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updated: 8/13/2017 3:07 PM

Grammar Moses: If you're a real trooper, show me your badge

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I get my share of emails and letters addressed "Hey, Gramma," "Dear Grampa Grammar Moses," "Grammar Granny" and "Dear St. Grammarian," so when I get a "Dear Sir" letter I am ready for someone who adheres strictly to the formalities she's been taught.

"Dear Sir: I know the world is changing, but has the English grammar changed since I attended school? I was taught not to use the words 'because,' 'however,' 'but,' 'nor' or 'and' to start a sentence and definitely not a new paragraph! Have you noticed this in the newspapers lately or is it something that just appears wrong to me?"

Because Joyce Petersen of Des Plaines composed her letter with what we used to call a typewriter and took the effort to put it in an envelope with a stamp on it, I know this is really bothering her.

Put simply, Joyce, language and its conventions do change. All of the time. Only the most formal of writing (which I generally consider to be pretty lifeless) eschews sentence fragments and sentences that start with conjunctions and end with prepositions.

I'm sure many of us agree a degree of structure is important and employing a sentence fragment now and then is fine if it provides impact. To be effective, these should be departures from your norm.

But, boy, they do make writing more interesting.

If you were reading closely, you'll know that I've already used a sentence fragment and started a sentence with "but."

As I've written before, in my job I need to promote and uphold a certain writing standard, but I also need to encourage vibrant, interesting writing. With so much battling in my head, it's no wonder I can't make a simple decision at home.

Common mistakes

What is it about certain simple, common words that we just can't seem to get right?

Katie Gingold of Naperville wrote to tell me about a piece of promotional copy she saw that read: "The only thing you will loose for not registering and attending is your ability to meet your next meaningful connection!"

The word should be "lose," with a Z sound, rather than "loose" with an S sound.

"Does 'lose' look weird enough that folks think that just can't be right?" Katie wrote. "It's not common since the only other word in my rhyming dictionary that is similar is 'whose.'"

Perhaps it's because I'm writing this at 5:30 p.m. on a Friday that "booze" comes to mind.

Sue Hull of Roselle cites another oft-misused word, but I believe the issue here is people generally don't understand its meaning.

"So many people comment on Facebook that a person is 'such a trooper,'" she wrote. "It is very rare that I see it spelled correctly as 'trouper' when describing someone persevering during challenging times."

A "trooper" is a state patrol officer or a soldier.

A "trouper" is someone who is reliable and doesn't complain. Or an entertainer (a member of a troupe.)

The first definition of "trouper" is what most people are talking about.

But the misuse is so widespread that I decided to see whether it's just a Facebook phenomenon. It is not.

I plugged "real trooper" and "real trouper" in Google's Ngram Viewer, which graphs word use in literature through time (Try it some time. It's addictive.)

While "real trouper" was huge during World War II (12 times as popular as "real trooper,") 20 years ago "real trooper" became the dominant usage in literature.

So, does Grammar Granny think "real trooper" should be the new proper spelling because it's used more?

Heck, no.

Sure, you'll see many words in the Declaration of Independence that are spelled differently today. But change in spellings tends to be pretty glacial.

A real trooper is the guy whose flashers you see in your rearview when you're blasting down I-90 at 95 mph.

Write carefully!

• Jim Baumann is vice president/managing editor of the Daily Herald. Write him at jbaumann@dailyherald.com. Put Grammar Moses in the subject line. You also can friend or follow Jim at facebook.com/baumannjim.

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