And the Rest Is History

The year was 1997. It was around 10 a.m., and the 22-year-old version of me—the graduate student who taught and went to school at night—was fast asleep. And then the phone rang.

“Did I wake you?”
“No,” I lied. (I always do this when the phone wakes me up. It could be 2 a.m., and I’d still act like I’d been awake for hours.)
“Good. I have an important question. My colleague was just talking about an historic event, except she kept saying ‘a historic.’ That’s wrong, right? ‘Historic’ gets an ‘an.’”

Before I go any further, I ask you: which is correct? “A historic event” or “an historic event?”

After asking my friend if this was really worth calling me at the crack of 10 a.m., I told him the truth: I thought it was “a,” but I wasn’t 100 percent. There didn’t seem to be anything special about “historic”; you wouldn’t’ say “an history,” for example, but I’d heard people say “an historic event” so many times, for so long, I thought maybe I was missing something.

I wasn’t. It is, in fact, “a historic event” because the “h” isn’t silent. The rule goes like this: use “a” before words that start with a consonant sound (a beer, a Cheeto, even a unicorn) and “an” before words that start with a vowel sound (an egg, an ostrich, or an MBA).

Interestingly, according to The Oxford Dictionary, the same people who say “an historic event” apparently also often say “an horrific event” and “an hotel.” Why? Because it used to be that way. Back in the 18th and 19th centuries, people apparently did say “istoric,” “orrific,” and “otel.”

But they don’t today. So neither should we.

New topic: What do you think of emoticons when it comes to communicating with clients/colleagues in business? Do you find them fun? Welcoming? Irritating? Unprofessional? And are they more acceptable in an instant message than an email? Why? Feel free to be candid. I’m collecting opinions for an upcoming blog. Thanks!  

Word of the Week: Heresy

Song of the Week: “We Didn’t Start the Fire,” by Billy Joel

First-Person Problems

When I decided to develop a blog focused on writing, I realized I was going to need a proofreader. (When you think, talk, and type as quickly as I do, things can go awry just as quickly.) So I asked Alexis—one of my best friends since 10th grade—to scour my posts for any potentially embarrassing mistakes. Even though she’s insanely busy, she agreed; she even said she was “honored” to review them.

After reviewing my first two posts, she headed off for a girls’ scrapbooking weekend. Somehow, the topic of my blog was raised. (One woman’s comment to Alexis: “Wow. There’s someone nerdier about grammar than you.”*) Shortly thereafter, one of her other friends mentioned that she needed “to pick up something for Jason and I.”

Now, I mentioned two blogs ago that I rarely correct my friends’ grammar. Alexis has no such qualms, especially given the fact they’d already been discussing grammar. “No,” she said. “You need to pick up something for ‘Jason and me.’” It was lighthearted, and everyone laughed. But a few minutes later, her friend continued, “I don’t know if that day will work for Jason and I.” Ouch. 0 for 2.

This is a common problem. “I” vs. “me” is tricky for many of us because “I” and “me” are both first-person pronouns. “I” is the subjective pronoun (meaning it’s used as the subject of a sentence), and “me” is the objective pronoun (meaning it’s used as the object).

So which is correct?

  • I went to the store.
  • Me went to the store.

Unless you’re Cookie Monster, you’re going to want to go with sentence #1 where “I” is the subject of the sentence.

How about:

  • The dog followed me to the kitchen.
  • The dog followed I to the kitchen.

#1, right? Because “dog” is the subject of the sentence, and “me” is the object of the sentence.

However, it gets trickier when you introduce a second subject or object—especially a second object. Consider this pair of sentences:

  • The dog followed Steve and me to the kitchen.
  • The dog followed Steve and I to the kitchen.

I’m betting that most people would go with “I” because it “sounds right.” But the answer is “me.” Again, “Steve” and “me” both serve as objects of the sentence, and the subject is “dog.” An easy way to tell for sure is to eliminate the additional object and the conjunction “and” from the sentence, which brings you back to “The dog followed me to the kitchen.”

Now, if you’ll excuse me, me off to eat delicious cookie.

Favorite Word of the Week: Buoy

Favorite song of the week: “You and Me” by You + Me

*Just for the record, we’re about the same level of nerdy. In fact, we own matching “I’m Silently Correcting Your Grammar” t-shirts.

From Rocks to Diamonds

At Plante Moran, we have a tradition where departing staff members write “green memos” to say goodbye, thank those who made an impact on them, and disclose what they’re doing next. Recently, a staff member with whom I worked closely left the firm, and she mentioned me in her memo: “Mindy Kroll — you are this firm’s secret weapon….I’ve said it a million times, I love your brain! I hand you a bag of rocks, and you turn them into diamonds.”

Nice, right? It actually made me tear up a bit. I’m a pretty humble person, and I’m not great at accepting compliments. But I do agree with the rocks into diamonds part. I sometimes refer to myself as “Mindystiltskin,” for I have the ability to convert lines of messy, questionable prose into a well-organized, understandable and—on a good day—engaging piece of writing. Something akin to gold.

So when I decided, recently, that I’d like to have my own blog, developing one around writing and grammar seemed a good fit. I had other ideas; I thought Steve and I could have our own music blog, or my friend, Lisa, and I could write about our struggles with technology or love of the 1980s. But this makes the most sense.

When I told my colleague, Dan, that I was considering this blog, his response was typically pragmatic: “You should have a blog. I should, too. It’s good for our resumes.” The next day—without any prompting from me—he designed this site for me.* (You didn’t think I did this myself, did you? Like I said earlier…technology struggles. So many technology struggles.)

This doesn’t mean I won’t occasionally write about other things. As the author of this blog, I reserve the right to write about whatever I want. I hope you enjoy it.

Word of the week: whorl

Song of the week: “Diamonds and Pearls,” by Prince