Happy Christmas, everyone! We hope you have big plans for Christmas dinner tomorrow. And if you’re worried about arguing with your family over food, why not talk about spelling, grammar, and punctuation instead?
These may not seem like the most festive topics of conversation. But we have five suggestions for Christmas dinner arguments that pedants will enjoy.
1. Commas: Serial or Not?
No punctuation mark divides opinion as much as the serial comma.
In case you haven’t heard of it before, this is a comma placed before the final item in a list of three or more things. For some, it is an essential part of any list, and missing it out is a crime against punctuation. For others, it is simply a way of avoiding ambiguity over whether JFK and Stalin were strippers.
Do say:It never hurts to use a serial comma, and it can improve clarity.
Don’t say:Russia would have been better off if Stalin were a stripper!
2. Split Infinitives
The question of whether it is okay to split an infinitive – i.e., to use a modifying term between the word “to” and a verb – is a classic bit of pedantry. In fact, Wikipedia has an entire section about its controversial history.
Ultimately, most people now accept that it’s fine to split an infinitive for the sake of clarity. But it will still get traditionalists worked up!
Do say:Actually, no modern style guide takes issue with split infinitives.
Don’t say:I am on a mission to bravely fight against split infinitives.
3. Less vs. Fewer
Some people feel strongly enough about “less” and “fewer” that they forced a UK supermarket chain to change its “10 items or less” signs at checkouts. But is the difference really that strict? Will the world end if we use “less” with countable nouns? Or is this another case of pedantry gone wrong?
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Do say:Alfred the Great used “less” with a countable noun in AD 888.
Don’t say:Well, Alfred can’t have been that great at grammar then!
4. Britishisms: Yay or Nay?
American English has roots in the UK, but it has developed its own identity. And that may be why some people find Britishisms – i.e., British words or phrases that have crept into American English – annoying. And while it might grate to hear your colleague say “cheers” instead of “thanks,” is it really so bad? Must we really fall out over whether to say “pants” or “trousers”?
Do say:Language has always evolved. Britishisms are no different.
Don’t say:It’s time for another War of Independence.
5. Non-Literal Uses of “Literally”
If someone says “I am literally dying of laughter” after hearing a joke, we can usually assume they don’t need an ambulance. Rather, they are using “literally” figuratively as an intensifier. But this usage will always be tough to accept, given that “figuratively” is literally the opposite of “literally.”
Do say:The figurative use of “literally” is a bit ironic.
Don’t say:I am literally going to explode if you misuse that word again.
Happy Christmas to All, and to All a Good Night!
That’s it for now! Hopefully, this post will give you plenty to keep the family distracted until after dinner. Enjoy your Christmas Day tomorrow, have a lovely festive season, and we’ll see you soon for more writing tips.