Participles of Your Past

I found out that today is National Grammar Day, unofficially declared official by the Society for the Promotion of Good Grammar; at least, according to its two sentence Wikipedia page. In 5th grade, I had a teacher that would reward her students with little yellow tickets. The tickets were a form of currency that we saved until the end of the trimester, when she’d have a huge auction with candy, toys, and games. She was a stickler for grammar, so one way to earn a ticket was to find a grammatical error in a copyedited text. I am inclined to believe that my propensity to ensure my grammar usage is sound is a direct result of her incentive scheme. In celebration of National Grammar Day, I’ve read through a few articles on common grammar mistakes; some not unanticipated, some very surprising, and some arguably archaic but all still interesting. If you’re not too scared by the thought of possibly resuscitating traumatic grade school memories, try out the quiz to see how you fare grammatically. If not, you can just read below to discover some linguistic origins and interesting grammar facts.


If you thought one of those sentences sounded correct, you join a large group unaware of the redundancy of these phrases.  Most of these phrases have become so ubiquitous in everyday language that it would sound weird to say them any other way. However, it’s still true that these phrases are unnecessarily repetitive.

CD-ROM disc – CD-ROM is an acronym for “compact disc, read-only memory”. If you say CD-ROM disc, you are being extra redundant. The same goes with DVD disc (DVD stands for “digital versatile disc”). I’ve never really heard this one used, as most people say “CD” or “DVD” and adding an extra “disc” doesn’t quite roll of the tongue.

ATM machine – The acronym “ATM” stands for automated teller machine.  If you say ATM machine you are really saying automated teller machine machine, with the extra “machine” being unnecessary.

PIN number – PIN is another acronym, meaning personal identification number. Anytime you say PIN number you’re doubling up on the word “number”. The acronym for PIN was originally created to define a password only containing numbers, since this sort of password has no words. Similar issues arise with VIN number and UPC code (VIN = vehicle identification number and UPC = universal product code)

LCD display – LCD actually stands for liquid crystal display. LCD display would be redundant, but some in the industry argue that LCD display refers to the umbrella category of LCD screens and LCD projectors. Further confusion arises when LEDs (light emitting diodes) are thrown into the mix. The difference of one letter makes keeping track of these acronyms even more difficult.

HIV virus – HIV stands for human immunodeficiency virus. Adding the word “virus” at the end creates another redundancy issue.

Please RSVP – If you’ve ever received or written an invitation and included the words “Please RSVP”, you may not have known that the invitation was extra polite. RSVP stands for the French phrase “Répondez s’il vous plait”, which means “reply, please”. It is not necessary to add an extra please in your invitation.


In the Same Vein/Along the Same Vein/In the Same Line

The phrase “in the same vein” is the correct usage, and it means “likewise” or “similarly”. There are a few plausible-sounding claims as to the origin of the phrase, with some sources arguing that it refers to veins in the human body. Others contest that “in the same vein” refers to the stringy deposits that exist in ore mines. This is possible, since miners could have used the phrase to communicate where to dig next.

The confusion arises since “in the same vein” has the same meaning as the popular phrase “along the same line”. Those who say “along the same vein” are jumbling the two sayings together. While the intent is clearly the same, the wording is off just enough to induce rage in the grammatically passionate.


While your “deep-seeded” desire to make an impact on society may sound like you had this passion planted inside you long ago, the origin of this phrase actually refers to a feeling being seated deep inside of you. It doesn’t help that this phrase can be mixed with more plant analogies, like “stemmed”.


Something built poorly is referred to as “jerry-built”. Something constructed resourcefully, like MacGyver would do, is “jury-rigged”. The key difference between the phrases is that something jerry-built is always negative, but using jury-rigged could be appreciating the resourcefulness of the odd construction. It’s easy to see how these phrases can get mixed up.

The origin of the saying “jerry-built” is uncertain. Some speculate that it refers to the slang term for German. However, “Jerry” in this sense originated in WWI while “jerry-built” has been referenced as early as 1869.

The saying “jury-rigged” is derived from a nautical term. A jury rig is used to replace a mast when the original mast is destroyed. The word “jury” is believed to have been derived from the Old French word “ajurie”, which means help or relief.

Buck Naked/Butt Naked

This is one mix-up for which I’ve heard logical arguments from both sides. However, the origin of this descriptor is not simply “so naked your butt is exposed”. It may also be argued that it comes from being naked as a buck (or any other animal that doesn’t wear clothes). This is also untrue if you are referring to the animal definition of the word “buck”. The saying originates from the anachronistic definition of“buck” that describes dandy (or an overly-dressed, pretentious show-off). Historically, the term gained further negative connotations when used condescendingly to describe Native Americans and black slaves.  When using the phrase buck naked to someone informed, they may conjure unpleasant images of naked slaves laboring on plantations – not ideal for readers.

General Grammar

“Your” is typically possessive and covers any case where the contraction “you’re” (“you are”) is not appropriate.

“Their” is possessive; “they’re” is the contraction of “they are”; and “there” refers to a location.

“Its” is possessive and “it’s” is the contraction of “it is”

When pronounced the same, lead is a soft, toxic metal and led is a past tense verb to describe guiding a group, for example.

Affect is almost always a verb and effect is almost always a noun. In the above case, neither example is correct!

The Oxford Comma

If all of this grammar talk has you riled up, you’ll relish this next part. One of the hot topics of grammar debate (if that’s a thing) is the Oxford comma. This refers to the comma added before the conjunction at the end of a list.  The Oxford comma is contentious because it sometimes creates ambiguity, sometimes is unnecessary, and sometimes lessens ambiguity. Here is a popular joke demonstrating how the Oxford comma would help.

A panda walks into a restaurant, sits down and orders a sandwich. After he finishes eating the sandwich, the panda pulls out a gun and shoots the waiter, and then stands up to go. “Hey!” shouts the manager. “Where are you going? You just shot my waiter and you didn’t pay for your sandwich!”

The panda yells back at the manager, “Hey man, I am a PANDA! Look it up!”

The manager opens his dictionary and sees the following definition for panda: “A tree-dwelling marsupial of Asian origin, characterised by distinct black and white colouring. Eats, shoots and leaves.”

The dictionary, in this case, is assumed to not have used an Oxford comma when necessary. Therefore, the phrase “eats, shoots and leaves” could be interpreted as the panda eating, followed by shooting, and then leaving. Otherwise, the phrase is just describing what the panda eats (bamboo shoots and leaves).

The Oxford comma could also create ambiguity though, like in the example sentence “They went to Oregon with Betty, a maid, and a cook.” Here, it’s difficult to interpret whether Betty is a maid or if they went to Oregon with three people. It’s obviously still up for debate, no matter how trivial it may seem.

Does this post about grammar need any corrections? Leave a comment.


2 thoughts on “Participles of Your Past

    • “I couldn’t care less” makes more sense, and it seems more likely that people would be lazy and drop the “not”. I have read arguments that “I could care less” is a sarcastic response meaning something to the effect of “I care so little about what was just said that I don’t even care enough to care less than what I currently care”. It’s a funny way to think of it but the other phrase seems more logical. I doubt most people who say “I could care less” are thinking in that way.

      There were a few more phrases I had in mind for this post. One of them was “anyway” vs. “anyways”. I used to always say anyways, but one time someone told me it was not a word and incorrect. I’ve heard you say it and Daniel says it, too, so I thought it was maybe a regional saying or something. When making this post, I looked it up and discovered that either usage was correct. It’s strange that amount of authority I gave to the person who told me “anyways” wasn’t a word.

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