Back when I was an undergraduate I had to write a lot of papers. Being one interested in grammar and my language, I acquired Garner’s Modern American Usage (buy it on Amazon!). This book made my paper-writing process infinitely longer than it had been–that’s an exaggeration. It was longer, though. Sometimes I found Garner so distracting that I’d have to leave it in a separate room (did I ever make you take it, Austin?). I’m going to share a few nuggets with you today.
First, a practical piece of knowledge. Sometimes we see words misused/misspelled so many times that we mistake it as correct. For example, “lead” and “led.”
lead > led > led. So inflected. The past tense of the verb lead (/leed/)–meaning “to guide or direct”–is led. But as a noun, lead (pronounced /led/) refers either to a metallic element or to a think stick of marking substance in or for a pencil (though the graphite in pencils has not contained lead for many years). Writers often mistake the past-tense spellings, as if this verb were analogous to read-read. (Garner, 2009, p. 503)
Next we’ll look at a another variation between American and British usage.
learned; learnt. In AmE, the past tense is learned; in BrE, it’s often learnt. To use learnt in AmE is an affectation. (p. 504)
Lastly, some useful advice for some of my adventurous friends–I’m think of you, Pan, Lindsay, and Danny.
trespassers will be prosecuted. This phrase, which most readers would construe as referring to criminal proceedings, usually expresses an untruth. In most states (Louisiana is a notable exception), trespass to land is ordinarily a tort–not a crime. Although the landowner can sue, the district attorney won’t prosecute. But a trespasser who causes damage, as by trampling crops or breaking windows, can be criminally prosecuted. (p. 822)
That’s good news, right?