Monday, November 20, 2006

Personal Finance Grammar And Usage!

The English major in me notes this common personal finance usage error. Please permit a short exploratory detour, in which I will embody the stereotype of English majors as nit-picky grammar Nazis.

Wrong: Keeping up with the Jones. Gramamtically, here, you're trying to keep up with one person, like the Dude in The Big Lebowski: The Jones. Alternately, you are trying to keep up with several people named Jone. The Jone family.

Wrong: Keeping up with the Jones'. This suggest keeping up with something that belongs to more than one Jone, as if you are running behind the Jone family car.

Wrong: Keeping up with the Joneses'. Now we have the family name right, but still, we are trailing the car down the driveway, or perhaps cat-sitting for a rambunctious cat. The possessive is unnecessary.

Right: Keeping up with the Joneses. This implies striving for consumptive parity with more than one person named Jones. The Jones family. Thus, the Joneses. Properly pluralized and without needless apostrophes. Lovely.

Want a personal finance application? Proper grammar and usage make you sound smart. When you sound smart, you come off better on the job or in an interview. Then the money comes rolling in.

Now the word "Jones" looks funny to me across the board.

4 comments:

S/100/30 said...

Want a personal finance application? Proper grammar and usage make you sound smart. When you sound smart, you come off better on the job or in an interview. Then the money comes rolling in.

I'd add "so long as you understand the distinction between 'proper' and 'regressive'."

My husband, a devoted Language Log reader and hobbyist descriptive grammarian, recently picked candidate A over B for a job because during the interview B somehow got to talking about "idiots who don't understand Strunk and White", thinking this would impress my husband and make the his case as a well-rounded candidate who can actually write (my husband works in computer science). The candidates were otherwise equal, and he thinks ideological prescriptivists often lack the creativity of thought needed for the job ;).

English Major said...

I struggle with prescriptive vs. descriptive grammar, it's true, especially given my own interest in linguistics (at a quite elementary level) and in, if you'll forgive the academia for a moment, Bakhtinian heteroglossia (esssentially: the idea that language standardization represents the establishments of standards for ordering social hierarchies). Ultimately, I have to categorize myself as a laid-back prescriptivist, based purely on my actual reactions and behavior in, shall we say, grammatically charged circumstances.

In issues like this, I don't have much of an ideological problem, though--they're matters of clarity, and other people's ability to understand seems to me to be compromised.

I do, however, think that knee-jerk grammar-snobbery is quite poor form, and certainly should be kept out of interviews. Good on your husband for declining to reward it.

Tiredbuthappy said...

Great post. Great. Love it. Too tired to process your comment on Bakhtinian hetero-whatchamathingy, but I'm all for passionate discussions about grammar.

Also, see this great post by Millionaire Artist, where she reveals that visual artists have an allergy to bad design that is related to the typical english major's feelings about butchered language.

I can deal with the people who want to keep up with the family Jone. I cannot, however, deal with people who save money in order to have piece of mind.

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