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A brief lesson on words

August 28, 2013
By Ted Rowe , Marshall Independent

The title to the sermon a couple of weeks ago was printed as "Who(m) do you trust?" Sure enough, after the close of the service, the pastor mentioned that the title was listed in that way because of an English teacher he had many years ago. My pastor's English teacher could have been mine. It was an insistence by those teachers to use the objective case of "who" which should be used in that question which, more properly, should be, "In whom do you trust?"

My guess is that there are not many grammarians left who would insist on worrying about whether "who" or "whom" is correct. There are some objective case words, however, that would rankle most of us. Consider: "Her remark rankled he." That should be: "Her remark rankled him." To make matters a bit worse, "Hims remark rankled her," should be "His remark rankled her." See the irregularity of our English language: The male possessive case and objective case are different, his and him, but the female possessive case and objective case are both her. It is no wonder that the English language is a difficult one to learn. Oh, Fiddlesticks!


English has borrowed words from other languages. Try this question on your friends: Give three words that end in "-gry." Two of the three are common, everyday words. I became so angry, it made me hungry. The third word is one that I am not sure I have ever used: puggry. When I type puggry on my computer, I get the red underlining of the word that generally means it is misspelled. It is correctly spelled, however. You can verify that by Googling puggry. It is a scarf worn around a helmet or hat usually with the tail of the scarf hanging in back to protect the neck from the sun. Puggry came into the language from India. Googling also gets red underlining and similar to puggry does not appear in most dictionaries.

More than 50 years ago the mathematics classroom in which I taught was used by a Latin and English teacher, the late Roz Young, during the time that I had to go to another classroom to teach biology. Roz wrote a column for many years in the Dayton Daily News (Ohio) and one of her columns from that distant past extolled the advantage of taking Latin as an aid to learning grammar as well as learning new words.

One of Roz's strongest arguments for learning Latin was that eye, ear, mouth, hand, foot, skin, and mind are derived from Old English or Middle English, yet the adjectives for those nouns are all from the Latin: ocular, aural, nasal, oral, manual, pedal, dermal and mental.


When I arrived as a college freshman at Denison University, one of the first decisions that would be made for each freshman was whether a three credit hour class or a five credit hour class would be required in English. I was one of the very few freshmen who had taken just three years of English in high school instead of four. Some folks at the time had assumed that four years was required by Ohio law, but not so.

Amazingly I passed the test well enough that I needed take only the three credit hour class. I attributed that to the fact that I had taken almost two and a half years of Latin where we learned (and I've now almost totally forgotten) about the possessive, objective, dative, ablative, etc. cases in addition to words and word origins.


I have continued going through stacks and boxes of old papers and mementos. I came across a reprint of an article by Stan Schirmacher in "The Old Farmer's 1975 Almanac" that relates to today's topic. The title: "Eighteen Rules for Good Riting." I will spare you the reading of the entire list, but there were several that I think are pretty good.

The most familiar rule is to never use a preposition to end a sentence with. To make that work, some change the wording as follows: Never use a preposition with which to end a sentence. But the shorter correction is: Never use a preposition to end a sentence. Who needs the "with?" That always reminds me of another teacher constantly correcting students who said, "Where's it at?" My three year older brother corrected me from saying, "Where's it at?" by answering, "Right behind the at." I learned to say, "Where is it?"

Relating to today's column, one of the Eighteen Rules is: Just between you and I, case is important. One of the misuses of "I" is now so common that I suspect very few English teachers would correct: "It's me," which really should be "It's I." After all, can you imagine the great gospel song being: It's I, it's I Oh Lord standing in the need of prayer?

A brief list of a few more of the Eighteen Rules:

Watch out for irregular verbs which has cropped into our language.

Just between you and I, case is important.

Don't use no double negatives.

When dangling, don't use participles.

Its important to use apostrophe's right.

And one last rule that thankfully my editor usually catches in proofreading my column: Check to see if you any words out.

Until next time: Oh, Fiddlesticks!



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