creators home
creators.com lifestyle web
Rob Kyff

Recently

Send Slashers to Penalty Box Beware the Mad Slasher! Stalking the dark alleys of English, he suddenly leaps from the shadows to slice sentences with his razor-keen blade. No magazine, memo or monograph is safe from his gash, and he's attacking more frequently and more randomly.… …Read more. Satan, Thy Name Is 'Region' Early in my freshman year at a college in Massachusetts, a classmate asked me if I wanted go out for a "grinder" and a "frappe" (pronounced "frap"). Being from New York State, I had no idea what he was talking about. But to me, his proposed …Read more. A 'Wannabe' Bombarded by 'Whydontchahs' When I was in my early 20s, my parents bombarded me with career advice: "Why don't you be a dentist?" or "Why don't you go into accounting?" or "Why don't you write a newspaper column about words?" OK, so I made up the last one. Annoyed by this …Read more. Origin of This Term Is No 'Cinch' Why is something easy called a "cinch"? And why is something that's absolutely guaranteed a "lead-pipe cinch"? "Cinch," which first entered English during the 1850s from the Spanish "cincha," means a band, belt or strap encircling the body of an …Read more.
more articles

Couples Are People Too

Comment

Q. My local TV news people are suddenly making many collective nouns neutral. Example: "The couple and its three sons." I think this should be "their three sons," since the people had names and were not a couple of bookends. What is the rule governing this usage? — Roberta Werbaneth, Allison Park, Pa.

A. While it seems natural to refer to certain collective entities, such as a team, a board or a faculty, as a single unit (the team held its first practice), it's jarring to refer to something as human as a couple or a family with an impersonal, gender-neutral pronoun ("the family held its annual party"). As you point out, we tend to think of couples and families as people, not as bookends, no matter how bookish those families might be.

That's why it's not uncommon to see sentences with "couple" or "family" as the subject followed by a singular verb but a plural pronoun, e.g. "the couple is selling their condominium," "the family is returning to their home state."

While technically ungrammatical, these sentences are preferable to "the couple is selling its condominium," "the family is moving back to its home state," and, yes, "the couple and its three sons watched TV news people who imposed pronoun agreement too rigidly."

Q. From today's newspaper: "Not blinking, Wood says, 'can mean that you're disinterested and that you've checked out.'" Has this use of "disinterested" for "uninterested" reached the tipping point? — Larry Bulgier, Suffield, Conn.

A.

Not yet, but it's very close to being accepted. Picture the traditional use of "disinterested" to mean "unbiased" as a skinny dude on a surfboard, swinging his arms desperately to avoid falling off.

"Disinterested" and "uninterested" share a curious history. "Disinterested" originally meant "not interested," and "uninterested" originally meant "impartial."

But about a century ago, the two terms switched definitions, and since then traditionalists have insisted that "disinterested" be reserved to mean "impartial," as in "disinterested observer."

Given the similarity of these two words, it's understandable that more and more people think it's totally tubular to use "disinterested" to mean "not interested, as in "the students were disruptive and disinterested," and "she became disinterested in coin collecting."

Nevertheless, the "impartial" meaning of "disinterested" is still up on that surfboard, hanging 10 (well, maybe five), and most experts continue to regard the use of "disinterested" to mean "not interested" as a linguistic wipeout.

Rob Kyff, a teacher and writer in West Hartford, Conn., invites your language sightings. Send your reports of misuse and abuse, as well as examples of good writing, via e-mail to Wordguy@aol.com or by regular mail to Rob Kyff, Creators Syndicate, 5777 W. Century Blvd., Suite 700, Los Angeles, CA 90045. To find out more about Rob Kyff and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

COPYRIGHT 2007 CREATORS SYNDICATE, INC.



Comments

0 Comments | Post Comment
Already have an account? Log in.
New Account  
Your Name:
Your E-mail:
Your Password:
Confirm Your Password:

Please allow a few minutes for your comment to be posted.

Enter the numbers to the right:  
Creators.com comments policy
Other similar columns
Leslie Elman
Trivia Bits
by Leslie Elman
peter rexfod
Treasure Hunt
by Peter Rexford
Andy Seamans
The Answer Man
by Andy Seamans
More
Rob Kyff
Feb. `16
Su Mo Tu We Th Fr Sa
31 1 2 3 4 5 6
7 8 9 10 11 12 13
14 15 16 17 18 19 20
21 22 23 24 25 26 27
28 29 1 2 3 4 5
About the author About the author
Write the author Write the author
Printer friendly format Printer friendly format
Email to friend Email to friend
View by Month