Grammar Moses: If you're worried about your sanity, don't consult a grammar guy

  • I don't know how many younger readers have seen "Guys and Dolls," but it's probably not advisable to address people as "guys," and definitely not "dolls."

    I don't know how many younger readers have seen "Guys and Dolls," but it's probably not advisable to address people as "guys," and definitely not "dolls." Courtesy of Rich Foreman, 2015

 
 
Posted8/29/2021 5:30 AM

Sometimes I get email that I feel is better suited for Judith Martin, Jeanne Phillips or Carolyn Hax.

But will that stop me from stumbling through an answer? Heck no.

 

"I really enjoy your column," Don Haraf's email began. "Maybe it's because I consider myself 'old school' when it comes to grammar. I need to vent that it irks me to no end when a television crew/panel of both sexes is referred to as 'guys' as in 'Thanks, guys' or 'Back to you, guys.' This is every day. I have even had to cringe when someone referred to an all-female contingent as 'guys.' I can't take it! Am I nuts?"

Perhaps this email should have been sent not to an advice columnist or a grammar columnist, but rather to a psychologist.

My opinion, Don, is that you're not nuts. You're just, as you say, "old school."

I'm a gray whisker shy of 60, and I use "guys" in informal settings at work. I always have.

In a Zoom meeting where the early birds are all men, I'll even offer a "Mornin', fellas."

Actually, I try to remember to avoid "guys" in group settings or in emails by using "gang," which I guess carries its own risks.

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Most of the people on the TV news are younger than I, so I assume that if I'm comfortable with "guys," many of them probably weren't drilled on "sir or madam" as kids.

I imagine few of them are old enough to have seen "Guys and Dolls."

Then again, for all I know the use of "guys" on the TV could be a calculated effort to appear more friendly to one another and to viewers.

Although this is not strictly an advice column, I would be remiss if I didn't point out that unless you are a toymaker, using "dolls" in your morning salutations is a very bad idea and could earn you a well-deserved smack upside your head.

There will be math

If you've been a reader of this column for long, then you'll recall these weekly ramblings sometimes spin off into harangues about improperly applied math.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

I have found my kindred spirit in reader Herm Faubl.

"We often come across statements such as 'He increased the budget for widgets five times,'" Herm wrote in an email to me. "I realize the author probably means 'fivefold,' but how can I be sure?"

I'll cut to the chase: The author could have meant either that the budget was increased on five occasions OR that it was increased by a factor of five.

Let's say the $400 budget was increased first by $10, then by $45, then by $612, then by $30,000, then by $2.37.

The budget was increased five times, right?

Sounds like bad budgeting, if you ask me, but it illustrates the point.

Next, consider the $400 budget was increased by a factor (not to be confused with "factorial") of five. That means the $400 budget was multiplied by five to get $2,000.

That's more likely the author's intent. So it's less ambiguous to say, "He increased the budget for widgets fivefold" or "He quintupled the budget for widgets."

Herm's second point -- one that I've made at least a half-dozen times over the years -- is that it is nonsensical to say, "He decreased the budget for widgets five times" -- unless you are talking about five separate decreases.

"Clearly, the author cannot mean 'fivefold,' because the maximum decrease of something is onefold," Herm wrote. "I am forced to think the author meant 'to one-fifth.'"

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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