Welcome to the website woven for wordaholics, logolepts, and verbivores. Carnivores eat meat; herbivores eat plants and vegetables; verbivores devour words. If you are heels over head (as well as head over heels) in love with words, tarry here a while to graze or, perhaps, feast on the English language. Ours is the only language in which you drive in a parkway and park in a driveway and your nose can run and your feet can smell.


When the SDSU basketball team summited the mountain of a 20-0 record as the only undefeated team in Division I this season, U-T sports columnist Bryce Miller waxed ecstatic in praise of the Aztecs’ suffocating defense. He went on to applaud the players’ productive offense: “This team, a Frankenstein’s monster of coach Brian Dutcher’s transfer-plucking making, fuels nightmares on the other end of the court, too.”

Most of us would have written just Frankenstein, but Miller got it right. Frankenstein refers to the mad doctor (actually the young medical student) in Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley’s classic horror novel, Frankenstein, not the Boris Karloff character. Old Zipperneck is properly alluded to as Frankenstein’s monster, just as Bryce Miller wrote it. Puristically, the cliché “creating a Frankenstein” makes no sense.

DEAR RICHARD LEDERER: A recent U-T headline read: WOMAN HIT GIRL WITH CAR WHOM SHE THOUGHT WAS MEXICAN. Had the headline writers seen the “she thought” as an aside and enclosed in commas, I trust they would have noted that girl was subject of was Mexican and not the object of the driver’s thought process. –David Chadwick-Brown, Banker’s Hill

David Chadwick-Brown is spot on. The subject of the verb was should be who, not whom, because the interrupting clause “she thought” exerts no grammatical force on the pronoun. Too, the headline is afflicted with a misplaced modifier that seems to state that the driver thought the car, not the girl, was Mexican. WOMAN DROVE HER CAR INTO GIRL WHO SHE THOUGHT WAS MEXICAN would have avoided both gaffes.

DEAR RICHARD LEDERER: In a U-T editorial about Poway Mayor Steve Vaus appeared “Then he went on television to say tests had showed that . . .” Is it correct to write, “tests had showed” rather than “tests had shown”? Leaving out had, the sentence could have been written as “Then he went on television to say tests showed that . . .” -Jerry Litvinoff, Del Cerro

The verb show conjugates as show in the present tense, showed in the past tense and shown in the present and past perfect tenses. Hence, Dr, Litvinoff is correct to condemn “had showed.” The most frequently occurring atrocity of this type is [chalk screeching on backboard] “I should have went to the Aztecs basketball game.”

DEAR RICHARD LEDERER: What do you think of this U-T sports headline about our World Cup women’s soccer team champions?: UNDER BRIGHT LIGHTS, U.S. SHINED. – Lance Morrow, Del Cerro

The verb should be shone, not shined. Shone means “emitted light,” figuratively in this case. Shined means “made bright by polishing, as in ‘shined shoes’.”

DEAR RICHARD LEDERER: Less than a week after your excellent column explaining the use of lie and lay (my wife’s “favorite” grammatical pet peeve, btw. You made her day!), this photo caption appeared in the U-T: “Harbor seals lay on the beach at the Children’s Pool as visitors walk on the break wall in La Jolla.” Do they not read their own newspaper? -Doug Miller, La Jolla

As I’ve frequently preached in this space, the verb lie means “to repose” and the verb lay means “to put.” In the photo caption the animals are clearly lying, not laying.

But we should all bear in mind that a newspaper is a daily marvel. The U-T is manufactured almost from scratch each day. Under the crushing pressure of breaking news and deadlines, it’s amazing how few grammar gremlins sneak into these pages.

DEAR RICHARD LEDERER: Apostrophe catastrophes annoy me no end. I am wondering about the following: “He was a friend of my father’s.” I see this apostrophe often in newspapers and books. I think it should be “He was my father’s friend.” Am I wrong? –Mary Tiesen, Carlsbad

I prefer Mary Tiesen’s concise “He was my father’s friend,” but “He was a friend of my father” and “He was a friend of my father’s” are also acceptable. That last iteration may seem redundant, but “He was a friend of mine” employs the same kind of double possessive.

DEAR RICHARD LEDERER: Do commas, periods and other punctuation marks go inside or outside of quotation marks? –William Slomanson, Hillcrest

Semicolons should always stand outside of end quotation marks, while commas and periods should always repose inside. I actually prefer the British placement of periods outside end quotation marks, but I live here, so I punctuate the American way.