You know the sound fingernails make when scratched across a blackboard? Makes you cringe, doesn’t it? Well, it doesn’t make me cringe. What makes me cringe is when people, authors and journalists especially, misuse words when they really should know better.
When I’m editing, one of the first things I do is take out my list. I have a list of words and phrases that are most often misused, and I do a search-and-replace on every manuscript before I do the first read-through. If I didn’t, my eyeballs would be permanently focused on the back of my head.
I just don’t understand how writers can make such simple errors time and again. What’s worse is that I can’t believe the mistakes get past editing.
My current head-shaker is the use of “that” when “who” is obviously the correct word.
Turn on any show and listen to what the characters are saying. How many times does the script call for the actor to say something like: “Anyone that does that is crazy.” Anyone ‘that’. That? No. Who. Anyone ‘who’. Gawdalmighty, someone please grab hold of the nearest scriptwriter and shake him. I’m way past tired of hearing that mistake on television. I curse the characters now, and it’s getting a little embarrassing.
Listen to the news. How many times do you hear anchors talk about people “that” have done something? Even my beloved Anderson Cooper has made the error. I could only shake my head and turn away. For shame, Andy. For shame.
Read the news, books, journals. You’ll find the error everywhere. Really. You will.
Which brings me back to why I’m writing this rant in the first place. I want to help you not make this mistake. I want to help you make your editor just a bit happier with you than she is with every other writer whose work crosses her desk.
I’m going to give you a simple tool to remember which word is applicable. It’s easy. Just ask yourself if the object being referred to can breathe. If it can, use ‘who’. Whether the word is a name, title, pronoun, the correct word is ‘who’.
“Pets who are spayed have a better chance at a healthy life.”
“Presidents who listen to their citizenry and act accordingly do better in polls.”
“Writers who think as they write make editors very happy.”
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