
  4. Nicholas’ desk was a mess.

Rule #2a: To show possession of a plural noun, put an apostrophe after the “s”:
Some plural nouns end in “s,” like “girls” and “dogs.” Others end in “es,” like “actresses” and “nurses.” Here are a few examples of plural possession:

  1. Girls’ night out
  2. Actresses’ roles

Rule #2: Do not attempt to make a word plural by adding an apostrophe + “s.”
When you make a word plural, you never need an apostrophe. You simply add the “s” or “es.” This trips a lot of people up, however, and before you know it, they’re penning phrases like “most likely to set the turtleneck standard for American’s everywhere.” (It should be “…Americans everywhere.”)

I see this a lot with the word “Christmas.” Instead of “I’ve spent many Christmases with my family,” some opt for “…many Christmas’s.” But the biggest culprits are proper names.

Quick quiz: which is correct?

  1. The Kroll’s are here.
  2. The Krolls are here.

That would be “B.” But how about this one?

  1. The Holmes’ are here.
  2. The Holmeses are here.

That, too, would be “B,” odd as it might look. Same goes for “Joneses,” “Sanchezes,” and other proper nouns ending in “es” or “ez.” You might want to add an apostrophe; you might even be convinced you need an apostrophe. But you don’t.

But what about….?
Irregular nouns?
Some nouns become plural by changing their spelling. “Person” becomes “people.” “Child” becomes “children.” “Tooth” becomes “teeth.”

For these, you add an apostrophe and an “s,” like:

  • Children’s toys
  • People’s court
  • Teeth’s roots

When two people possess the same item?
This is simple. You put the apostrophe and “s” after the second person’s name only. So you get:

  • Dan and Stacy’s dog
  • Steve and Mindy’s Cheetos (mostly Mindy’s)

So there you have it—everything I can think of related to apostrophes and possession. I’ll be back in a few weeks with an as-yet-unidentified topic. In the meantime, do apostrophes trip you up? Do you ever try to make a word plural by adding an apostrophe? And what else would you like to see covered in this blog?

Word of the Week: Scurrilous
Song of the Week:Possession,” by Sarah McLachlan

Just Chill.

Guess what? My most recent blog post received double-digit comments—a new record for me. Whether that occurred due to the subject matter or the fact that I shamelessly asked for comments (remember…I’m breezy!) is debatable, but a couple of the responses have led me to develop another first—a follow-up post.

Consider this comment from Lou, one of my Plante Moran colleagues:

Just chill out! I understand and appreciate the concern expressed about undermining authority. However, authority is earned and is the product of effort and contribution times experience. Using “gentler pressure” is actually a way to influence the longer term, not only the moment you respond. Once you’re viewed as harsh or overly direct, your audience shuts down. I use the adage that I attribute to Frank Moran (likely he noted from someone else): “gentle pressure, constantly applied yields results and avoids major interruptions.” Just my $0.02.

Of course he’s right. Authority is earned, and I understand that there’s a fine line between direct and abrupt. Moreover, I consider that Frank Moran quote a personal mantra (though for my purposes, it’s “gentle pressure, relentlessly applied”). I think about the people I respect most professionally—men and women—and all have made an art out of this. But there are “just” so many gray areas…

Consider this.

The same day my last blog came out, I was copied on an email from Lindsay, PM’s marketing tax consultant. It began like this: “Hi Mike — wanted to give you an update on the latest private equity tax article.” Immediately afterward, she forwarded that email to me with the following comment: “You’ll be happy to know I removed three instances of ‘just’ from this email.”

And I was happy! Because I could see the effect of removing those “justs” in action. Look at that first sentence; I’d be willing to bet my next paycheck that it initially said, “Hi Mike — just wanted to give you an update….” But instead she went with the more direct “…wanted to give you an update….” And there’s nothing harsh or off-putting about it.

What do you think? Should I just chill out? And are there any specific topics you’d like me to touch on? I’ll be back in about two weeks.

Word of the Week:  Anodyne (I heard a vendor say this in a presentation last week. Good word.)
Song of the Week:  “Summertime,” Will Smith