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John Kelly's Washington Live

Free-for-all Discussion

John Kelly
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, November 12, 2004; 1:00 PM

John Kelly writes five times a week about the joys and annoyances of living in Washington. He aims to show readers the Washington (and Silver Spring, Alexandria, Manassas, Bowie ...) that they know and take them places they don't know. He wants to make them see familiar things in unfamiliar ways and unfamiliar things in familiar ways. ("We may occasionally end up seeing unfamiliar things in unfamiliar ways," John says, "but such are the risks of the job.") His columns take a cockeyed view of the place the rest of the planet knows as the Capital of the Free World but that we all call home. John rides the Metro for fun and once kidnapped an Irishman to see what made him tick.

Fridays at 1 p.m. ET John's online to chat about his columns and mull over anything that's on your mind. This week's columns:
Lights Out and Shopper Beware , (Post, Nov. 5)
Showing the True Colors of Election Day, (Post, Nov. 4)
Everything Free to a Good Home , (Post, Nov. 3)
Ah, the Bells of St. Mary's, (Nov. 2)
Answer Man: Piering Into the Capitol's Past, (Post, Nov. 1)

Post columnist John Kelly (The Washington Post)

Editor's Note: Washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions.


John Kelly: In the words of the great Pete Townshend, Who are you? Who, who, who, who?

Why do I really want to know? Because I'm interested in what exactly a "Washingtonian" is. If you've lived in Bowie all your life, are you a Washingtonian? How about Arlington? If you've lived near Dupont Circle or in Southeast for 15 years, are you a Washingtonian? What is a "native Washingtonian"? My curiosity stems from a column I did a while back on the pronunciation of "Washington." Some readers complained that "people from Manassas" were chiming in on the proper pronunciation, and that "people from Manassas" weren't entitled to call themselves Washhingtonians. So, my question to you is: Who is? If you have any cogent--or semi-cogent--thoughts on the subject, share them here. Also, please e-mail me: kellyj@washpost.com. Thanks.

To recap the Week in Columns:
Monday: How do they write those snappy Post headlines?
Tuesday: I callously make fun of Metro, and invite you to too.
Wednesday: Beats me what this column was about. For some reason I wrote about My Lovely Wife's gums and our kitchen trash can.
Thursday: Meeting five men from Nepal at a Montgomery County Subway sandwich shop.
Today: Grammar gone wrong!

And this is the part of "Sprockets" where we chat...


San Francisco, Calif.: I enjoyed your column today. I worked in the White House's correspondence department during the second Clinton term. We got a number of letters from people who didn't want to be an "escape goat"!

washingtonpost.com: A Word to the Complaint Department (Post, Nov. 12, 2004)

John Kelly: Oooh, that's a good one. Even better than "safety deposit box." It sounds like something you'd strap to your back before jumping out of an airplane.


Rockville, Md.: John, rainy days and Mondays always get me down, except for when we can look forward to your chat!;
Metro chief Richard White's newfound revelation that Metro is not all it can be, hence his decision to actually ride the trains and develop his "plan" making things better made me pretty angry.
It took people nearly getting killed before the big light bulb went off in this clueless clod's head?
So, what? A few bodies on the third rail would give the system a complete makeover?
I would gladly THROW myself on the third rail if it would mean folks would get to work on time in a safe, timely commute for a change.
Thing is, if an accident like the one two weeks ago were to happen and people do loose their lives, the only person who would likely be held accountable is some undertrained, underpaid low-level employee.
Metro management would still clear those six-figure payroll checks while thumping their chests in a collective mea culpa.

John Kelly: It was surprising that he hadn't been riding the Metro all along. It seems that that would have given him a useful perspective. I learn all sorts of things by reading The Washington Post, for example. I can't imagine how my bosses would feel if they discovered I didn't read it.

Now, luckily no one was "nearly killed" in the Woodley Park smashup, though I suppose that could have been the case without the heroic efforts of the train driver. And after the wreck was cleared and the single-tracking was over, my commute anyway was refreshingly smooth. I almost--almost--got the point where I didn't think about it. I had a brief vision of what commuting could be like: so easy and transparent that you don't even think about it.


Boston, Mass.: My biggest pet peeve...the evolving past tense. It used to be that the past tense of "wreak" was "wrought," and "plead" was "pled." I have read in numerouls papers that someone wreaked havoc and pleaded guilty to the crime. When did this become acceptible? What are some other notable shifts in past tense usage?

John Kelly: The first thing that Samuel F.B. Morse tapped out on his telegraph was "What hath God wrought?" They knew how to talk back then. As for what God wrought, I suppose we can draw a straight line from the telegraph to MTV's "The Real World." Thanks a lot, God.


Washington, D.C.: As a child I always loved the holidays because it was a time when my family would gather and do a local Home Tour. It was a great way to get in the spirit and to admire beautiful homes. Do you know of any Home Tours that will be taking place this year?

Thank you kindly.

John Kelly: There will be a great big list in the Weekend section on Dec. 3, when it does its annual list of holiday events. We call it the Ho-Hos.


Potomac, Md.: Please tell me how the occasional mispronunciation of the "Social" in Social Security is now becoming the standard of politicians--"sosill" instead of "soshill." It bothers me in the same way someone in today's column was bothered by "NUKE-you-lar" for "nuclear." Thank you for letting me vent.

John Kelly: I hadn't noticed that until you pointed it out, but now that you have I do recall hearing that occasionally. I wonder if we could trace it back to some single influential politician, whom everyone else wanted to ape. (Sorta like how hangers-on would mimic the speech impediments of royalty.) It also may trace back to the recent rise of "sisal" as a trendy material for floor coverings.


Anonymous: Orange Line: Metro can't teach its drivers to drive, can't teach its managers customer service, and can't run enough trains, yet they have a FABULOUS new website?!

John Kelly: It is nicer than the old Website, which I found confusing, slow and difficult to load. There are a few problems with it, though.


Fairfax, Va.: Re grammar/language -

What do you think of the phrase "in order to?" I think "to" is sufficient, but I think I'm outnumbered on this one.

John Kelly: I like the sound of "We, the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union" more than "We, the people of the United States, to form a more perfect union." But that's an almost poetical usage that excuses flowery language. Depending on the situation, "to" is probably fine.

Some people, though, think More equals Better. They say "at this point in time" rather than "now" or "will take place at" rather than "at." I once dealt with a freelance writer who did that all the time. It turned out that other publications were paying him by the word, and he padded all his copy so he could get a bigger paycheck.


Springfield, Va.: I've heard people say they are "standing on line" at the bank or wherever. I don't get it-unless there is a line actually painted on the ground in the local Starbucks, they are standing "within the line" or, in short, "in line". You cannot stand "on" something that isn't physically there-unless you're using a figure of speech. I'm a speech-language pathologist so I feel qualified to say this is incorrect. Is it a Washington thing? I've lived here almost my whole life and I don't say it this way. My mom, who's from Philly, claims it is a local custom. Thanks!

John Kelly: I associate standing "on" line with England. It's a sort of Britishism, like their affection for "queue" and Marmite.


Los Alamos, N.M.: I regret to say that I spent my entire childhood referring to things nuke-u-lar, in the manner of our current president. I picked up this trick of pronunciation from the adults in my life, of course.

I still can't think it sounds stupid, since those adults included the people who designed eighty percent of our current nuclear stockpile.

So how 'bout we call it a regional dialect instead of ignorance?

John Kelly: Fine. We don't want to get into a Red State vs. Blue State tussle. Of course, if you're in Los Alamos, maybe you should get to tell US how to pronouce "nuclear." You guys pretty much invented the stuff.


Laurel, Md.: LAZY THINKING AND SPEECH. The increase in the use of the word `thing' in our communication contributes greatly to the demise of ordinary words in speech. Increasingly the word `thing'is used instead of a subject or noun. Your column today begins with:"The English language is a living thing." UGH! to pardon an expression. Prettier yet: "English is a living language" albeit the growing use of `thing' is not enhancing its growth. Having gently (considering my penchent for `wordrage' due to it frequent use) hopefully the ripple will begin with your column, spread to columnist throughout the labrinth of the Washington Post and be noted by its readers-a Sisyphian goal... Cheers! John
p.s. the question enveloped in the above soliloqy is, do you agree that the word `thing' is widely misued?

John Kelly: I agree that "thing" is overused, but I disagree that I overused it today. I wanted to personify the "English language," rather than just make the point that it was a "living language." By saying that it was a "living thing," I wanted to place in the reader's mind the notion almost of a living being, so that there would be a resonance with "butchered" in the next sentence: a living thing, butchered. Believe it or not, I do think about these, uh, things, even if no one notices them.

The other thing that bothers me, and maybe I'll get around to doing a column on it, is the overuse of the word "piece." I hear it used a lot like "thing" these days: "We have to work on the budget piece, and I have some questions about the accounting piece." Usually you don't need the word "piece" at all.


Falls Church, Va.: A comment, not a question. I enjoyed today's column, "A Word To The Complaint Department."

My pet peeve is confusion over "imply" and "infer." It's so easy to know which to use! "I imply" and "you infer." Simple.

And I get a chuckle every time I go to my local post office and see the sign on the door that reads, "Handicapped Service Animals Only." I imagine blind guide dogs, or guide dogs in wheelchairs.

Okay, I guess it's really not that funny.


washingtonpost.com: A Word to the Complaint Department (Post, Nov. 12, 2004)

John Kelly: Well it's sort of funny. Of course a blind dog couldn't read the sign anyway. (Neither could a sighted dog, I suppose....)


Arlington, Va.: One thing I've been seeing a lot over the past few months is useage of the word "referendums." Sorry, but this word doesn't exist. The plural of "referendum" is "referenda."

John Kelly: I go both ways on this. You can be a real word Nazi, and insist on saying "The data ARE in." But if you do that, you also have to say, "The media ARE the problem." And lots of people do. But do they also say "I have been to many sports STADIA"? Because stadium is a singular Latin word and stadia is the plural.

Interestingly enough, my dictionary (Webster's New World College, 4th Edition) has "referendums" listed first as the plural of "referendum." And it has "stadia" as the first plural for "stadium." Personally, I say referenda and stadia, just because it's more fun to say.


Seven Corners, Va.: I've been on vacation and have not kept up with the chat, but I wanted to mention that for years I had a blissful (for the DC area) 4-mile, 12-minute commute from Arlington to Annandale via Sleepy Hollow. I did have to go through Seven Corners, but it was rarely a problem. Newbies avoided Seven Corners like the plague during rush hour, and all of us reverse commuters knew the drill. In fact, I would ONLY go through Seven Corners at rush hour. It was the only sane time of day.

John Kelly: This refers to a column a few weeks back where I drove--teeth clenched and palms sweaty--through Seven Corners. You propose a sort of full frontal assault, overwhelming the oppositition with the sheer audacity of your plan. I commend you.


Arlington, Va.: YES!;!; I couldn't agree more with today's column, and I have a few to add. A nationally known rotisserie chicken restaurant uses the slogan "Eat Good". I cringe whenever I see that. I also can't stand that the word "real" has become an adverb, as in "John Kelly is real funny." Others that bug me are "utilize" (unless it's for an innovative or practical application, just say "use") and "impacted" (unless you are in your dentist's office, in which case, you have my sympathies).

John Kelly: The verbification of nouns and the nounification of verbs does seem to be rampant. It's as if we no longer believe that words are specific things with specific meanings. The same way that fashion models want to act and actors want to direct, we want to stretch words beyond their original intent. I'm all for being creative--I'm proud that I got the word "crapiana" in The Post, in a column describing the contents of my basement--but so often people use words they thing sound more highfalutin' when they just sound...stupid.


John Kelly: By the way, I want to stress that I don't really know what I'm talking about when it comes to grammar. I am not an expert. I don't even play one on TV. I got away with today's column because I let readers vent with their own pet peeves. I wouldn't know a participle if it bit me on my gerund.


Bethesda, Md.: John,
Loved your column today on the word usage. It gives me the opportunity to bring this up.
The way government wonks use the word "partner" drives me up a wall.

"We partnered with company X" "We are looking for people to partner with in this project" "We are partnering with community leaders."

I thought partner was a noun, as in "He is my partner." When did it become a verb?

I sat through a speech by a cabinet official - who should remain nameless - used partner as a verb in a speech about 35 times.

Each time was like little knives cutting into my skin, it was that annoying. You have a lot of influence in this town, John.
Make it stop!

washingtonpost.com: A Word to the Complaint Department (Post, Nov. 12, 2004)

John Kelly: "Partner." "Impact." There's a bunch of them. You overstate my influence, however. For years I've been trying to get people to pronounce "URL" as "earl," rather than "you-are-ell." Where has it gotten me?


Silver Spring, Md.: John, my pet peeve remains the misuse of "its" and "it's". If people are confused about what's right, they need only substitute "it is" and they would know which to use.

Heck, I've even seen its' (SIC) in a US government memo!

washingtonpost.com: Yes, I agree. This relates to every time the producers have to edit a question coming into a chat. Also, Post style for Maryland is Md. not MD and Virginia is Va. not VA and Washington, D.C. not Washington, DC or Dc.

John Kelly: There's a book out by a British author called "Eats, Shoots and Leaves." (That is, the book is called that. The author is called Lynne Truss.) That's one of the things that drives her round the bend. There was a great review of the book in the New Yorker, however, that pointed out all the grammatical and puncutation errors she herself made in the book. Which is kind of a problem in a book like that.


John Kelly: And you've been warned by the chatmeister to mind your apostrophes!


Re. standing in line: Starbucks barristas are often heard calling out, "Are there any espresso drinks in line?" I always picture someone standing in line dressed as a huge Starbucks cup, with little green stockinged legs poking out the bottom.

John Kelly: Or how about when a TV football announcer says of an injured player: "He's got a groin"? Well, of COURSE he's got a groin....


Anonymous: Native Upper Caucasian: I was born and raised in upper NW DC, or as we refer to it (with only self-diminishing humor in mind), upper Caucasia. This refers to the predominantly white enclave of Tenleytown, Friendship Heights, and Chevy Chase, D.C. I went through the DCPS, went away to college, and returned to live and work here. I consider myself a native Washingtonian when compared to those raised outside of the city limits, but I question my legitimacy when confronted by fellow natives who grew up east of the park. Which is the more real (realer?) Washington, D.C. experience? I grew up on the fringes and not in the more central residential parts of D.C., where there is a lot of history and generations span. However, I also got to know a lot of political pilgrims who settled here after coming in with various administrations (or people like my father, who came here to work for an embassy and then switched careers 50 times). So what makes a native Washingtonian? Someone with roots that run deep here, or someone like me who is the product of immigration (from Chicago) but has only ever called this place home? It is a tough question to answer.

John Kelly: You introduce a concept that goes beyond the geographical. On the surface, most people would say you are a Washingtonian: born and bred within the city limits. But it sounds like you question the authenticity of your own experience. See, it's a real vexing question.


Greenbelt, Mf.: I would like to say that I love the metro. The stations and cars are reasonably clean. The seats are nice and comfy. Most of the conductors and station attendants I have spoken to have been professional and sometimes quite friendly. And the trains run at acceptable intervals- even late at night.

I have traveled on many mass tranist systems accross the world and I'd put the Metro at number 2 (sorry, Boston's is really nice).

Yes, fix what needs to be fixed and keep up the good work!

John Kelly: You might want to show up Tuesday at Metro's Open House to let them know they have supporters. We're all of us supporters really, since we continue to ride it. Ridership is at an all-time high.


New York, N.Y.: Today's column was great. It drives me crazy when people now say and write "different to"
rather than "different from."

I'm fifty-four, becoming a curmudgeon, and this usage seems very different to me.


John Kelly: When, exactly, does curmudgeonish kick in? I fear this job may force me into early curmudgeonment.

By the way, I've received several e-mails about the mention of "comptroller/controller" in today's column. The reader I quoted wasn't claiming that there was no such word as "comptroller," just that it should be pronounced "controller," not "coMPtroller." And, indeed, that is what my dictionary says, with no mention of the latter pronunciation. I am reliably informed, however, that other dictionaries allow--nay, even recommend--the other pronunciation. And this comes in via e-mail from reader Bernard Greene: "The distinction between a comptroller and a controller is not a trivial one. Moreover, it's easy to tell them apart. Comptrollers always say, 'Waste not, wampt not.'"


Santiago, Chile: Hi John!
I am Claudio From Santiago of Chile
As it is the best place of Washington to work, as it is the best place to live and as it is the best place to enjoy the life?

John Kelly: I think so. Everyone else agree?


Alexandria, Va.: I would like to know more about the triceratops you mentioned.

I am a lifelong DC area resident and when I was little, one of the delights of going to the Smithsonian was that there was a triceratops model, possibly full size but in any case pretty big, outside the museum. It was 2 or 3 times as tall as an adult. You could climb up and scramble on the back or sit on the neck, then slide down a foreleg. The only safety provision was that they tried to keep mulch and /or sawdust around it for the kids who tumbled off.

Needless to say, it vanished at some point, like all things have that were scary-but-fun. I figured it was gone for good. Then I discovered it a few years ago INSIDE one of the animal areas at the National Zoo (along with live animals!). What gives?

And are we really sure it had anything to do with this book about the Beazleys?

John Kelly: Did I mention a triceratops? I'm not saying that I didn't. And I remember the one you're talking about. It's just that I don't recall thinking of it lately.


Long Beach, Calif.: I was curious if you were going to visit the exhibit on US military history at the American Museum of Art. Considering the rampant martialization of our capital of late, including the WWII Memorial, I would like to know what our citizenry thinks of this. Perhaps you could find out?
It seems to me that the USA needs a military history museum more than militaristic granite mausoleum pieces. THANKS!

washingtonpost.com: Transcript: Brent Glass and David Allision, director and curator of the National Museum of American History, were online to discuss the new exhibit, "The Price of Freedom: Americans at War."

John Kelly: I have not yet been to the museum. My Vietnam vet-dad is in town this weekend, and I told him about it, but he's taking my nephew to Air & Space and Natural History instead. Tom Ricks, The Post's Pentagon correspondent, gave the exhibit a good review. I trust his judgment. He said one of the mosgt striking elements is a display on the Cold War. There's a window overlooking Washington with the legend "Ground Zero" painted on it, making the point that Washington was a target for the Soviets, just as Moscow was for us. Of course, we're a target again.


Olney Md.: Irregarless is a word and is of the same form as unravel, called a backformation. The difference in acceptance is that most people don't know that ravel means to come apart and that unravel should mean to come together. Irregardless means the same thing as regardless and is grammatically substandard but is still a word the meaning of which most speakers know.

John Kelly: Then there's flammable and inflammable. And what about "smithereens"? Can you have a single smithereen? It'd be awfully small, I guess.


Falls Church, Va.: Ooh, grammar complaining!

My recent pet peeve is when people use the word "virii" or something similar for the plural of "virus", because apparently "viruses" isn't good enough. The original Latin word "virus" didn't have a plural (and if it did have one, it still wouldn't have been "viri" or "virii"), so even to someone who says "stadia", it's still "viruses".

John Kelly: You must move in pretty rarefied circles if you have people saying "virii" around you. I bet you're the person to see to get a flu shot. (But isn't the plural of denarius "denarii"?)


Silver Spring, Md.: Speaking of the smashup, if you look while riding up the Red Line (towards home, for you and I) through the Brentwood Yard, you can see some of the leavin's of the wreck on some flatbed cars. Some parts are covered by tarps, but not all.

Laundry and steps. I feel you pain. Thank goodness I don't have as many steps leading from the street to my house. You had mentioned in a previous chat that you live off Dale. I know that west of Colesville there are some big hills, as well as along Burnette heading from Colesville up towards the Beltway.

John Kelly: I'll have to take a look. As for hills, I'm starting to think of my house as the Bates Hotel from "Psycho," backlit against a brooding sky.


Philadelphia, Pa.: When and why did "If I would have...(done x, y, or z)" become acceptable, and acceptable even in print? If I had, if I had, if I had! It hurts me.

John Kelly: When? Feb. 2, 1978.
Why? Who knows?

Imagine if the Beatles had sung (sanged?) "If I had fallen in love with you, would you have promised to be true, and have helped ME understand..."?


Sharpsburg, Md.: How many people do you know who say "I" when is should be "me"? For example, do you want to go with Mary and I? Number two complaint is that many people think that every word that ends with an "s" needs an apostrophe -- toy's, house's etc.

John Kelly: Yes, and I fear we've seen examples of the misused "I" in this very chat. If I'm not mistaken, an easy way to remember it is the eliminate the rest of that phrase and see if "I" or "me" sounds right. So: "Rudy went home with Mary and I" becomes "Rudy went home with I." That sounds wrong so "me" is correct.

And if me is mistaken, me apologize.


Arlington, Va.: Did you really kidnap an Irishman? Or is that just to see if we read the blurb at the top of the column...?

John Kelly: "Kidnap" is such a loaded word. Here's the column. I don't think I actually broke any laws.


washingtonpost.com: Out for a Bit of Fresh Eire (Post, March 17, 2004) John Kelly: here it is.


re. re. standing in line: It's 8 am, the barista has been making drinks since 6 am for $7 an hour, there is a line out the door and you are worried about their grammar?!?

John Kelly: Evidently, yes. Now, if you have more than one barista, what do you call that? Baristi? Baristii? Bariste boys?


Puru, Nepal: First of all, thanks for your nice article "Sandwiches, Subs and Heroes". Since I am also that part of the world, it really was nice article. What thing motivated you to sit down talk with worker from sandwich shop?

washingtonpost.com: Of Sandwiches, Subs and Heroes (Post, Nov. 11, 2004)

John Kelly: I just thought it was kind of neat that the five men all lived together in an apartment and all worked at the same place. And that they had come from this incredibly beautiful country that is now, like so many places, full of strife. I myself am guilty of not always seeing people as people, of seeing them as the thing that they do--or that I want them to do for me: make my sandwich, wash my car, whatever. So I wanted to learn a little about them and the lives they left behind. I only scratched the surface. And I expect that there are thousands of stories like theirs all around Washington.


Arlington, Va.: Dear John,
One of my favourite grammatical errors is one that you make in today's column: "different than." "More than," less than," but never "different than." It should be "different from."
Another peeve of mine is "12 a.m." or "12 p.m." No such times. It's either 12 noon or 12 midnight.
Sincerely, Ed

John Kelly: Did I make an error today? Geez. See, that's the problem with even bringing this stuff up. There's ALWAYS someone out there who knows more than you. I live with this possibility every day.


Washington, D.C.: We also seem to be getting so lazy that we do not even finish our sentences. I hear a lot of people ask me to join them by saying, "Want to come with?" When someone says that, I say, "No, thanks."

John Kelly: Soon we'll simply cock our heads and say, "Come with?" (That's right after we evolve one huge finger for pushing buttons.)


Gaithersburg, Md.: About today's column on grammar: my favorite is the (mis)use of the word "literally" as a degree word (I've given up on "hopefully" because it's now more an interjection than an adverb.) On Monday (8 Nov 2004), one reader, asking about how headlines are created, and she wrote that "-e]very day these wonderful lines literally fly off the page." She must have lots of blank newsprint and graphs strewn across her kitchen floor.

John Kelly: Yes, that's literally true. Monday's Answer Man questioner did use the word "literally" that way. I should of caught it. [Note that my use of "should of" is ironic.]


On line vs. In line: Many of my New York-based friends and relatives say they wait "on line." It sounds right with a New York accent. I grew up in the DC area and have always said I've waited "in line."

John Kelly: Okay. So as with "Warshington" we may be able to draw some line across the country that divides the on-liners from the in-liners.


Maryland: I must part company with those who insist
that "data" has to take a plural verb. Doesn't
anyone use the concept of "collective
singular" anymore? Other than "datum
point", who uses the word in the singular?

John Kelly: Thank you.


Anonymous: Not in the least bit worried: Sorry to have offended; I'm not at all worried by the barristas'/barristi's grammar---it's just my little way of amusing myself at 8:00 a.m while I wait in line for my coffee. Observation without infuriation---try it some time.

John Kelly: "Observation without infuriation." I like that. That could be the motto of my column.


Manassas, Va.: My "pet peeve" is the term, "with Au Jus" found on so many menus. "Au jus" means, "With juice" - so, it's really saying, "With with juice"!

John Kelly: Mmmm, with juice. I know what would really bug you: Asking why the soup du jour seems to be different today from what it was yesterday. (Or is it THAN what it was? My god, I can't even think anymore.)


Alexandria, Va.: There IS a cookie. There ARE cookies! NOT There's cookies.

John Kelly: There's cookies? Where? I'm hungry.


"Handicapped Service Animals Only": So does this mean the post office has folks in wheelchairs that will only give customer service to animal customers?

John Kelly: If I don't, someone else is going to point out that it should be "has folks in wheelchairs WHO will only give customer service to animal customers."

How did I end up being such a nitpicking busybody? I've changed, man, I've changed.


SW in Reston, Va.: My biggest pet peeve comes via the made-up words that are spawned from those hair-care/make-up/skin-care commercials. All those words like "bodification", "elastimifying", "thermabrading", "dermalastic" and "boosterating formulas", just drive me nuts. Is it just me?

John Kelly: There are very few times when the answer to the question "Is it just me" is "yes." It's a big planet out there. There may even be a thermabrading support group.


Washington, D.C.: I know two people who say supposubly. Drives me batty. And the kicker is they use this word a lot more than the average person!

Unfortunately, one of them is my boss, who I can't stand up to. The other one I just don't care enough about to say anything.

John Kelly: Now you've got ME saying it: supposably, supposably, supposably.

Nukular, nukular, nukular.


Washington, D.C.: I hear so many people, including teachers at my daughter's elementary school, pronounce "etc." as "ex cetera". I always learned it was pronounced "et cetera". Who's right?

John Kelly: You're right. And don't let anyone tell you you're not. My dictionary also allows "et CETRA," removing one syllable.


Merrifield, Va.: Hi, John, have you noticed this one? I hear so many people, more and more these days, saying "is is" when it's not appropriate to do so. Example: "The problem is is that they're too expensive." Another one (fingernails on chalkboard) is when someone says something like, "He gave it to my wife and I." Really? He gave it to I??

John Kelly: I've noticed it. I don't think it falls under the category of "more words make me look smarter." I think it's an example of trying to be super-conversational, or informal. It creates a pause in the conversation: "The problem is...is that blah blah blah." You can almost see the hip being cocked or the hand placed on hip. That doesn't make it right.


Arlington, Va.: Another one - "anyways" It bugs me how many people use that word!

John Kelly: You've all been warned.


Los Angeles, Calif.: And since when did VENTURA become VENCHURA?

John Kelly: Ever since America sang that song.


Alexandria, Va.: In regards to Monday's column, I must say that the title "A Mall and the Night Visitors" was hysterical!; SO clever!; And it makes me remember how many times I read that book as a child. Although I have to say, I doubt I would have gotten it just reading the article, it was only seeing it in the context of "punny" titles that I got it. Thanks!;

John Kelly: One reader called to say that it was a pretty mediocre headline. Upon cross examination it was clear she was unfamiliar with the Menotti opera "Amahl and the Night Visitor." That is the problem with any twisted headline, with any joke really: You risk leaving someone out.


Grammerville, USA: Relates to sports announcers: When referring to particular players of, lets say, super-star caliber play, they tend to use the word "the" before mentioning them. For example.

"You give huge contracts to the Derrick Jeters, the Nomar Garciaparas, the Derrick Lowes. . . " I hate it, hate it hate it. Get it?

John Kelly: The John Kellys get it. (Kellies? Kellii?)


Falls Church, Va.: For heaven's sake. The Beatles were singing in the conditional present tense - the possibility was still there, not talking about something in the past. I.e., "If I were to fall in love with you, could you promise to be true, and help me understand..."

John Kelly: I was just saying, what if they HAD sung it that way? I wasn't recommending it.


John Kelly: I'm gonna squeeze a few more pet peeves in here quickly.


Silver Spring, Md.: Another word that has become common because the original word has been misspelled so often: "restauranteur" (as opposed to the original -- "restaurateur").

John Kelly: noted.


Anonymous: Passive tense is used too much. "It's been said that . . ." and "XXX has been called . . ." are used in ads all the time. Sometimes journalists use "critics say . . ." (at times this means what they personally think). No need to say who said it or how many people did. The "New York Times" style book says to use "e-mail" and "Web site," but I've given up on that. "email" and "website" are too widely used.

John Kelly: Noted.


Washington, D.C.: Great article on grammatical/pronunciation errors! My two biggest pet peeves are when people say "drug" for "dragged" (his name got drug through the mud- shocking at how many highly educated people say this) and when adjectives are used instead of adverbs (I ran real quick- it's "I ran really quickly" since you need an adverb, not an adjective, to describe the verb). These errors drive me CRAZY.

John Kelly: Noteded.


Dupont Circle, Washington, D.C.: In your column this morning you failed to mention the most annoying (to me) misuse of words -- the expression "for free" (which has even appeared in your esteemed publication).

The proper thing thing to say is, of course, simply "free".

Most annoying of all is the phrase, "give away for free" which I see in books and magazines constantly.

Do editors edit anything anymore?

washingtonpost.com: A Word to the Complaint Department (Post, Nov. 12, 2004)

John Kelly: Noted. And editors do edit. Really, they're pretty good. We're none of us perfect. If we infuriate you with our mistakes, please don't take it personally.

Thank you for all the questions and comments. Sorry I couldn't get to everyone. Please e-mail me if you have any thoughts on the "Who's a Washingtonian?" issue: kellyj@washpost.com. And have a good weekend. Loosen your tongue and talk however you like.


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