Please note that I’m not talking politics today. Note too that I’m all for pointing out a politician’s grammar and usage mistakes. But you need to make sure you know what you’re talking about.
I was interested in a couple of recent articles about President Trump’s allegedly bad English. And I came down on the side of…the President. Let’s look at three of the complaints.
#1: “No matter how good I do on something, they’ll never write good. I mean, they don’t write good. They have people over there, like Maggie Haberman, and others, they don’t write good. They don’t know how to write good.”
Of course all those repetitions of write good should be changed to write well. But here’s the thing: Donald Trump is a New Yorker (like me – well, I’m an ex-New Yorker). New Yorkers often use good instead of well. I still fall into that old habit. When someone is talking informally, I don’t think it’s fair to blame them for slipping into regional word patterns.
#2: Commenting on the DNC email hack during the first presidential debate, Trump said that the culprit “could be somebody sitting on their bed that weighs 400 pounds, OK?”
A commentator I read found two mistakes: a dangling modifier (weighs 400 pounds should be placed next to somebody) and an agreement error (their bed should be his or her bed).
I agree about the dangling modifier. But I have sworn off “his or her” (after teaching that usage – I’m ashamed to admit – for some 30 years). Did you notice that I used “unfair to blame them” in my response to #2? I have become an advocate for the singular they. (Incidentally, I would have made a change that the commentator overlooked – changing “that” to “who.”)
Here’s my version:
“...the culprit “could be somebody weighing 400 pounds who’s sitting on their bed , OK?”
#3 is a Tweet that offended somebody because a sentence has five commas.
It’s true that I have a private rule of thumb that limits me to three commas. But here’s the thing: it’s a rule of thumb – a guide – rather than a RULE. It’s a handy warning that a sentence might be too complicated or pompous – or just plain unreadable.
I would never criticize someone for using five commas. Actually Trump’s sentence is a sophisticated one that’s correctly written.
Before you correct someone else’s English, make sure you know what you’re talking about!