Legislative Grammar

I am a member of a state board that licenses and regulates a mental health profession. We are bound by an administrative code that spells out everything having to do with the profession as practiced in our state, such as qualifications for licensure, rules and regulations for practice, fees, fines, and procedures for handling consumer complaints.  Every two years, we are mandated to have a meeting to take comments from the public regarding our functioning and issues with our administrative code. We then consider the comments, make any changes that are necessary, and then forward the changes to a legislative  committee that will approve (or not) the changes we suggest. Usually, public comments have to do with unclear language in the administrative code.

During a recent meeting, our Board attorney proposed the following clarification of an unclear section of the code:

(4) Provide endorsements of application from behavioral health professionals that possess a current license, certification, registration, or other written authorization to practice from a state or provincial regulatory body, as approved by the Board

I and another Board member commented that the statement was fine, except for the word “that” in the second line. We thought it should be “who”. The attorney agreed, and said we could change it if we wished, but that the Legislators would probably change it back to “that”.  He explained that the Legislators don’t like to use “who” or “whom” because they are never certain which to use, and use “that” as a safer alternative. I thought that was pretty funny, as well as a sad commentary on the lack of grammatical knowledge of the people who are writing state laws.

What aspects of writing or speaking are you fussy about?  What sort of reputation would you have if you were a member of a state legislature?


83 thoughts on “Legislative Grammar”

  1. Can I just say “all of it?” No? Okay. Then let’s go with, “you can pry my Oxford comma from my cold, dead hands.” (Also probably known for keeping thesaurus.com open in a browser tab – even if it’s just finding the right word for an email.)

    Liked by 3 people

  2. Apostrophes. The poor apostrophe is so misused. Just because a word ends with an “S” does not mean you place an apostrophe before the S. Really.

    I and me, too. I don’t know how many times I’ve seen or heard something like “Gary came to the store with Bob and I.” That should be “Bob and me.” The craziest example I ever saw was “Bob and I’s house.” I’s? I’s? Do people really talk and write like that? (Answer: yes, they do.) And this was written by a former 3rd grade teacher.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Darling Daughter gets this wrong from time to time and it makes me crazy. She doesn’t write that way, so I think it’s a “fitting in with friends” verbal tic.


  3. I am fussy about spelling, commas, and apostrophes (though I admit I probably don’t use the ‘ correctly all the time). Incorrect use of I and me bugs me but not as much as incorrect use of lend and borrow. “Borrow me your pen” – really?!?!

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Just this morning, I changed the text of an email because I wasn’t sure about that darn apostrophe.
    Is it “Campuses”? Or “Campus’ “? I said “location”…

    I want to be a stickler, then I get in a hurry and don’t proof-read (and sometimes even when I do) and I mess it up. Hate it.

    I’m lucky, I don’t have to read student papers here at the college. But sometimes I’ll see some that and the spelling is just atrocious! The instructor says this class isn’t about grammar so he goes easy on that. OMG, I’d have to poke my eye out with a stick if I had to read all that bad grammar.

    Liked by 4 people

        1. I got to know a history prof at Grinnell. In one conversation he hinted that he sometimes used the stairstep system for grading papers. What’s that? You place a pile of student papers on the top step, then push the pile over so they spill over several steps. The highest or lowest (I can’t remember which!) papers get As.


        2. That’s terribly cynical, even if it is understandable considering the amount of crap they, no doubt, are presented with.


        3. I won’t defend it PJ, but these were papers written at the end of the term when he already knew what grade each student deserved. He was a generous grader. Again, this isn’t something I defend.

          Liked by 1 person

      1. Was it Hemingway that said ‘Write Drunk. Edit sober.’

        In my Critical Reading and Writing class last semester, we used the 7th version of MLA. (Modern Language Association). But the nurses used APA and there’s a few other versions out there too.
        Whose big idea was it to have all these versions??

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Don’t know that I have elevated it to “pet peeve” status, but the current campaign to use “they” instead of the gender specific personal pronouns is confusing to me. It grates on my ears, and leaves me bewildered, to hear “they” used to refer to an individual person. I know the intent is to be more inclusive, and to avoid confronting specific identity questions, but, still, it confuses me. Perhaps this is the kind of language usage that has to take place to accommodate our evolving understanding of people’s gender and sexuality, but I don’t like the ambivalence of it. It’s entirely possible that I just haven’t evolved enough, yet.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I have fully embraced using “they” and “their” in singular, though I admit at first it grated a bit. Two things changed my mind: first – we have used “they” and “their” in singular off and on as proper grammar for quite some time, and second – a changed perspective on how exclusionary the gender binary is for a portion of the population. I would far rather use they/their than guess incorrectly about a person’s gender identity (and will use whatever pronoun set that aligns with the person I am addressing, based on what they have asked me to use…even if zhe/zhir doesn’t really roll off the tongue).

      Liked by 3 people

      1. Thanks, Anna. I was hoping that someone would give their rationale for accepting or rejecting the initiative. I’m still ambivalent about it, but I recognize that there’s a legitimate reason for the initiative. Just wish we could find a more creative solution.


    2. Back in the 1970’s, when people first started using terms like “spokesperson” and “chairperson” instead of “spokesman” and “chairman”, I thought it sounded terribly awkward. Now it sounds perfectly normal. I don’t really like the contemporary use of “they”, either, but I suppose it will eventually evolve into normal usage.

      Liked by 4 people

  6. I had a different sort of pronoun issue when I was an outdoor journalist. I wrote a lot about dogs. I’d say something like, “Brandy was a dog who often dreamed about hunting.” The questionable word in that sentence is “who.” More cautious (I want to say “prissy”) writers would have said “a dog that dreams . . .” But the dogs I lived with had such vivid personalities, I was always gonna use a human pronoun.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. I played that game in my fiction. Animals were a “that” unless they were shown with personality, when they became a”who”.
      I once in the faculty room passing correcting (upon request) a sentence that used that for who. Two English teachers immediately told me I was wrong. Of course, they were terrible teachers, the both of them, I started upbraiding me about how stupid I was. Another English teacher fetched his copy of the PMLA. Neither knew what the PMLA was.
      One of the things that I struggle with is where the quotation mark is at the end of the first paragraph of mine above. In journalism the quote marks always go outside the period. Having used that format in our publication, I struggle to use the older, PMLA rules.
      I As a teacher I was fuzzy about what I taught. Students were surprised to learn that colleges cared about those same things. Most colleges had students take a test before registering for freshman comp, usually while still in high school.. They would come back and be in surprise that what I taught was how they were tested.
      As an editor/copyreader I was fussy about everything. I think “whom” is dead. It sounds pretentious in most cases. Very few people ever notice when it should be whom by the true rules of case. Every so often who sounds wrong.
      Now I am horrified by what gets by me. I only write much online except here.


      1. My how awful that second paragraph is. I assume you can puzzle it out. So tired of going back and correcting and struggling to read this tiny type.


      2. I looked up PMLA – Proceedings of the Modern Language Association of America.
        That’s the one I’m unsure of, too, Clyde, the comma in or out of quotation marks?… Now I just do whatever I feel like. I think you’re right about “whom” too.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. The only people to whom it makes a difference whether the comma and period go inside or outside the quotation marks are English teachers, editors, and computer programmers.

          Strunk & White’s “Elements of Style” was the usage bible that was drummed into our heads in my English classes. Consequently, I always put them both inside to avoid excessive red circles and snide comments on my papers. But who cares, really? I still haven’t figured out what the hell a comma splice is, and I really don’t care, but apparently I’m good at them.

          Liked by 2 people

  7. Stumbled on this word today: monetize. Definition could be deduced by context. I thought author had made it up. Means they to prepare for or convert a society to the use of money.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. A similar new word, Clyde, is “weaponize.” It means something like converting something ordinary into something dangerous. This weekend I read the title of a newspaper article that said: “Trump weaponizes the Supreme Court.”

      Liked by 3 people

      1. I find it interesting how certain words become trendy. One that I have seen a lot lately is “agency,” as in an individual’s capability of expressing their own will.

        I’m also wondering whether texting is accelerating a decline in our ability to express ourselves with accuracy or any kind of subtlety?

        Liked by 2 people

      2. Can you imagine, Steve and NS, how disconcerting it is to see these words crop up in Danish? These are, after all, English words (well, sort of), but the Danes just appropriate them like they have so many others. Sometimes they go through the exercise of translating them into Danish, but not always. Danish, both written and spoken, has changed a lot since I left fifty-three years ago. The average Dane, if there is such a thing, thinks nothing of it. Us expats see it, hear it, and cringe. Sometimes I can understand the French inclination to try to stop this onslaught of integration of foreign words and phrases into their language.


      3. The “ize” that drives me to distraction is the one that I hear about the office way too much “incentivize”. Aaargghh. I know that language evolves but I keep hoping the “ize” movement will be one of those branches of evolution that dies off.

        Liked by 2 people

    2. used all the time in my start up community

      people come up with great ideas, whacko ideas, and lots in between

      i was at a group where they were saying genius is only genius if you can get it out of the gate where folks can get at it

      for all the new companies that want $100,000 to get up and running the one thing they need to have a great answer for is how to monetize

      i realized when doing my biz plan spreadsheets to present to investors that icmonetized so easily and so exponentially that i didn’t want no damn investors telling me what they thought i ought to be doing
      me and bezos

      Liked by 1 person

      1. written after monetize before i realized i’d end up way down here

        i think a circular conversation like on a chalkboard with lines drawn to hook up to the links in conversation is in order
        word press is really parochial at addressing blog conversation
        then again i suppose every avenue is


  8. Pet peeves:
    – “Less” instead of “fewer” – I find myself regularly yelling at the radio about that one.
    – “Their” or “there” instead of “they’re” – (a relative writes that all the time…)

    I am a firm believer in the Oxford comma, but just today learned that’s what it’s called. because it can change the meaning without it by grouping the last two items.

    If I were any kind of legislator, I would probably be the one who didn’t show up any time it snowed more than a couple of inches.


  9. OT – Janet Hutchinson, the mother of singer/songwriter Meg Hutchinson, is conducting a month-long, poetry prompt e-mail chain. Here’s today’s prompt:
    “A Room in the Past”

    “Twenty years ago I taught a writing workshop at the local
    senior center. In that group was a ninety-five year old woman
    named Doris who couldn’t recall what happened yesterday, but
    could write in vivid particulars about her long-gone grandmother’s
    The prompt is to write about a room or rooms you remember
    from long ago — a kitchen perhaps. The poem will also be about
    someone who frequented that room.”

    This prompt was followed by three poems written around that concept. Here’s Ted Kooser’s:
    A Room in the Past

    It’s a kitchen. Its curtains fill
    with a morning light so bright
    you can’t see beyond its windows
    into the afternoon. A Kitchen
    falling through time with its things
    in their places, the dishes jingling
    up in the cupboard, the bucket
    of drinking water rippled as if
    a truck had just gone past, but that truck
    was thirty years. No one’s at home
    in this room. Its counter is wiped,
    and the dishrag hangs from its nail,
    a dry leaf. In housedresses of mist,
    blue aprons of rain, my grandmother
    moved through this life like a ghost,
    and when she had finished her years,
    she put them all back in their places
    and wiped out the sink, turning her back
    on the rest of us, forever.

    Ted Kooser
    in One World at a Time

    Any baboons up for this challenge?

    Liked by 3 people

    1. jb’s kitchen was up 6 steps and in from the driveway with the cellar door still there unused since the coal man stopped making his rounds
      it was sparkling white a door in front of you that was always closed that when opened had the steepest stairs leading down to where that coal bin had been
      jb used to be the one to wake up on those cold fargo mornings and head down to throw the coal on the fire to make a warm greeting for the family as they woke from beneath their blankets piled not quite high enough
      to the right of that basement door was the stove with it’s big ol oven remembering how grama used to bake bread before the accident then the arch leading into the house where life was lived. the dining room table where everyone sat, the piano the cherry desk where grandma organized life in compartments and drawers the tiffany chandelier was their opulence and beyond was the philco radio that let my dads imagination out at night when he was a boy
      grandpa jb had a tv but he didn’t think it was good, like the radio it was a conversation killer

      past the arch back in that kitchen was the fridge where a selection at least 10 kinds of candy waited for us to choose and jb would be there to look and smile and make sure you took a couple more pieces than you thought was the right amount. the sink and counter took you back to those 6 steps where you just can in.
      1444 6th ave south rolls off your tongue like a song
      jb and his stetson open road on the hat rack past the dining room past the radio past the tv in the front entry next to that coat closet that smelled like only jb’s house could
      i went back years later and i shouldn’t have it was small and shabby and not at all jb’s house where my dad and my aunts and uncles all had stories and roots. so small compared to my recollections
      i see jb at the dining room table laughing so quietly if you didn’t see his shoulders making him shake you’d miss it
      used to stack my kings three high on the checker board for me so i could see em better

      Liked by 3 people

    2. After the fire, the space hovered in the air above the debris; the space where the second floor bedroom had been, a space now occupied by absolutely nothing. It was the bedroom where she had grown from a toddler to a young woman, its walls changing color every so often to please her. For decades she had looked out that window every morning at the mountain ash, its branches full and green, or rusty bronze, or coated with snow, as the seasons cycled. A ghost room now, a presence and an absence at the same time.

      Liked by 2 people

  10. I hope I’d be the kind of legislator who promotes this JFK quotation, “Let us not seek the Republican answer or the Democratic answer, but the right answer. Let us not seek to fix the blame for the past. Let us accept our own responsibility for the future.”

    Liked by 6 people

    1. nice sentiment
      hard to equate today
      after such awful dismantling of everything i stand for its too much for me to not spit in their eye
      i really get upset just thinking about their agenda
      i hope the world speaks loud and clear about how the leader of a misguided following can be the final straw in the equation
      i hope it is a message so loud and so clear that every leader understands the full consequence of their self serving banishment

      Liked by 1 person

  11. In a short story about a curmudgeonly old woman (Catherine) who copyreads for a regional weekly newspaper and a new young reporter (Pate, pronounced Patty)I wrote the following, more to display character, but I think it says something about those who care about language.

    Catherine laughed at her poor lie. “Not until I write this damn feature story. Then I’ll start drinking and bite your head off.”

    “What’s it about?”

    “An old woman who died without much of a family.”

    “Was she somebody important? Does the story matter that much?”

    Catherine laid her head back down on her arms.

    “I mean, you’ll sweat over the copy an’ the next day it will be on the bottom of my gramma’s birdcage.”

    Catherine stood up. “I promise not to bite off your head, Little One. Come back with me.” She led Pate to a door, which she unlocked with a key on her keyring. She opened the door, switched on the lights, and said, “Little One, step into our birdcage.”

    Pate stepped in and cringed at the dust.

    “It’s good clean honest dust, Little One. It is historical dust. Do you know what all this is?”

    “Archives. The morgue.” Pate sneezed.

    Catherine opened a filing cabinet drawer and pulled out a bottle of Johnnie Walker. “Only the best.” She took off the cap and handed it to Pate. “Here. Drink some sneeze retardant.”

    Another sneeze erupted before she said, “It’s what, not even 9:30 in the morning.”

    “I’m not drinking. You will have to drink for me.”

    Pate took a small drink from the bottle. Catherine watched her swallow. “I knew you were no stranger to hard booze. Look around, under the dust, at the big bound volumes holding years of a small insignificant weekly newspaper. How would you describe this in feature copy?”

    “As history?”

    Oh, it is much more than that. It is sweat turned into dust. Not all of it, I must admit. Much of it is fit to line Granny’s birdcage. Some small fraction is not even that good. There are, Little One, people who sweat for words, for the right words, for the purity of words, for the joy and frustration of words, for words that respect truth and facts. Remember always, Little One, that truth and fact are not the same thing. Easy-going Sid sitting up in front in his publisher’s desk sweats for words.”

    “Sorry,” Pate replied.

    “Take another swig. Yes, that’s good. Put my bottle back in its hiding place so Sid can find it when he needs it. Good. Thank you. Now! I am trying to capture the life of a dead old woman. A unique person, which I cannot call her in the story because the word unique has been beaten into mush. A dedicated teacher. A woman who had her troubles but carried on in her earthy and brassy manner. I want to paint her in words, in truth and purity, which is a damn hard thing to do. It is a task worth the sweat. She is worth the sweat. A few hundred people will read it, if I am lucky, after which my story will come back here to lie in the dust. She was an earthy woman. Earthy to earth, a life to ashes, a generation to dust!”

    “Does what I write matter that much?”

    “Only to you, Little One. And to me and to Sid. Now get out and let me sweat.”

    Liked by 6 people

    1. bravo clyde

      is there a way to get your writingvall in one place so i can find it in my disorganized hubbub when i get an urge to massage my brain with a little prose

      i love your voice

      Liked by 3 people

  12. I don’t think I’d be very effective as a member of the state legislature as I don’t always want to play well with others, especially when others have their heads up their ****es. But if I could stomach it, I would be the one that people come to when they need to get the correct usage/spelling. I probably get at least one question like this every week at the office.

    And I’m the only person I know who loved Uprooted by Naomi Novik because she used the subjunctive correctly in the first sentence! Well — and the rest of the book too!

    Liked by 4 people

  13. And speaking of books.. Blevins reminder. April 12 at Occasional Caroline’s. The Orchardist by Amanda Coplin and Men without Women by Haruki Murakami.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. I once read an explanation of the the difference between the words “uninterested” and “disinterested”, and ever since, it’s bothered me to hear the world “disinterested” used incorrectly. Happens a lot. I’m currently reading a book in which the author – or maybe editor – correctly chose the word “uninterested” and silently applauded. But then, a chapter or two later, he used “disinterested” to mean the same thing.

    Another one is averse/adverse. It always bothers me a little when I hear someone say “I’m not adverse to that…”

    Liked by 1 person

    1. My next door neighbors never had their dogs spaded. When he was diagnosed with prostrate cancer, many years ago now, we thought he was a goner. Now I think the odds are that prostrate cancer won’t be the cause of his demise.

      Liked by 3 people

  15. We wrote for and marketed to educators, which includes some very picky people. So I worked hard to get all aspects of language right. But errors always get through. In our newsletter I used the word hopefully, as in say, hopefully, this will work out. I know it is a loose usage, but just did not think about it. A curr. Dir. in Wisconsin went ballistic. She demanded we stop sending the newsletter to their schools. Meanwhile an el. Princ. Called to ask permission to copy that one for all el. Teachers in the district. Funny. We kept mailing. She kept picking and demanding we cease. Some things she was just wrong about. Most things. But she was a potential buyer. So you care.
    Sometimes we wondered about if we should be right. Healthy food is a wrong phrase. It should be healthful food. We chose healthful. It appeared several times in some very tight, technical forms for health teachers. Three letters complained. One returned materials because we had made such a stupid error. A curr. Dir. wrote to thank us. She kept explaining it to teachers.
    So you see these small issues can matter.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I don’t condemn “hopefully”. It’s perfectly fine. The verb is implied. To speak hopefully, this will work out. It’s the same usage as “frankly” – you can say “Frankly, he lied,” and it is not a contradiction.

      Liked by 2 people

  16. i was instructed to observe all the ly endings left off altogether in common usage

    it’s almost funny if it weren’t so sad

    people trying to talk intelligent

    Liked by 2 people

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