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You might need to get outside more

JUNE CASAGRANDE

Jeff Foxworthy, for those of you who don’t know, is a stand-up

comedian famous for a long-running bit called, “You might be a

redneck if ... " It’s an exceptionally brilliant piece of comedy in

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its ability to reach out to both red-state-types and blue-state-types

by taking cruel swipes at the cosmopolitanally challenged. Laugh at

them or laugh with them -- Foxworthy gives you your pick.

And this week, inspired by and jealous of Foxworthy’s understated

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genius, I’m stealing his bit. With the requisite apologies, I’ll

start with a Foxworthy-inspired opener, then you try to guess how it

ends. Ready? Here goes:

If your idea of a good time is sitting in front of the newspaper

with a red marker scanning for errors, if you shout every time a

newscaster substitutes “who” for “whom,” if you’re re-reading “Eats,

Shoots & Leaves” for the fourth time and periodically shouting,

“Amen!” then you just might be ...

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Are you expecting me to say, “a grammar nut” or “an

anal-retentive” or “desperate for social contact”? All good guesses,

but not what I had in mind. My point today is that, if you’re someone

who takes language and good grammar seriously, you just might be ...

a masochist.

This tragic fact hit me not long ago as I was reading the

newspaper. In an article about Wal-Mart allegedly violating child

labor laws, an Associated Press reporter wrote that critics

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“lambasted a provision requiring labor officials to give Wal-Mart 15

days notice before starting any investigations.”

Now, if you’re wondering whether one of the minors caught using a

chainsaw at a Wal-Mart store was your father, your uncle or both,

then you just might be, well, cosmopolitanally challenged. But if you

happened to notice the editors’ choice to omit the apostrophe after

“days,” then I’m sad to report that you’re probably a masochist.

You’re a masochist for paying attention, for caring, for bothering to

learn the rules because, as you certainly know by now, people keep

changing them.

None other than the Associated Press Stylebook lays down the law

on what it calls “quasi-possessives” -- a day’s pay, two weeks’

vacation, three days’ work, your money’s worth. The rule, AP says, is

to treat them as possessives and keep the apostrophe.

In the Wal-Mart story, I suspect one of two things happened.

Either the Los Angeles Times has decided to buck this rule and made

the change to the wire story or someone just overlooked the missing

apostrophe. I suspect the former because, if memory serves, I’ve

noticed some other stories recently in which the Times has defied the

quasi-possessives rule.

When I was an editor for the Times’ community news division some

years ago, the style powers that be insisted that “under way” was

always two words. Never one. The company was similarly hard-nosed

regarding the word “host.” It’s a noun, the style-makers insisted,

not a verb. You cannot “host” an event anymore than you can

“automobile” a street. You “play host” to something, you don’t host

it. In the mid-1990s when the Associated Press Stylebook was getting

its techno-speak rules down, the guide insisted that “on-line” was to

be hyphenated. Period.

Don’t bother memorizing any of those rules I just listed because

they’re all history, dust, gone.

Time and the powers that be have changed them all. Nowadays, you

can host every online event now underway -- weeks worth.

But if, like me, you once insisted that “host” is only a noun, if

you conscientiously put a space between “under” and “way,” if you

still remember loyally writing “on-line” even though you disagreed

with it, you just might be ... a masochist.

* JUNE CASAGRANDE is a freelance writer. She can be reached at

JuneTCN@aol.com.


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