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
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
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 ...
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 ...
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
“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
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
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