The Angry Grammarian

John McCain's ass, and other grammatical foibles.

By Jeffrey Barg
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 3 | Posted Sep. 24, 2008

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McCain's Bottom Line


John McCain is a flip-flopping sack of flour. Or is he?

On Monday of last week he told a group in Florida, "The fundamentals of our economy are strong," while Wall Street drowned in its own excesses. Just three hours later he told another group, "The fundamentals of our economy are at risk."

On the surface it looks like a cold, pathetic political calculation that might've worked when John McCain was a kid and there was no television, but now is bound to be YouTubed to death.

Or maybe it wasn't flip-flopping, but just his bowels.

Ever look up "fundament" in the dictionary? It means "buttocks." Really.

Maybe this was his subtle way of telling us he knows his ass is cooked in this election.

I recently saw an ad saying a product was the "most unique" thing you could buy. Argh! How can we stop this?

Lots of folks write in with grammatical pet peeves, and this is one of the most common. They huff and wheeze and get all lathered up, saying something can't be "most unique" or "very unique" or "somewhat unique"; it's just "unique." One of a kind. The only one. And they think their grammatical observation is very astute.

Guess what? It's also wrong.

If the "unique" bloviators were to actually look the damn word up in Merriam-Webster's Collegiate, 11th edition, they'd see, way down there in definition No. 3, the one-word definition "unusual," followed by literary examples of "very unique" and "fairly unique." (You gonna argue with J.D. Salinger? I didn't think so.)

To be fair, the Oxford English Dictionary is a holdout: "The usage in the comparative and superlative," it says, "has been objected to as tautological."

So there's a discrepancy; it's not an absolute rule that can legitimately qualify as anyone's pet peeve. Next time someone tells you how much they hate it, simply tell them that's a fairly unique position, but one to which they're reasonably entitled.

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1. Steven Wells said... on Sep 23, 2008 at 01:35PM

“Oh dear. If you base your argument on the Merriam-Webster's Collegiate dictionary and then ignore the Oxford English Dictionary then you are by definition, wrong. We need standards, Barg, and those standards are not to be found in some flibbertigibbet colonial dictionary. Now go stand in the naughty corner and think about what you've done.”

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2. Steven Wells said... on Sep 23, 2008 at 02:35PM

“Oh dear. If you base your argument on the Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate dictionary and then ignore the Oxford English Dictionary then you are by definition, wrong. We need standards, Barg, and those standards are not to be found in some flibbertigibbet colonial dictionary. Now go stand in the naughty corner and think about what you've done. ”

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3. Funkypants said... on Sep 24, 2008 at 06:25AM

“Quite right, Mr. Wells - goshdarn uppity colonials perverting the language. However, I do wish the OED had avoided the passive in this entry: "has been objected to" is among the ugliest things I have read today.”

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