Grammar Moses: Do you wait on -- or for -- a friend?

  • My old boss sent this to me without explanation. Thanks, John. I don't need additional blood pressure -- but as the former editor of the paper, you knew that.

      My old boss sent this to me without explanation. Thanks, John. I don't need additional blood pressure -- but as the former editor of the paper, you knew that. John Lampinen | Staff Photographer

 
 
Updated 4/16/2022 6:08 PM

Now that it's officially spring, it's time for some spring cleaning of my bloated email box.

I'm going to sift through some that aren't infested with black mold and, by way of apology, publish some reader questions I've never gotten around to.

 

Bulls is in the playoffs?

Dave DeVries had been wrestling with sports team names and whether they should get a singular or plural pronoun.

He teaches a PR/crisis communication class in Northwestern University's sports management program, which is perhaps why he employed "wrestling" in his question.

"I often correct students' assignments to indicate a team is 'it,' not 'they,'" he wrote. "My belief is that a team is a single unit, and thus a singular pronoun must be used."

Team names (the Cubs) and musical groups (the Beatles) that have plural forms take plural verbs.

While Dave's logic is sound, you're really talking about how the players on the team won, lost or tied.

Yes, you'd refer to the "White Sox organization" with a singular verb because you're specifying the thing as a single unit.

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You'd refer to the Dave Matthews Band with a singular verb, but I can't think of a single reason why I would attend its show.

The Jeff Beck Group also would take a singular verb. The difference is, I'd be first in line for tickets if its members decided to re-form and tour.

Sports team whose names don't have plural forms (the Orlando Magic, the Stanford Cardinal) also take plural verbs. The Magic are coming to town to get stomped on by the Bulls.

This is the Associated Press standard.

Nonsense math

I'm wary of math used in advertising as it is, but when it's about weight-loss programs I'm downright distrustful.

"A TV weight-loss commercial states that customers can lose 'an average of up to 20 pounds,'" wrote Deborah Gaither. "An average is a number without any range. The ad really makes no claim regarding how much weight loss can be expected."

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

I don't have much to add to Deborah's clear reasoning other than to guess that a group of people who lost the most weight on this suspect program dropped an average of 20 pounds. If every person on the program reported how much they'd lost and the total tonnage was divided by the number of people, then you'd have an average of X pounds lost. And I bet it would be less than 20 pounds.

But the "average of up to 20 pounds" is, as President Biden would say, malarkey.

If the creative minds who made this ad have to frame their claims with bogus math, odds are good that it's not nearly as effective as that.

Think critically about such claims.

I'm waiting

Picture Mick Jagger sitting on the stoop of a Greenwich Village apartment building, singing one of the Rolling Stones' least rocking songs, waiting for Keith Richards to pick him up to go to a gig at a tiny, cramped dive bar around the corner.

You're living in the video to "Waiting On a Friend," from the 1981 album "Tattoo You." A regular reader didn't bring up the song when she wrote me, but she was wondering about which preposition should be used -- "on" or "for."

Long before any of us was born, it was common for native English speakers to say "waiting upon" or "waiting on."

But language is constantly shifting, and "waiting for" is the more common American phrasing these days.

I suppose it could be that Mick sings "waiting on" because he hails from England and because he's roughly 130 years old.

In the States, it's more common for your server in a restaurant to "wait on" you or for your mom to "wait on" you hand and foot.

Shame on you if you embraced the latter.

Write carefully!

• Jim Baumann is vice president/executive editor of the Daily Herald. You can buy Jim's new book, "Grammar Moses: A humorous guide to grammar and usage," at grammarmosesthebook.com. Write him at jbaumann@dailyherald.com and put "Grammar Moses" in the subject line. You also can friend or follow Jim at facebook.com/baumannjim.

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